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Adjudicating Sovereignty: From State Weakness to Improvisation

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Jeffrey, AS 


This chapter explores the utility of ideas of improvisation to understandings of Eurasian state-building, focusing in particular on forms of international intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereafter BiH) since 1995. Using improvisation as a means of grasping the social character of political and cultural practice has a long scholarly lineage, from structural anthropology in the 1960s through to its more recent reworking in post-structural political theory. This paper will build on this work to illustrate the symbolic and material elements to the metaphor of improvisation, it is a term that simultaneously evokes performance and resourcefulness. In the first frame, improvisation highlights the situated and embodied ways in which international agencies have attempted to perform a coherent and stable Bosnian state: from re-naming streets to inventing traditions; from implementing new legal frameworks to reorganising state services. In the second frame, improvisation highlights the enrolment of social, cultural and economic resources in conveying and resisting nascent state processes. This argument draws attention to the legacy of Yugoslav pasts and the promise of European futures in validating styles of intervention, and to the role of non-state agents in subverting and appropriating new state practices in order to convey alternative ideas of the state. Such an approach focuses our attention on the situated and partial nature of adjudications of state weakness, highlighting that they are iterations that emerge from distinct political perspectives rather than reflecting disembodied and essential value judgments. The paper concludes by arguing that assessments of the adjudication of sovereignty should not focus on the content of such pronouncements but rather their political effects.



Adjudicating Sovereignty: From State Weakness to Improvisation


Political Science

Is Part Of

Paradox of Power The Logics of State Weakness in Eurasia

Book type


University of Pittsburgh Press

Publisher DOI


Economic and Social Research Council (ES/I009213/2)