Trevor Stack

Director of CISRUL and Lecturer in Hispanic Studies, Aberdeen, and author of Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship (2012) and co-editor of “Citizenship Beyond the State?” special issue of Citizenship Studies (2007).


  • focus of Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law (host) as well as lead-up to Political Community workshop
  • working definition of “political community” (see link at

Matyas Bodig

Senior Lecturer in Law at Aberdeen, is a legal theorist who has worked on a range of issues concerning rule of law and the nature of the modern state.

Aristotle: when villages come together, state comes into existence for sake of good life

> only happens in relation to self-sufficing community

What can do with this Aristotelian idea?

  • on one hand implausible because  we
    • no longer think of polit communities in need of vision of good life and institutions to achieve it
    • have rejected essentialism about communities coming about and giving rise to state
      • politicial communities may be artificial
      • don’t come into being independent of institutional functioning
  • no sense of political communities being tied into international community, which influences how political communities develop own institutional structure etc.
  • on other hand
    • there is a close connection between political community and political institutions: one calls for the other
    • political communities are not like other communities: even if not targeted to good life, self-sufficiency is important
    • not to conflate political communities with communities that have political needs or agendas > here deviates from my working definition
    • necessarily representational relationship: political institutions have claim to authority if can claim to represent people
      • this is what allows nation-states to claim sovereignty (strong claim to power)

Problems with working definition

  • likes institutional aspect and focus on authority, but need to be more specific about kind of authority invested in institutions, e.g. not clear how can accommodate popular sovereignty
  • relatedness of people to institutions which I try to capture with “having stake” but not all these stakes are constitutive of political communities
    • perhaps need self-sufficiency for more restrictive definition


Nate Jezzi: though political community is used in everyday discourse, this is working definition – but depends on what our aims are e.g. TS trying to avoid normative position but later saying structures of legitimate authority

> TS explains that legitimate here means legitimate in the eyes of people

Franka Winter: link between having stake and being seen as legitimate is dubious e.g. in Latin America – groups have a stake but don’t act according to laws

Nigel Dower: to what extent is being part of political community constitutive of one’s well-being and not just instrumental?

Nadia Kiwan: proposes building in multiplicity, cultural complexity e.g. transnational political community, as well as class

> Matyas:

  • political communities never really achieve representation; political community does exclude and concept makes no sense without it – exclusion comes with the territory
  • John Finnes: political community is one in which one can have many persona vs. football club in which only one persona > this is where self-sufficiency important – we don’t have to go outside community to do full range of things

Daniel Koltonski: would want to distinguish imagined and artificial communities

  • surely all human communities are imagined – members accept norms and narratives that false > leave out events etc. that don’t accord what we want our relationship to be
  • are they artificial when authorities manipulate citizens etc.?

> Matyas: anthropologists find communities in relatedness etc. with identities; but political institutions need to claim representational relation to community (which higher order than family or religious denomination) > this is what such institutions gives the final say

Anna Rader: interested in choice of “members” but different senses: those who have stake vs. those who subscribe to norms or decisions… is there not mutual entailment of members and institutions?

Sian Lazar: Matyas said that some authorities claim to trump other authorities in name of political community – but

  • are there not always multiple claims of this kind, including in the name of transnational and local communities
  • if so, are these concentric circles, or series of different political communities, all of which may claim to trump each other?

Silvia Pasquetti: suggests more emphasis on practices > political community is not only something born into, it can take a lot of work to become a member – and this may be not available or desirable

Marek Szilvasi: is there a risk of treating political institutions as given, rather than looking at the process through which e.g. institutions struggle to claim representation of community?

> Matyas: Laski argued against Schmitt that one should give up on nation as overriding political community with sovereignty, but Matyas sides with Schmitt on this score

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