Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 4]

An Introduction to contexts and realms (cont.)

Agents and players in territorial disputes have interactions in and are influenced by the domestic, regional and international contexts. Any account of sovereignty and cosmopolitanism should acknowledge this multi-contextual platform if the aim is to comprehend and potentially solve the most intricate territorial disputes such as the Israel-Palestine difference, Crimea, the South China Sea and Kashmir.

There is a further angle to the pluralism of pluralism present in territorial disputes: the realms from which they are evaluated and, consequently, the intentional and non-intentional concealed assumptions and beliefs. 


In addition to contexts, sovereignty, cosmopolitanism and territorial disputes may “exist” in different realms. In brief, a subject or an object may have ideal, natural, cultural or metaphysical existence.

  • Ideal subjects of study (or objects) are unreal. That is, they simply “are” but do not properly exist.  They are not in the experience (not apprehensible through the senses). For example, the triangle as an object in geometry simply consists of pure space closed on three sides, but it does not exist anywhere, it is not in the experience and finally it is neutral to value judgments.
  • In turn, natural subjects of study (or objects) are for their part real, they have existence, they are in the experience, they are in time and they are neutral to value judgments. Consider a stone or a bird and it is possible to verify in both cases all these characteristics by our senses. To claim there is beauty in flowers and birds is not logical because it is not, for example, a botanical or zoological property. The landscape, for instance, does not exist by itself but integrated by the viewer as a portion of qualified nature. 
  • Finally, cultural subjects of study (or objects) created in some way by humans acting according to their volition are real, they are in the experience, they are in time and they are valuable with a positive or negative sign.

To acknowledge the existence of these different realms is of utmost importance to fully comprehend sovereignty, cosmopolitanism and territorial disputes.

Applied to sovereignty, any definition refers to the highest, supreme, absolute authority in a territory and over a population. Within a territory, it means that lawmakers—i.e. the government—have the exclusive prerogative to create laws for these people. Externally, any other agent has the obligation not to interfere. From this very brief characterization, it is self-evident that sovereignty refers to normative elements such as national legal order and international legal agreements as well as factual ones such as territory and population.

To a similar extent cosmopolitanism, for example, may be a moral or a legal set of rules as well as a sociological characteristic present in a domestic, regional or international context.

Consequently, if scholars in legal science aimed to evaluate a territorial dispute from, for example, the public international law perspective (ideal, normative realm) they might find it hard to come to an agreement with scholars in political science or sociology who could assess the same territorial dispute, for example, based on historical, ethnic or even linguistic elements (natural or cultural realms). Indeed, all these scholars would be exploring the same territorial dispute but from different realms of reference and, therefore, their results would be determined (or, at least influenced and, arguably, biased) by a priori concepts, assumptions and beliefs.

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Dimensions, time and space

Author of:

Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020).

Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017).

Friday 16th April 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

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