The Idea of the Self-Governing People

ed. Trevor Stack

This is a proposal for a volume based on workshops held at CISRUL in 2013 and 2014. We expect the volume to appear in 2018.

The idea of a self-governing people—a political community—dates back to the Greeks but is little used in contemporary scholarship, despite its enormous relevance to the world today. What does it mean to say that a “people” governs itself? We live in a time of increased skepticism about democracy, understood as government that represents the people, despite the advance of democratization across the world. Nationalism—the idea that nations should govern themselves—is also frequently questioned even as it flourishes. Our authors draw on but go beyond current debates about democracy and nationalism, within and beyond the academy, focusing on how the people is understood in those debates. The approach is not only theoretical or philosophical but global and historical: we ask what shapes political community has taken since ancient times, and across the world, as well as what forms it might take in the future. When Scotland voted on Independence in 2014, the debates were followed not only by the world’s nationalists, but by movements as different as the Spanish indignados (now Podemos Party) with their critique of conventional politics; the Kurdish rojava cities in Syria which claim to offer plural and hospitable democracy; and even Islamic State, who reject nation and democracy while arguably claiming to incarnate the umma community. Meanwhile, though hopes for a “European people” have faded, the recent Greek elections, as well as the UK’s promised EU referendum, will reignite debate on the standing of Europe’s “peoples” vis-à-vis EU government. Scholars have and will continue to treat each of these topics in their own right, but our authors will focus its energies on distilling the myriad notions of people across these and many other contexts, developing a rich, multi-faceted account of what claims are (and could be) made to act in the name of a people.

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