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Defective polities: a history of an idea of international society

Castro e Almeida, Manuel (2012) Defective polities: a history of an idea of international society. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis is about the idea of defective polities. It addresses two important understandings in the literature which inform current theory and practice surrounding failed states. First, the thesis addresses the conventional standpoint that the end of the Cold War generated a new challenge for international society, widely known as the challenge of failed states. It aims to counter the ahistoricism of the literature on failed states in IR and cognate fields by showing that the nature of the issue of ‘failed states’ precedes the emergence of the concept in post-Cold War international society. Second, we respond to the view that international law/the doctrine and norm of state sovereignty have been essentially instruments in the hands of the most powerful members of international society, often used to justify practices of imperial and colonial nature. According to this perspective international law/state sovereignty explain or are crucial in the perpetuation of the idea and category of defective polities. By looking at the history of the relationship between the doctrine and norm of state sovereignty and the idea and category of defective polities, our aim is to show that these views about the role of international law are, to a great extent, misleading. Bearing in mind the possibility that concepts perform functions, the central hypothesis this thesis will be testing is the following: failed states are the latest of a number of concepts prevalent in international society that refer, or did so in the past, to the idea and category of defective polities. Although this argument implies a sense of continuity, the history of this idea is characterised by an evolving normative context. Thus, this thesis combines an English School approach with history of ideas, a meta-theoretical choice that is simultaneously sensitive to notions of continuity and change. This framework involves an attempt to: (a) identify and comprehend these concepts; (b) understand what functions these concepts served; (c) shed light on the kind of motives and legitimating arguments used by the actors uttering the concepts; and (d) understand if and how conceptual changes are related to normative changes in international society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Manuel Castro e Almeida
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Wilson, Peter and Williams, John

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