Territories, Peoples, Nations: Decolonial Approaches to Foundational Concepts in Political Theory

January 10, 2024 - January 11, 2024
Northwestern University In Qatar

Education City، Al Luqta St, Ar-Rayyan, Qatar

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  • Institute for Advanced Studies in the Global South at Northwestern University in Qatar
  • Doha Critical Security Studies Hub


Northwestern University In Qatar
New York University, Abu Dhabi
Northwestern University In Qatar

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Overview & Submission Guidelines 

This workshop explores how the theories, experiences, and stories of postcolonial societies and Indigenous peoples contribute to and reorient debates about territorial sovereignty, political community, and self-determination in political theory and philosophy. How does fore-fronting global struggles against colonialism, imperialism, and racial capitalism as well as the ecological challenges of climate change affect how we ought to think about these foundational concepts? The workshop aims to build a network of scholars in the Global South whose work engages with these questions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and through empirical research and systematic normative reflection. The workshop is sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Global South at Northwestern University in Qatar (#IAS_NUQ) and the Doha Critical Security Studies Hub funded by the Arab Council for Social Sciences. 

We are inviting proposals for full papers (6000-9000 words) on these themes. Please submit an abstract of 500-1000 words by September 20, 2023 on Easychair, https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=tpn2024. Selected participants will be asked to submit a full paper by December 1 and to read everyone’s papers in advance of the workshop. 

The workshop will take place January 10-11, 2024 in Doha at Northwestern University in Qatar. Travel and accommodation for presenters from outside Qatar will be covered by the organizers. In addition to the workshop discussions, we are planning a public panel discussion with selected participants that will be open to an audience from Doha’s Education City. The workshop is part of an effort to build an interdisciplinary network of scholars from the region working on these questions. This may include scholars in political philosophy and political theory, anthropology, history, political science, international relations and international law, gender studies, sociology, communications, and other disciplines. We are particularly interested in contributions that discuss the workshop themes as they apply in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean region, but we welcome discussions anchored in other contexts as well. The main working language of the workshop will be English, but we will try to accommodate submissions in other languages when it is feasible.

For questions, please contact the workshop organizers at tpn2024 AT easychair.org.


Debates in political philosophy and political theory about territorial sovereignty, political community, and self-determination are often implicitly indexed to liberal democratic Western nation-states. These debates usually treat the nation-state as their normative starting point and often do not extensively address the ongoing legacies of colonialism and imperialism, even though most contemporary state boundaries were established through conquest, settler colonialism, imperialist fiat, and forced migration. 

This workshop will explore how accounts that center the experiences of postcolonial societies and Indigenous peoples can contribute to and reshape debates about these foundational concepts of political theory. For example, Adom Getachew has argued that anticolonial nationalists from the Global South did not pursue an expansion of the Westphalian regime of sovereignty but instead “reinvented” an internationalist understanding of self-determination that inspired visions of regional and postcolonial federations and the internationalization of welfarism. Nandita Sharma and others have argued that the nationalization of state sovereignty has played a key role in perpetuating the exploitative and extractive practices of racial capitalism. Similarly, theorists of Indigenous self-determination routinely problematize and challenge dominant paradigms of sovereignty and territoriality. Glen Coulthard and others have criticized contemporary politics of recognition for reinscribing rather than rectifying settler colonial relationships between host states and Indigenous nations. Kyle Whyte’s notion of “collective continuance” and Jeff Corntassel’s concept of “sustainable self-determination” both represent alternative conceptualizations of Indigenous sovereignty that interweave—in different ways—political, cultural, ecological, and intergenerational relationships and responsibilities. 

In this workshop, we will explore the implications of various strands of political thought from the Global South for how we ought to understand foundational concepts including territory, peoplehood, political community, and self-determination. How does fore-fronting global struggles against colonialism, imperialism, and racial capitalism as well as the ecological and environmental challenges of climate change affect how we ought to think about these concepts? Potential topics and questions may include (but are not limited to) the following: 

  • How should we think about the concept of “the people'' in the context of postcolonial states, which often inherited colonial borders that interrupted precolonial forms of movement and governance and created new forms of ethnic and religious heterogeneity and forms of domination? 
  • How does centering the experiences of Indigenous people rather than modern nation-states affect our understanding of the concept of political community and “the people”? 
  • What are the continuities and discontinuities between the idea of territorial nationalities and racial categories? What role do nation-building projects and the delineation of “natives” from “migrants” play in the reproduction of racial capitalism? 
  • How have feminist movements and theorists in the Global South contributed to critical reflections of nation- and people-hood? 
  • How does attention to the colonial and imperial histories of actual nation-states impact debates on immigration? 
  • What territorial and non-territorial forms should reparations for colonial injustices take? Or have these injustices been superseded? 
  • How does methodological nationalism shape or distort debates about territory, peoplehood, political community, and self-determination? What alternative forms of political community—beyond the nation-state or the people—need more attention? 
  • How does fore-fronting the ecological dimensions of territory affect our theories of peoplehood, sovereignty, and self-determination? How can theories of territory address the challenges raised by the current ecological crises of the Anthropocene, which are themselves bound up with the legacy of colonialism? What are the limitations of territorial approaches, and what are alternative ways of conceptualizing people’s relationships to land and the environment? 

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