Against sovereignty: the colonial limits of modern politics

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The discipline of International Relations is premised upon the idea that a premodern world of empires and colonial domination was gradually replaced through the global spread of modern sovereign nation-states. Decades of decolonial scholarship and the growth of the literature on state formations have shown fundamental continuities in these ‘transitions to modernity’, which are often overlooked by the assumption that establishes the discipline. This paper questions the possibility of responding to contemporary global crises through a political framework rooted in colonial and absolutist legacies, indicating the necessity of thinking not only beyond, but against sovereignty. This is presented, first, through an engagement with the historical development of modern sovereignty and the role of the ‘nation’ in tying the legitimacy of political authority to a cultural or historical homogeneity. Second, by drawing upon the existing critiques of the nation within decolonial literature, outlining two different responses to its role in struggles for decolonial democratisation. While such a rejection of sovereignty is by no means a finished project, it is a necessary component of contemporary political action (and academic reflection) that aims to look for alternative ways of addressing the many crises of the present while abandoning the colonial legacies of our current political forms.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMillennium: Journal of International Studies
Early online date29 Nov 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 29 Nov 2023


  • sovereignty
  • Historical Sociology
  • decolonial theory

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