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Working Group on Sovereignty and its Discontents (SAID)

The Sovereignty And Its Discontents (SAID) working group was established in 2005 with two aims:
to stimulate wider discussion and debate on the changing nature of state sovereignty and international politics since the end of the Cold War;
to initiate a new collaborative research project, that would generate new approaches to investigating state sovereignty.
As part of this project, SAID convenes seminars, workshops, conferences, and public debates. Please see the links on the left-hand menu for forthcoming events of interest. SAID has published some of the fruits of this research with Routledge in an edited collection in 2007. For more information about the book, click here: Politics without Sovereignty: A critique of contemporary international relations. SAID is a working group of the British International Studies Association (BISA).
The dawn of the twenty first century has been a turbulent one for the international system of states. Many of the norms and rules that governed international relations for over half a century have been systematically undermined over the last decade, between the end of the Cold War and the launching of the ‘war on terror’. While nation building and democratisation efforts have ostensibly sought to re-build viable, strong and independent states from the Balkans to the Middle East, the international community continues to affirm its claim to override the sovereign rights of states in order to defend human rights, remedy ‘state failure,’ check terror, and halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
State sovereignty has long been held to be the basic pre-condition for the operation of international relations. But how has state sovereignty changed since the end of the Cold War? During the 1990s a consensus emerged in international politics that called state sovereignty into question. Many commentators, scholars and policy makers associated sovereignty with aggressive nationalism and internal repression. In the era of globalisation, sovereignty came to be seen as a barrier to progressive political, cultural and economic transformation. Many analysts and policy makers openly called for the construction of a new, so-called ‘post-Westphalian’ or ‘post-modern’ international system, that would be based on restraining state sovereignty through practices like ‘sovereignty as responsibility’, and on cultivating alternatives to the sovereign state, such as international organisation, NGOs, ‘global civil society’, and even placing certain states under ‘trusteeship’. But has the war on terror shattered this ‘post-Westphalian’ vision? Many have claimed that the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 have prompted a return to unilateralism and power politics, sidelining the multilateral institutions, international laws and human rights awareness achieved in the 1990s.
The following are some of the questions that SAID will seek to address:
How do we make sense of these changes? Do the critics of sovereignty remain useful to understand contemporary developments in global politics? What are the differences and the similarities between the war on terror and humanitarian intervention? What is the legacy of the promotion of human rights in the 1990s? What have we lost, if anything, in practical efforts to transcend state sovereignty?
What do recent political events, such as the French and Dutch rejections of EU Constitution, tell us about popular attitudes toward practical alternatives to the sovereign state? What does the emergence of strong states in the developing world, such as India and China, portend for international politics? How viable and progressive are the alternatives offered to the sovereign state? What are the origins of scepticism toward state sovereignty? What does scepticism toward state sovereignty tell us about the condition of domestic political life today?
Relation of Project to Previous Research and Theoretical Developments
One of the founding premises of SAID is that many of the competing schools of thought within international studies can be re-assessed in light of a widespread intellectual scepticism toward sovereignty. We believe that this scepticism toward sovereignty represents a tacit orthodoxy within the field. SAID will seek to probe the limitations of this new orthodoxy by testing it against recent developments in international politics. In so doing, SAID seeks to avoid a rehash of the schisms that divide ‘rationalist’ and ‘reflectivist’ approaches in the discipline, and instead to provide a more focused terrain for discussion and research. Therefore SAID seminar series and conferences will appeal to a critically-minded audience who are frustrated with the insularity of the competing approaches that currently dominate the discipline of international studies. SAID will seek to critically re-appraise sovereignty on both theoretical and empirical levels. SAID will also to seek to explore state sovereignty in relation to a wide variety of international relationships – such as the European Union, global civil society and international law.
Chris Bickerton is co-convenor of SAID and a D.Phil. student at St John's College, University of Oxford, UK. His research interest is in EU expansion into central and southern Europe. His email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Philip Cunliffe is co-convenor of SAID and a Ph.D. student at King’s College London, UK. His research interest is in developing country contributions to peacekeeping operations. His website is here. His email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Alex Gourevitch is co-convenor of SAID and a Ph.D. student at Columbia University. His research interest is in democratic representation in the United States. He is also co-editor of Against the War on Terror. His email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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