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At the heart of the historic legitimacy of modern citizenship regimes lies the promise of universalistic and egalitarian inclusion into a political community. In line with the rationale of the Westphalian state system the individual’s entitlements and obligations were defined in term of membership in a territorially confined and culturally sanctioned statal entity. Yet the borders defining modes of inclusion into and exclusion from the political community were exempted from the universalistic principles that, in the wake of the French Revolution, have became the canonical standards for the internal self-organization of democratic political communities. Modern, nationally organized citizenship regimes have historically been based on this tension between cosmopolitan spirit of universal rights and inclusion on the one hand and the exclusion of those deemed alien to the own community on the other hand. The morally arbitrary belonging to a culturally defined national community became the legitimate standard on the basis of which membership rules and thus the legal status of individuals in terms of their communal existence are stipulated. With respect to both state practices and our imaginary of what constitutes a political community national borders are still seen to be the pivotal (and for some exclusively legitimate) legal and symbolic dividing line between insiders and outsiders.

However, the rationale of mutually exclusive nation-states as the sole and exclusive containers for rights and entitlements has become increasingly questionable. Contemporary forms of migration, the hollowing out of the principle of national sovereignty, the extend of transnational practices and right claims have undermined the viability of the idea that national borders can claim to constitute the sole mode of establishing membership and of structuring the relationship between individuals and the political community. The equilibrium between the commitment to universal rights and the principle of sovereign self-determination in liberal democracies has become contested and no longer seems to provide a sustainable answer to the challenges of the current globalized world. The flagrant conflict between human rights and the attempt of nation-states to close their borders to unwanted migrants (in particular refugees, asylum seekers, and the growing group of displaced or stateless persons) is one of the most pertinent examples of this phenomenon. Similarly non-citizens, though participating in the social life of a society, are often deprived of fundamental rights and subject to exclusionary practices.

Debating the nature and the effects of this 'liberal paradox' the conference will address the following questions:

1.What is the nature of the liberal paradox in terms of its legal, political and normative implications?

2.How have these challenges instigated a re-conceptualization of thinking about citizenship and membership in the age of de-nationalization (decoupling membership and citizenship rules from national cultural identity, etc.)?

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2008-2009 activities:


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2008 Conference:

Recognition and Self-Determination

February 28 - March 2

2008 Graduate Student Conference

The Dynamics of Recognition:  Power and Transformation

Victoria Colloquium on Political, Social and Legal Theory

2008-2009 Colloquium Speakers


Colloquium Speakers

2006-2007 Colloquium speakers.

Demcon 2006
Workshop on

Stored Communities: Narratives of Contact and Arrival in Constituting Political Community -was held on December 1-3, 2006

Demcon 2005 Conference Paper

Main Sponsors