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Sovereignty Regimes: Territoriality and State Authority in Contemporary World Politics

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Abstract:

I propose a concept of effective sovereignty to argue that states participate in sovereignty regimes that exhibit distinctive combinations of central state authority and political territoriality. Two basic conclusions, drawing from recent research in political geography and other fields, are that sovereignty is neither inherently territorial nor is it exclusively organized on a state-by-state basis. This matters because so much political energy has been invested in organizing politics in general and democracy in particular in relation to states. Typically, writing about sovereignty regards sovereignty as providing a norm that legitimizes central state authority. Unfortunately, little or no attention is given as to why this should always entail a territorial definition of political authority and to why states are thereby its sole proprietors. The dominant approach continues to privilege the state as the singular font of authority even when a state's sovereignty may be decried as hypocrisy and seen as divisible or issue-specific rather than “real” or absolute. I put forward a model of sovereignty alternative to the dominant one by identifying four “sovereignty regimes” that result from distinctive combinations of central state authority (legitimate despotic power) on the one hand, and degree of political territoriality (the administration of infrastructural power) on the other. By “regime” I mean a system of rule, not merely some sort of international protocol or agreement between putatively equal states. I then examine the general trajectory of the combination of sovereignty regimes from the early nineteenth century to the present. The contemporary geography of currencies (specifically exchange-rate arrangements) serves to empirically illustrate the general argument about sovereignty regimes. Finally, a brief conclusion suggests that the dominant Westphalian model of state sovereignty in political geography and international relations theory, deficient as it has long been for understanding the realities of world politics, is even more inadequate today, not only for its ignoring the hierarchy of states and sources of authority other than states, but also because of its mistaken emphasis on the geographical expression of authority (particularly under the ambiguous sign of “sovereignty”) as invariably and inevitably territorial.

Keywords: dollarization; effective sovereignty; sovereignty regimes; states; territoriality

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8306.2005.00468.x

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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