Beyond hypocrisy? Debating the 'fact' and 'value' of sovereignty in contemporary world politics

George Lawson, Robbie Shilliam

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    It is no exaggeration to say that sovereignty is the foundation both of International Relations (IR) as a field of enquiry and of international politics as an 'actual existing' field of practice. Whether seen as the archetypal IR101 topic or in debates about the rights and wrongs of humanitarian intervention, the capacity of international organisations to exert control over significant spheres of international politics, or in discussions about the legitimacy of bodies such as the International Criminal Court, sovereignty appears as the central referent point of international politics. Over recent years, however, there has been considerable debate over both the substantive content ('fact') and normative framing ('value') of sovereignty. The former comes about as a result of a series of political, economic and security challenges which see states as assuming a role as 'one-amongst-many' in an increasingly complex international topography; the latter stems from concerns about whether national states form the optimal site for the articulation of authority claims. This forum engages with both of these debates, focusing on how they relate to understandings of the emergence, development and possible emasculation of sovereignty in the contemporary world. In the introduction to the forum, we outline the ways in which scholars have contested the emergence of the sovereign state and examine the ethical issues surrounding the normative value of this form of rule. In the process, we lay out the ways in which the papers that make up this forum make uncomfortable, if important, contributions to the debate about the fact and value - or 'is' and 'ought' - of sovereignty in contemporary world politics.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)657-670
    JournalInternational Politics: a journal of transnational issues and global problems
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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