Sovereignty Frames and Sovereignty Claims

Research output: Working paper


This essay argues that much of the contemporary confusion and controversy over the meaning and continuing utility of the concept of sovereignty stems from a failure to distinguish between sovereignty as a deep framing device for making sense of the modern legal and political word on the one hand, and the particular claims which are made on behalf of particular institutions, agencies, rules or other entities to possess sovereign authority on the other. The essay begins by providing a basic account of the difference between sovereignty as framing and sovereignty as claiming, setting out how, during the ascendancy of the modern state, the stability of the former is contrasted with the fluidity of the latter. It continues by analyzing why and how our understandings and uses of sovereignty have altered in the contemporary wave of globalization, with the very framing significance of sovereignty thrown into doubt. The essay argues, against that scepticism, for the continuing significance of the sovereignty frame in the global age. It concludes with some thoughts about the distinctive ways in which the evolving state of sovereignty framing and claiming plays out in the specific context of the United Kingdom and its external and internal legal and constitutional relations today. The resilient centrality of the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty tends to collapse the distinction between the sovereignty frame and the sovereignty claim in the UK context, with certain reductive consequences for the structure and focus of constitutional debate in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh, School of Law, Working Papers
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • sovereignty
  • speech act
  • European Union
  • Parliamentary sovereignty
  • post-sovereignty
  • external sovereignty


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