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JSI Seminar Series: Is state sovereignty an empty concept? Two lessons from Alf Ross


11 April 2017

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Is state sovereignty an empty concept? Two lessons from Alf Ross

Speaker: Dr Andrea Dolcetti, University of Oxford

This paper argues that state sovereignty should not be thought of as an empty concept. In the first section, Andrea Dolcetti considers three contemporary scholarly contributions on the concept of state sovereignty, all of which are sceptical about the semantic content of 'state sovereignty'. He argues that their scepticism is intrinsically linked to the notion that (state) sovereignty is an empty concept, in the sense that it lacks semantic reference. He subsequently shows how this notion is germane to Alf Ross’ view that legal concepts (e.g. ownership) simply amount to "technical tools of presentation". Dolcetti, then, critically revisits Ross' analysis of the concept of sovereignty, which mirrors his analysis of ownership as a Tû-Tû concept. In conclusion, Dolcetti suggests that, in order to further one's understanding of state sovereignty, Ross' study of the concept of democracy - which he conceptualises as an ideal type - should be favoured over his explanation of ownership. For this reason, Dolcetti submits that there are two lessons to be learnt from a critical study of Alf Ross' analysis of legal concepts. First, that state sovereignty is not necessarily an empty concept. Secondly, that in order to illuminate the concept of state sovereignty it would be more useful to focus on the ideal type (or central/paradigm case) of state sovereignty.

About the Speaker

Dr Andrea Dolcetti is a College Lecturer in Law at the University of Oxford (St. Hilda's College and University College), where he teaches constitutional law and jurisprudence. He is also a course convener and tutor on the Global Rule of Law & Constitutional Democracy Masters at the University of Genoa, Italy. Andrea's research interests include: jurisprudence; (comparative) public law; political theory; history of political thought; and the epistemology of the social sciences.

CPD Points: 2


Time: 6-8pm

Location: Common Room, Level 4, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, Camperdown, University of Sydney

Cost: Complimentary, however registration is essential

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 270f1d7e3326311400262c043b3e2a103364311340670d0c