DOI: 10.5176/2251-2403_PSSIR16.36

Authors: Matthew J. Webb


Explanatory theories of separatism emphasise three, non-mutually exclusive factors for the popular mobilization of separatist sentiment; rational self interest (greed), remedial justice (grievance) and collective consciousness (nationalism). A nuanced understanding of this plurality is one of multiple conjunctural causation where different features interact in a dymanic process to mobilize public sentiment behind alternative jurisdictions of state sovereignty. Nonetheless, problems with such an understanding abound; groups that appear to be prime candidates for separatism do not rebel whereas others that have comparatively little motive or chance of success engage in long, destructive campaigns for independent statehood. This paper argues that a reason for these problems is an undue focus on the separatist group or parent state as the relevant unit of analysis. Using the example of Latin America – which possesses many of the antecedent conditions for separatism but has experienced very few separatist movements – the paper argues that inclusion of processes of state formation and re-conceptualization of sovereignty as a non-binary, shared feature is necessary to explain why Latin America, despite meeting many of the preconditions for separatism, has escaped virtually free of separatist (but not politically motivated) violence. Moreover, inclusion of these additional features offers a more complete, and therefore accurate, account of why some groups attempt to secede but others do not.

Keywords: separatism, conflict, sovereignty, extra-state


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