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The state as person in international theory

  • Alexander Wendt

To say that states are ‘actors’ or ‘persons’ is to attribute to them properties we associate first with human beings – rationality, identities, interests, beliefs, and so on. Such attributions pervade social science and International Relations (IR) scholarship in particular. They are found in the work of realists, liberals, institutionalists, Marxists, constructivists, behaviouralists, feminists, postmodernists, international lawyers, and almost everyone in between. To be sure, scholars disagree about which properties of persons should be ascribed to states, how important state persons are relative to other corporate persons like MNCs or NGOs, whether state persons are a good thing, and whether ‘failed’ states can or should be persons at all. But all this discussion assumes that the idea of state personhood is meaningful and at some fundamental level makes sense. In a field in which almost everything is contested, this seems to be one thing on which almost all of us agree.

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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