Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 6]

Agents and players

Our second post of this series “Pluralism of pluralisms” briefly introduced the notions of agents and players applied to sovereignty and cosmopolitanism. With this multi-subject view, it is possible to acknowledge that there are different individuals, communities and states involved in territorial disputes and they can operate in different manners.

Post 2: And introduction to agents and layers


The following posts will expose, discuss and explore in more detail an often-overlooked situation in relation to both sovereignty and cosmopolitanism: there are several different agents and each of them may play different roles. Therefore, to argue that a particular agent or player is the main (and at times, sole) subject to be considered in, for example, territorial disputes, pandemics or trafficking of any kind, is both a mistake and an oversimplification.

Individuals group in couples and families. Families associate into neighborhoods and communities. When these communities organize themselves into a territory with their own government they constitute a political organization: the state.

At the level of civil societies, individuals have interests in common and in conflict. Similarly, individuals associated in communities have similar and conflicting interests. Consider, for example, issues related to gender, minorities, internal migrations, differently abled people, children and young adults and many other intra-community subgroups.

At the level of the international society, these individuals and communities are a single legal and political entity (i.e. the state) that has too common and conflicting interests with their peers. A classic example is the case of territorial disputes. Despite the internal differences within states about individual and community interests, when there is a territorial dispute, internationally, states seem to be a single agent. This is indeed an oversimplification. Cases such as the difference between Israel and Palestine or Catalonia clearly show that there are other agents than solely states to take into account. For example, the Israel-Palestine difference includes diaspora, settlements, Hamas and other individual and community interests.

Any comprehensive analysis of the relationship between sovereignty and cosmopolitanism should, therefore, consider agents in their individuality, as part of communities and as a single state. None of these views should be considered more central or relevant to a comprehensive study by sacrificing the others. It may be the case that because of the science of reference or the dimension, for example, one or more of these agents take a more prominent role. This, however, cannot be an excuse to disregard the existence of the others.

Similar to a board-game, sovereignty and cosmopolitanism include different kinds of players: hosts, participants, attendees and viewers. Consider the cases of territorial disputes where there are at least two players: i.e. the challenger and the challenged. Reduced to these two players, they act as hosts of the dispute in the sense without them there would not be a quarrel.

There may be other players such as participants in question. For example, in the cases of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands and Gibraltar the hosts would be the UK and Argentina and the UK and Spain, respectively. In turn, Falkland Islanders and Gibraltarians might be the participants.

There is however a difference between being a participant and an attendee. Whilst participants have a certain degree of interaction generally allowed by the hosts, attendees are merely present in the dispute without much legal or political ability to participate. In the case of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, the Islanders are mere attendees for Argentina because the Argentinian government has systematically neglected their right to participate in any negotiation about the sovereignty over the territory in question. On the contrary, Gibraltar has moved towards accepting a certain degree of participation to Gibraltarians by both the UK and Spain in light of the principle of “Two Flags, Three Voices.” Finally, viewers refer to any other player related to the territorial dispute, but without any actual or hypothetical legal and political connection. Regional players such as neighboring states are an example.

The following posts will present and explore in more detail the different agents (individuals, communities and states) and how they may interact with each other thinking of them as players (hosts, participants, attendees and viewers).

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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).

Monday 19th April 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

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