Research on Sovereignty

New PRIO project funded by the Research Council of Norway (FRIHUM)


28 December 2012

The PRIO project ‘Imagined Sovereignties: Frontiers of Statehood and Globalization’ is one of six large-scale projects to receive funding from the Research Council of Norway’s FRIHUM programme this year. Starting in early 2013, the project will be led by Research Professor Åshild Kolås.

The project will investigate how sovereignty is perceived and debated by stakeholders in on-going sovereignty contestations, with a focus on everyday experiences, discourses and performances of sovereignty. In numerous on-going conflicts, the sovereignty of the state is challenged by groups vying for independence or an arrangement for the sharing of sovereignty in the form of autonomy or self-governance. At the same time, transnational legal and political mechanisms, new governance techniques and global interconnectedness are changing the sites and means by which state sovereignty is exercised and negotiated. As evidenced by contemporary political protest across the world, from the mass mobilisations of the Arab Spring to the Occupy movements, the nature of sovereignty is fiercely contested and the role of the state as the key vehicle for the will of the people is no longer taken for granted.


In order to explore the multiple ways in which sovereign futures are currently imagined, this project will conduct in-depth studies of three cases of protracted, on-going conflict, exploring how sovereignty is imagined and debated by key actors and contestants, and their constituencies in culturally diverse and historically unique settings. The three cases under study are: statehood contestations on the divided island of Cyprus, the Basque movement for self-determination, and Northeast Indian separatist and autonomy movements. Each case exemplifies a particular issue in current debates on the meaning of sovereignty: statehood, nationhood and indigeneity. By studying and comparing these three cases we aim to shed new light on the changing nature of contestations over citizenship, legitimate governance and territoriality in a globalizing but still diverse world. The primary objective of this project is to understand how sovereignty is perceived and debated by stakeholders and contestants in ongoing conflicts over self-governance, autonomy and statehood. Secondary objectives are to investigate, compare and analyze:

- contemporary efforts to rethink sovereignty, autonomy and self-determination among actors seeking possible solutions to ongoing conflicts over sovereignty,

- the impact of changing practices of governance on sovereignty conflicts,

- the influence of new means of contestation on the claims made by states and their contenders in sovereignty conflicts,

- the impact of evolving global and/or transnational orders on sovereignty contestations,

- the meanings ascribed to sovereignty as related to everyday contestations and struggles over power and authority, and

- the effects of sovereignty practices on the course of conflict, including negotiations to end conflict.

The project will be coordinated by PRIO and carried out in cooperation with the International Catalan Institute for Peace, Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, and the PRIO Cyprus Centre.

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