Leiden Journal of International Law


Beyond Empty, Conservative, and Ethereal: Pluralist Self-Determination and a Peripheral Political Imaginary



Over the last couple of years, a stream of pluralist theories of international legal order has developed at the intersection of international law and political theory, having immediate implications for conceptualizing self-determination. The understanding of self-determination under the framework of bounded, constitutional, and radical pluralism markedly departs from the previous wave of normative theories in the 1990s: self-determination is now evacuated from the field of national pluralism and struggles over territory.

This article does not question the thrust of pluralists’ recent work, but complements their critical attunement to global disparities of power, and complicates their neglect of nationalism and rejection of territorial reconfigurations as self-determination's core meaning. In doing so, it unearths two visions that come from the (semi-)periphery of the international political order. The first belongs to Edvard Kardelj, pre-eminent Yugoslav theorist of socialist self-management and the Non-Aligned Movement. The second belongs to Leopold Sédar Senghor, the poet and politician, advocate of négritude, a proponent of French West African integration, and a constitutional advocate for the reconfiguration – not abolition – of the French Union, the heir to the French Empire. While they are suspicious of extensive territorial reconstruction, like contemporary pluralists, unlike them they have seen a role for territorial reconfigurations in the name of national plurality.

Key words

  • pluralism;
  • self-determination;
  • Non-Aligned Movement;
  • French West Africa;
  • all-affected interests principle;
  • Kardelj;
  • Senghor


*  Assistant Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University [zoran.oklopcic@carleton.ca]. The first version of this paper was presented at the International Law and the Periphery conference in Cairo in February 2012. I wish to thank the participants at the conference for their comments. The article has also greatly profited from stimulating conversations with Amy Bartholomew, Luis Eslava, Rose Parfitt, Neil Sargent, and Adrian Smith. I am also indebted to Helena Kolozetti, Ingo Venzke, and two anonymous reviewers for their incisive remarks. The mistakes remain only mine.