Hungarian Yearbook of International Law and European Law


Conceptualizing National Identity in Self-Determination Practice

A Cross-Cutting International Law Analysis

Keywords national identity, self-determination, Aaland Islands, Kosovo, Quebec
Authors Gaetano Pentassuglia
Author's information

Gaetano Pentassuglia
Gaetano Pentassuglia: professor of international law, Centre for the Study of Law in Theory and Practice, Liverpool John Moores University; Honorary Senior Fellow, University of Liverpool.
  • Abstract

      While national identity disputes continue to proliferate – from secessionist claims to controversial ideas of national autonomy and indigenous sovereignty – there has hardly been any international cross-cutting (theoretically-driven) analysis of national identity issues per se, and hardly any conceptual assessment informed by legal (mainly adjudicatory) international (and international-related) practice. Drawing on international law and interdisciplinary scholarship, the aim of the inquiry is to fill this gap by offering a selective intertemporal investigation into, and articulation of, the hybridity with which international legal discourse has responded to such pressures in the context of definitional and conceptual matters linked to the right of ‘peoples’ to self-determination. Against general baseline meanings of ‘civic’ and ‘cultural’ national identity, I will subdivide the analysis into five broad areas of discussion, seeking to uncover the conceptual dimensions of peoplehood (and nationhood) debates in specific judicial/institutional settings, to expose their complexities, and to indicate a way forward. I will argue that there has been a move over time towards a more substantive view of national identity in international law, yet no universal or automatic test of peoplehood or nationhood applies to it; and that such a hybrid move should be viewed as neither a concession to ethnocentrism, nor merely a form of legal argumentation used to soften or even eradicate the ‘elemental force’ of national claims.

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