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The Making and Remaking of State Sovereignty in IR Theory: From Fantasy to Nightmare

Mandelbaum, Moran



This chapter traces the discursive and phantasmic (re-)productions of state sovereignty in IR theory from traditional scholarship to contemporary mainstream IR theory, thus contributing to recent analyses of sovereignty in critical and historical IR. Drawing on a Lacanian-Žižekian ontology of void and the functioning of phantasmic narratives, I make two interrelated arguments: first, I argue that to understand better the ubiquitous nature of state sovereignty we need to explore the role nationalism plays in IR theory. Specifically, I argue that nationalism is at the heart of IR theory and the knowledge production of the international, and as such it is nationalism that animates the elusive and appealing imaginary of state sovereignty. Second, I argue that both state sovereignty and nationalism were assumed analytically, rather than ontologically, during the first decades of IR scholarship. Polities were presumed to be nationally homogeneous and sovereign. During the last thirty years, however, mainstream IR theory no longer holds this analytical assumption and has come instead to invest actively in the remaking of polities as homogeneous and sovereign through the development of theoretical, conceptional and policy frameworks. In other words, we have now moved from the fantasy of state sovereignty to its nightmarish realisation.

Acceptance Date Feb 7, 2023
Online Publication Date May 24, 2023
Publicly Available Date May 25, 2025
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Edition 1
Book Title Variations on Sovereignty
Chapter Number 1
Publisher URL