"Partial Sovereignty: The Politics of Minority Self-Government"
How can we best respond to minority regional demands for independence from the central government? When Quebecois, Catalonians, Moros, Tibetans, Chechens, or others seek separation to form their own state, what can be done? Some may support independence, but this is a form of partition, one that sometimes amplifies violence and dismisses dissenting voices, especially those of regional ethnic minorities. And independence is rare, as host states and a conservative Westphalian international order seek to preserve borders. However, continuing with the status quo, with ethnic majorities responding to distinctive minorities with exclusion, violence, and assimilation, is unjust as well as unsustainable.
Territorial autonomy—special forms of self-government for territorially concentrated minority nations—represents a way forward. A compromise between independence and incorporation, territorial autonomy provides minority groups with self-governance within the borders of host states. Autonomy is a go-to response to separatist conflict and an integral tool for minority rights. It is found throughout world regions and is growing. It can empower minorities through control over education and language rights, taxation and fiscal power, law and policing, political systems and governments, and foreign affairs. This said, territorial autonomy is underappreciated and poorly understood. With the support of the Pacific Basin Research Center, my project seeks to analyze the politics of minority self-governance. It seeks to move beyond existing studies of autonomy in Western democracies, appreciating a broader universe of cases. Along with democratic autonomy, I look to forms of post-conflict, Indigenous, nested, and authoritarian autonomy. My project analyzes several underappreciated puzzles. Despite being a form of decentralization, most autonomous regions are centralized. Despite being a tool of conflict resolution and multiculturalism, autonomy sometimes sparks localized conflicts and threatens smaller, second-order minorities.
Creating better, more inclusive forms of self-governance has the potential to help national minorities protect and develop their communities. This said, autonomous governance can also be improved. Authoritarian governments sometimes use territorial autonomy to dominate minority regions. Autonomous governments need to better respect second-order, regional minorities, including migrant and Indigenous groups, as well as gender minorities. However, autonomy also holds considerable potential. It could help to manage conflicts in Patani, Palestine, Donbas, Kashmir, and Kurdistan. Territorial autonomy may help to rewrite Indigenous governance, providing real power over communal land and resources. And it may help to better represent distinctive regions such as Okinawa, Corsica, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and more. At its heart, autonomy enables national minorities to see themselves as regional majorities, providing recognition alongside political empowerment. Crafting more and better minority self-governance has the potential to make for a more peaceful, respectful world.