Sovereignty and sovereign power

Arjun Chowdhury, Raymond Duvall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Can the dissolution or transgression of sovereign authority-'failed states', for example-be understood within a concept of sovereignty? Extant understandings provide a negative answer; approaches to sovereignty in International Relations and Political Theory conceptualize sovereignty as located in stable entities, generally states. Insofar as political societies face crises of authority, those crises arise from exogenous factors, not the structure of sovereignty. We argue that this is a restrictive notion of sovereignty. In its place, we offer a theorization that can account for the dissolution or transgression of sovereign orders, focusing on the possibility that sovereigns may not recognize their subjects as the originary structure of sovereignty. In our understanding, sovereignty is logically and temporally before sovereign power. Consequently, the possibility of dissolution is a structural condition of all sovereign orders. This enables us to theorize the relationship between sovereignty, sovereign power, and the law, and to apply this broader concept to analyze politics in 'weak' and 'failed states'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-223
Number of pages33
JournalInternational Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • sovereignty
  • state failure
  • state of exception
  • weak states

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