Referents of Sovereignty or Discourses of Sovereignty: Referent as Discourse and Discourse as Referent

  • Ersun N. Kurtulus


The contemporary approach to the concept of “sovereignty” may be characterized as a titanic clash between two extreme methodological positions, which in different ways underpin the skepti-cism about sovereignty. On the one hand, there is the unproblematic employment of the term in empirical research, where an understanding of its substance is at best attained by operationalizations or operational definitions or at worst simply left to the intuitions or preconceptions of the audience. On the other hand, there is, what a contemporary critic has aptly called, the “indefinability thesis,”1 that is, the overproblematized philosophical treatment of the word as part of a “discourse” or “discursive practice,” where the content of the word is allowed to vary historically from one period to another, to describe in the end, among other things, the functions or the foundations of contemporary scientific discipline(s). The basic assumption of this study is that neither of these approaches is satisfactory in the context of empirical investigations. Sovereignty cannot be regarded as a set of operations or a “primitive term,”2 the meaning of which is given beforehand and is not in need of further logical and empirical explication. Nor can the concept be regarded as some sort of a chimera, or a kind of disciplinary tool or premise with specific functions, with no immediate or contingent relation whatsoever to a nonlinguistic or nondiscursive world. In this chapter, a critical assessment of these two broad approaches to the concept of sovereignty will first be undertaken. Then the focus of attention will be shifted to the general outlines of a third way of addressing what is, after all, a methodological issue.


International Relation Political Community Discursive Practice State Sovereignty Phlogiston Theory 
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© Ersun N. Kurtulus 2005

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