Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 19]

Players and their characteristics

Regardless of their particularities, all participants in a board-game have some characteristics in common. Similarly, this blog series assumes that all agents related to sovereignty and cosmopolitanism who act as players in a territorial dispute, despite their own specific properties as hosts, participants, attendees and viewers, are all rational, have strategies and information.

This is in effect an exercise in ideal theory, and does not claim it has applicability as a non-ideal theory or really explores the relevant non-ideal issues (e.g. lack of compliance). However, such a view enables a more integrated approach to theory building for future analysis, discussion, and potential resolution of territorial disputes and sovereignty conflicts. By combining elements in theory that can be hermeneutical tools to different disciplines such as legal and political sciences and international relations, it is possible to offer a common theoretical platform that includes concepts and methodology useful to different scholars. When different scholars from different disciplines apply the same concepts and basic methodology to assess the same phenomenon it is possible to obtain a more comprehensive result.

For this blog series, the basic characteristics all agents acting as players (i.e. hosts, participants, attendees and viewers) are:

  • Rationality

“Game theorists assume that players have sets of capacities that are typically referred to in the literature of economics as comprising ‘rationality’. Usually this is formulated by simple statements such as ‘it is assumed that players are rational’. In literature critical of economics in general, or of the importation of game theory into humanistic disciplines, this kind of rhetoric has increasingly become a magnet for attack. There is a dense and intricate web of connections associated with ‘rationality’ in the Western cultural tradition, and the word has often been used to normatively marginalize characteristics as normal and important as emotion, femininity and empathy. Game theorists’ use of the concept need not, and generally does not, implicate such ideology.”[1]

Different from traditional game theory, this blog series acknowledges rationality may accept non-rational elements such as passion and emotion. This is particularly important in territorial disputes and sovereignty conflicts because these are often highly emotional, with the participants taking the view that “victory for us is to see you suffer.” [2]

  • Strategies

“Each player in a game faces a choice among two or more possible strategies. A strategy is a predetermined ‘programme of play’ that tells her what actions to take in response to every possible strategy other players might use.” [3]

Of particular prevalence in territorial disputes, it is important to acknowledge that individuals, communities and states may have the same as well as different strategies within. For example, the pay-off to leaders’ prestige that an ongoing conflict guarantees instead of a peaceful and permanent solution.

  • Information

“A crucial aspect of the specification of a game involves the information that players have when they choose strategies. The simplest games (from the perspective of logical structure) are those in which agents have perfect information, […] imperfect information […]”[4]

In addition to whether the accessible information is “perfect” o “imperfect” it is crucial to differentiate how the information is accessible and to whom.

The following posts will explore the characteristics mentioned above in real case scenarios. By comparing and contrasting these theoretical elements with actual territorial disputes is possible to better understand their dynamics.

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Rationality, strategy and information.

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).

Wednesday 12th May 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

[1] Don Ross, Game Theory, available a accessed 12/05/2021.

[2] Philip C. Winslow, Victory for Us is To See You Suffer: in the West Bank with the Palestinians and the Israelis (Beacon Press: 2007).

[3] Don Ross, Game Theory, available a accessed 12/05/2021.

[4] Don Ross, Game Theory, available a accessed 12/05/2021.

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