Secession and its diverse definitions

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Like many other social and political phenomena, secession has been a subject of the inquiry of separate and often unrelated disciplines. This diversity of approaches to secession yielded different and sometimes incompatible definitions of secession. In view of this, the very concept of secession appears to be contested. One of the most influential legal definitions (by James Crawford, 2006) restricts the concept of secession to the withdrawal of territory which is opposed by the functioning host state. Mutually agreed withdrawal of territory or a withdrawal which is opposed by a disintegrating state, according to this definition, would not count as secession. A social scientist, Michael Hechter (1992) restricts secession only to the cases in which the host state retains its continuity as a state following the territory’s withdrawal. In his view, there are only a few genuine secessions – for example, that of Norway in 1905 and Irish Free State in 1922. In contrast, a political scientist, John Wood (1981), maintains that every case of secession is a case of state disintegration, even when the host state retains its previous identity. This paper discusses the reasons for restricting the concept of secession only to specific kinds of withdrawal of territory. For the purposes of comparative study of secession it is useful to impose only minimal restrictions on this concept. Thus in this paper I argue that for this purpose it is sufficient to exclude only those withdrawals of territory which do not result in the creation of a new state, that is, which only result in the changes of inter-state borders (irredenta). Therefore, for purposes of comparative inquiry into secessions, it is argued here, secession is best defined as a withdrawal of territory from an existing state which results in the creation of a new state, regardless of other consequences that this withdrawal may have on the host state.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Refereed proceedings of the 2012 Australian Political Studies Association Conference, 24-26 September 2012, Hobart, Australia
EditorsRichard Eccleston, Nicholas Sageman, Felicity Gray
Place of PublicationHobart
PublisherAustralasian Political Studies Association
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventAustralian Political Studies Association Conference - Hobart, Australia
Duration: 24 Sep 201226 Sep 2012


ConferenceAustralian Political Studies Association Conference


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