Territoriality, National belonging and International Recognition

Course content

Why has nationalism continued to be a viable ideology throughout the modern period, despite its many undesired consequences?


This course explores the relation between the modern territorial state and nationalism. The modern international system is based on the assumption that states must be territorially bounded and that the boundaries of the territorial state largely will follow the boundaries of the people.

This assumption has been institutionalised through practices of international legal recognition that require territorial integrity and a defined population as grounds for state recognition. This implies that there exists a congruence between the principles of territoriality and nationality. However, in the actual sociocultural makeup of states, this congruence never fully exists. Instead, nationalism has served to foster a nation out of a people, making the modern state prone to distinguish between friends and strangers as well as exclude on behalf of ethnicity.

Through turning to the process by which how territory first emerged as a requirement for statehood, this course seeks to explore the relation between territoriality and the persistence of nationalism as a central ideology in modern times.

The aim of the course is to understand early theories of statehood and relate them to contemporary notions of the modern state. The course seeks to understand and evaluate the emergence of territoriality as a central aspect of the modern state and how territoriality became a prerequisite for international state recognition. We will further analyse how territoriality as a precondition for state recognition has framed our understanding of peoplehood in terms of national belonging. Our findings will be evaluated from the perspective of democratic theory. This means that we will apply normative ideals about democracy to analyse how the modern understanding of statehood compares to standards of democratic legitimacy.


Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome

Knowledge and understanding:

At the end of the course, students are expected to be able to give an account of theories of statehood, practices of territoriality and key elements of international state recognition

Understand and give an account of early theories of statehood and practices of territoriality and master key elements of international state recognition.

Discuss and critically reflect on the relationship between statehood, territoriality and international state recognition




At the end of the course, students are expected to be able to:

Analyze how the relation between statehood, territoriality and international state recognition form a prerequisite for understanding peoplehood in terms of national belonging.

Relate these findings to democratic theory and central notions of the demos in order to discuss international state recognition with respect to issues of democratic legitimacy.

Apply the theories and arguments to current political events, especially concerning issues of nationalism, migration and political subjecthood.

Evaluate and contextualize the validity of various arguments about statehood, international recognition, territoriality and nationality.




At the end of the course, students are expected to be able to:

Discuss and critically reflect on the work of co-students

Evaluate and organize their own learning process

This course will consist of a combination of lectures, student presentations and discussions.

The course will include selections from the following works (900-­1200 pages):

Abizadeh, Arash, 2008.“Democratic theory and border coercion: no right 
to unilaterally control your own borders.” Political theory 36.1: 37-­65. 


Abizadeh, Arash, 2012.“On the demos and its kin: nationalism, democracy,and the boundary problem.” American Political Science Review 106.4: 867-­882.


Banerjee, Sukanya, 2010. Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


Bartelson, Jens. 2009a.  ”Globalizing the democratic community.” In Baker, Gideon & Bartelson, Jens (Eds.), The future of political community (pp. 36-­50). Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon;: Routledge.


Benton, Lauren, 2010. A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Branch, Jordan, 2013.The Cartographic State: Maps, Territory, and the Origins of Sovereignty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Brenner, Neil, & Elden, Stuart. 2009. ”Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory.” International Political Sociology, 3(4), 353-­377.


Casey, Edward S (1997). The fate of place: a philosophical history. Berkeley & London: University of California Press. 


Elden, Stuart, 2013. The Birth of Territory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press


Espejo, Paulina Ochoa (2014). ”People, Territory, and Legitimacy in Democratic States.” American Journal of Political Science, 58(2), 466-478.


Fabry, Mikulas, 2010. Recognizing States: International Society and the Establishment of New States since 1776. Oxford. Oxford University Press.


Foucault, Michel. 2007. Security, Territory, Population. New York: St Martin Press


Markell, Patchen (2003). Bound by recognition. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.


Maier, Charles S., 2016. Once within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth, and Belonging since 1500. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.


Näsström, Sofia (2010). ”Democracy Counts: Problems of Equality in Transnational Democracy.” In J. Tallberg, C. Jönsson (Ed.), Transnational Actors in Global Governance: Palgrave, MacMillan. 


Näsström, Sofia (2007). ”The Legitimacy of the People.” Political Theory, 35(5), 624-­658. 


Yack, Bernard, 2001.“Popular sovereignty and nationalism.” Political Theory 29.4: 517-­536.


Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28