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The Creation, Dispersion, and Recognition of States in World Politics



When the Iraqi Kurds organized their independence referendum in 2017, the overwhelming majority voted to create an independent Kurdish state out of northern Iraq. The latter’s prime minister vowed never to accept the Kurdish independence and, therefore, the disintegration of Iraq. More than 80 years prior to the Kurdish referendum, Iraq itself emerged as an independent recognized state out of the British Empire’s rule. The struggle for self-determination, independence, and recognition has been a central political, legal, and normative issue in world politics over the last two-and-a-half centuries. The contemporary period of post-World War II has seen an unprecedented increase in the demands for statehood and recognition. As you read this course description, there are more than 50 ongoing concurrent movements actively demanding and fighting for independent statehood – some of them peacefully, while others violently. Where does the state come from, and how is it created? What strategies and tactics do secessionist and self-determination movements use to achieve independent statehood? Why are some “selected” to be recognized while others not? This course aims to tackle these and related questions about the expansion of the international society of states and the ongoing struggles for independent statehood and international recognition.

Course objectives

Students who complete this course will be able to:

  • Have a solid understanding of the creation and expansion of the international society of states;

  • Understand and critically analyze notions of self-determination and secession in light of the (non)creation of states in the international system;

  • Grasp the multiple intricacies of state and government (non)recognition in world politics.

Mode of instruction

The course will be conducted in a seminar form. Most of the thematic sessions will kick off with individual short student presentations based on her/his short reaction paper to the assigned readings. Other students are expected to likewise engage with their insights on and questions about the assigned readings. Depending on a session's theme and students’ discussions and questions, the instructor will respond, engage, and add thoughts and analyses from broader literature. The course also includes in-class group work and discussions by the students.

Assessment method

Students will be assessed for both their written and verbal understanding of different themes of the course as follows:

  • Participation: 20%

  • Short reaction note to the assigned readings accompanied by short verbal reaction: 15%*

  • Case study presentation: 25%

  • Final written paper: 40%

*The reaction notes serve as a basis for in-class discussion. The number of reaction notes that each student will have to submit depends on the number of students that sign up for the course. Nonetheless, the total amount of words for the entire course per student on this particular assignment shall not exceed 1,000 words.

Helpful reading list

The following is the list of background texts which students can choose and are encouraged to consult. Select chapters from these texts will be used in a structured way throughout the course.

  1. Hobson, John M. 2000. The State and International Relations. Themes in International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  2. Walter, Barbara F. 2009. Reputation and Civil War Why Separatist Conflicts Are so Violent. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  3. Knudsen, Rita Augestad. 2020. The Fight Over Freedom in 20th- and 21st-Century International Discourse: Moments of ‘Self-Determination.’ Palgrave Macmillan.

  4. Fazal, Tanisha M. 2007. State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Occupation, and Annexation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  5. Roeder, Philip G. 2007. Where Nation-States Come from: Institutional Change in the Age of Nationalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


See 'Practical Information'.