Conference: “Producing legitimacy: governance against the odds

University of Cambridge, 22-23 April 2013


Keynote address by Ilana Feldman, George Washington University


Dr Alex Jeffrey, Geography, University of Cambridge

Dr Fiona McConnell, Geography, University of Cambridge

Dr Alice Wilson, Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge


Room SG1, Alison Richards Building, 7 West Road, University of Cambridge


Monday 22- Tuesday 23 April 2013

Registration:  £36 waged, £18 student/unwaged. Please regsiter online by April 12th 2013 at the following link.

Conference aims and objectives

‘Legitimacy’, especially the legitimacy of governing authorities, is a key concept in political theory and practice. It is both analytically rich, connecting core political issues of authority, governance and sovereignty, and complex in its changing historical manifestations: the legitimacy of the classic nation-state vies with that of the supra-national configuration such as the EU, the contested would-be state such as Kosovo, or a break-away rival government such as Libya’s Transitional National Council. Yet, at the same time, critical analysis as to the various sources of legitimacy and how it is constructed and contested in our diverse geopolitical panorama has hitherto been largely neglected. This interdisciplinary conference responds to the need for closer examination of legitimacy, approaching it from an important and original angle: the legitimacy claims of anomalous geopolitical spaces. These spaces, where conventional relationships between statehood, sovereignty and territory do not or cannot operate, include de facto states, annexed territories, governments-in-exile, and territories governed by insurgencies, liberation movements or unrecognised governments.  Bringing together scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds who study geopolitical actors aspiring to exist within the inter-state system, this conference explores:

–          the utility of legitimacy as a conceptual framework for examining the functioning of such polities;

–          the practices, discourses and narratives through which legitimacy is constructed in cases where legality is denied;

–          what this might mean for how we think about governance in the international system more generally.

Drawing together scholars from history, international relations, political geography, political science, international law and social anthropology, the conference will address theoretical perspectives, legal analyses of (non)recognition, comparative case studies and ethnographic accounts of legitimacy claims being enacted and contested on the ground. Questions to be addressed include: do geopolitical ‘anomalies’ in fact set themselves, and are they expected to perform to, higher standards of legitimate governance than conventional nation-states, in particular around ‘good governance’ discourses and practices such as democratic reform, popular mandates and adherence to non-violence? Or to what extent are “abeyance techniques” employed in order to avoid questions of a lack of legitimacy? What narratives of history, culture and geography are evoked in claims made about legitimate political pasts, presents and futures? What forms of material or immaterial extraction and redistribution occur within these anomalous geopolitical spaces and how are they legitimated? Where maps fail to represent de facto polities, what moral and political projects are employed to legitimate de jure cartographies? What might be the relationship between legitimate authority over place and over people?

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