Rehistoricizing the Sovereignty Principle: Stature, Decline, and Anxieties About a Foundational Norm

  • Amy Niang


This chapter historicizes “the sovereignty principle” in the making of “the international.” Focusing on three distinct moments—(a) the “legal” conventions that guided the Berlin Conference (1884/1885), (b) the short-lived experiment of a Franco-African Union (1946–1958), and (c) the various deliberations on self-determination that took place in the inter- and post-war periods—it contends that contrary to conventional wisdom, sovereignty is not a fixed and unchanging fact, but a flexible, mutable, negotiable, and layered normative principle. In the specific context of the three instances analyzed, the chapter suggests that sovereignty functions, respectively, as a “relational,” a “divisible,” and a “modernization-bound” norm. The chapter thus contends that both colonialism and decolonization have to be (re)conceptualized in the manner in which they came to (re)distribute sovereign effects.


Sovereignty International relations Africa Franco-African Union Decolonization Colonization Berlin Conference Norms Ontology The international 


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy Niang
    • 1
  1. 1.University of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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