Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Regimes of sovereignty

The principle of equality of sovereign states —which is to say of a state’s unlimited freedom to exercise sovereign authority within its borders, developed in European legal space.

When former colonies achieved independence, the newly emerging states took over the principle, which is flanked by another: that of territorial integrity, meaning the freedom of a state from interference by other states in exercising its sovereign authority (Steinberger 2000).

With the growing interdependence of state structures, this concept of international law has been increasingly called in to question. In many areas, we can discern new dependencies emerging from the traditional perspective, with its strict focus on inter-state relation; this has led to a relativization or problematization of state sovereignty. Beyond this, the influence of non-national institutions on a state’s domestic legislation has an impact on its citizens. This is the case, for instance, with countries that trade with the European Union and thus declare EU guidelines to be nationally applicable law. Here a portion of state sovereignty is no longer determined by the state itself but rather from outside.

As a consequence the legitimation for exercising sovereign power vis-à-vis the individual no longer rests solely with any particular national state. In 2003 the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai depicted a parallel process in which the development of translocalities loosens the citizen’s ties to the state of origin and the capacity to control of the state sovereign is weakened.

Research projects

The questions of shared, overlapping, and competing sovereignties emerging from these empirical constellations play an important role in a number of the doctoral program’s projects.

In her dissertation in legal theory, Katharina Meyer analyzes the problem of sovereignty as exemplified in the international trade in food. She studies the ways in which European Commission officials execute controls in third countries for the sake of maintaining EU standards.

Francesco Carloni’s research is focused on questions of foreign-policy autonomy and legitimacy of the two main opponents in the Cold War and the involved “non-Great Powers.” In the foreground is the tense relationship between the principle of self-determination of individual nation states and the principle of internationalism, as represented by the United Nations.

The project of Wolfgang Egner, likewise interdisciplinarily oriented and rooted in the field of history, considers the intellectual foundations and historical specificity of the protectorate as a form of rule. Protectorates are here understood as formations in which the sovereignty of the original ruler is formally maintained, albeit accompanied by the development of parallel structures of rule.

The question of competing and conflicting sovereignty is also posed in Estela Schindel’s research project on the discourses and practices of Frontex (the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union). Namely, as a supra-national organization, the EU is a partner of both member states and third countries playing a role in both monitoring and deterrence maneuvers in the border areas.

The doctoral program’s projects suggest that as a concept denoting political authority, sovereignty should not be understood descriptively but rather as a projection field for a state of stabilization extending into the future (Koschorke 2007). This would appear to raise the question of why the concept of sovereignty is maintained although increasingly little is left of its (putatively) absolute contents (Kokott 2004).

The role played by the individual in considering regimes of sovereignty offers a juncture to the research field of “Constructions of Ethnicity, Identity, and Difference.” One way in which states legitimate their function as regulatory authorities is by offering the individual a feeling of affiliation and identification. In contrast, Appadurai has persuasively argued that in transnational frameworks loyalty-grounded relationships can emerge that call into question the state’s role as privileged regulatory authority. Presuming clearly defined state functionality, a functionality resting on the state’s sovereignty, gives expression to a form of Eurocentricism which is an object of consistent critique in the doctoral program.


Appadurai, Arjun 2003. Sovereignty without Territoriality: Notes for a Postnational Geography, in Setha M. Low and Denise Lawrence-Zúñiga (eds.) The Anthropology of Space and Place: Locating Culture, Oxford: Blackwell.

Koschorke, Albrecht u.a. 2007, Der Fiktive Staat. Konstruktionen des politischen Körpers in der Geschichte Europas, Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer.

Kokott, Juliane 2004. "Souveräne Gleichheit und Demokratie im Völkerrecht", Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, 64 (2004), 517-533.

Steinberger, Helmut 2000. Sovereignty, Encyclopedia of Public International Law.