The Tragedy of the Nation-State

The nation-hyphen-state as the clear and coherent mapping of a relatively culturally homogeneous group of people onto a territory with a singular and organized state apparatus of rule has long been the structural underpinning of most claims about political legitimacy and democratic participation. The people should rule, but who exactly is “the people”? As we look around the world, many of us see more exceptions to the clear and coherent mapping than we do of cases where there is any fit whatsoever. The contradictions loom ever larger. Rather than doubling down on creating ever more nation-states as the presumed solution to this impasse, we perhaps need to own up to its tragedy. The failure to live up to its billing, without ethnic cleansing, population exchanges, suppression of minority rights, and so on, reveals that the model itself is essentially flawed.

Unfortunately, social science and political philosophy are so overinvested in the concept of the nation-state, to the extent that it is the singular foundation stone for most of their theory-building efforts, that we are incapable of moving beyond it as at least an ideal (as in nation-building) and usually as a presumption that every single one of those coloured spaces on the world political map is a real or potential nation-state. Yet to examine the world in its empirical variety is to reveal a range of actual and potential polities that work to articulate and aggregate identities, interests and preferences despite rather than because of the existence of anything approaching a “nation-state” in its conventional usage.

The articles in this issue raise and approach the problematic of the “tragedy” of the nation-state in very different ways to introduce new perspectives on this taken-for-granted concept.

John Agnew, UCLA 

Editor-in-Chief, Territory, Politics, Governance


Read the whole issue here.

Or explore the individual articles below:

Agnew, J. – The tragedy of the nation-state (for the full introduction to the issue)

Amir, M. – Revisiting politicide: state annihilation in Israel/Palestine

Atkinson, R., Parker, S. and Morales, E.R. – Non-state space: the strategic ejection of dangerous and high maintenance urban space

Baker, T. and McGuirk, P. – Assemblage thinking as methodology: commitments and practices for critical policy research

Convery, A. and Lundberg, T. C. – Decentralization and the centre right in the UK and Spain: central power and regional responsibility

Debarbieux, B. – Hannah Arendt’s spatial thinking: an introduction

Gillespie, R. – The contrasting fortunes of pro-sovereignty currents in Basque and Catalan nationalist parties: PNV and CDC compared

Oteng-Ababio, M., Owusu, A. Y., Owusu, G., & Wrigley-Asante, C. – Geographies of crime and collective efficacy in urban Ghana

Rivarola Puntigliano, A. – 21st century geopolitics: integration and development in the age of ‘continental states’