Statehood and recognition in world politics: Towards a critical research agenda

Date01 June 2022
Published date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Cooperation and Conflict
2022, Vol. 57(2) 133 –151
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00108367211007876
Statehood and recognition in
world politics: Towards
a critical research agenda
Gëzim Visoka
This article offers a critical outlook on existing debates on state recognition and proposes future
research directions. It argues that existing knowledge on state recognition and the dominant
discourses, norms and practices needs to be problematized and freed from power-driven,
conservative, positivist and legal interpretations and reoriented in new directions in order to
generate more critical, contextual and emancipatory knowledge. The article proposes two major
areas for future research on state recognition, which should: (a) expose the politics of knowledge,
and positionality, and seek epistemic justice and decolonization of state recognition studies; and
(b) study more thoroughly recognitionality techniques encompassing diplomatic discourses,
performances and entangled agencies. Accordingly, this article seeks to promote a long overdue
debate on the need for re-visioning state recognition in world politics.
Critical theory, decolonization, recognitionality, state recognition, statehood
The creation of states and their subsequent recognition remain among the most problem-
atic, yet important, aspects of international politics. Despite the fact that many ethnic
groups, movements and regions have sought to create their own sovereign state, only a
very small fraction of ethnic groups seeking independence have managed to become
internationally recognized states (Griffiths, 2016: 5). In addition to 193 UN Member
States, we have over 10 de facto and partially recognized states, and over 40 partially
independent and non-self-governing territories (Caspersen, 2014). While there is no
exact definition of state recognition, in a broad sense recognition entails ‘the practice of
states conferring recognition upon newcomers, which is considered to be an important
Corresponding author:
Gëzim Visoka, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Ireland.
1007876CAC0010.1177/00108367211007876Cooperation and ConflictVisoka
134 Cooperation and Conflict 57(2)
element of independent statehood and a crucial blessing for admission to the interna-
tional community of sovereign states’ (Visoka et al., 2020: 2). International recognition
plays a vital role in the political, security, legal, economic and socio-cultural develop-
ment of states (Rezvani, 2015: 1). It enables states protection under international law,
access to multilateral bodies and the possibility to develop diplomatic and trade relations
with other states. While international recognition might not guarantee successful state-
hood, its absence certainly poses many challenges for surviving an inhospitable interna-
tional environment (Craven and Parfitt, 2018). States which lack full international
recognition are more likely to become subject to foreign military occupation and hybrid
wars (Fabry, 2010). Limited diplomatic relations – an inherent condition of unrecognized
states – undermines the capacity of these entities to enhance their political, security and
trade relations with other recognized states, leading to economic stagnation, poverty and
social isolation (Geldenhuys, 2009). More broadly, the recognition of states plays a cen-
tral role in shaping world politics. It can be a cause of state death, birth, or resurrection.
It can be a source of conflict and peace, a source of justice but also of discrimination and
subordination. It can be a safeguard to state expansion and international order, but also
can be a source of collective self-determination and liberation. It can reproduce the exist-
ing state system but also open up space for normative change and emancipation.
Although the subject of state recognition is widely studied in law, comparative politics
and area studies, there is still no consolidated research programme which critically inter-
rogates the recognition of states in theory and practice. So far, the subject of state recogni-
tion has remained a sub-category of other research programmes, such as those examining
international norms, sovereignty, secession, self-determination, international intervention,
great power politics, preventive diplomacy, violent conflicts, ethnicity, identity politics and
conflict resolution. The resulting fragmented body of knowledge on state recognition has
prevented the development of more comprehensive and reality-adequate accounts that take
into account the politics, law, history, sociology and economics of state recognition in the-
ory and practice. Most importantly, existing literature lacks a critical outlook of state rec-
ognition as a uncodified norm and scattered practice in world politics.
This article offers a critical look at the existing debates on state recognition and pro-
poses future research directions. It argues that the existing knowledge on state recogni-
tion and its dominant discourses, norms and practices need to be problematized and freed
from power-driven, conservative, positivist and legal interpretations, and be reoriented
in new directions in order to generate more critical, contextual and emancipatory knowl-
edge. The overarching stance proposed in this article is that the dominance of conserva-
tive perspectives on state recognition has resulted in producing apathetic knowledge
about the people and states left outside the society of recognized states. This epistemic
injustice not only has repercussions for producing conceptual and theoretical knowledge,
which is far from the lived reality of these state-like entities, but also contributes to the
reproduction of existing power relations, global normative and political orthodoxies, and
exclusionary practices towards peoples and groups who seek to realize their collective
right to self-determination. Therefore, a critical research agenda on state recognition is
long overdue to generate more empathetic and emancipatory knowledge towards peoples
who struggle for recognition in their quest to become a sovereign state.

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