Sovereignty, Suspended: Building the So-Called State (with Mete Hatay)
Forthcoming April 2020 with University of Pennsylvania Press.
A 1983 rally in support of the declaration of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." Photo from the Özer Hatay personal archive.
What is de facto about the de facto state? This seemingly simple question guides us on a journey into de facto statebuilding, or the process of constructing an entity that looks like a state and acts like a state but that everyone else in the world says does not or should not exist. De facto states provide health care and social security, they issue identity cards and passports, and they interact with international aid donors. They hold elections and censuses, control their borders, and enact fiscal policies. Indeed, most maintain (unrecognized) representative offices in sovereign states and so are able unofficially to interact and broker with officials in Washington and London. As a result, the international relations literature describes them as having internal or domestic sovereignty while lacking the de jure sovereignty that comes with international recognition.
We ask what it means to build a state in the absence of recognition, in other words, what it means to act like a state. In order to answer this question, we outline the practices and orders that enable the de facto state and de facto sovereignty to emerge. Along the way, we interrogate the concept of the de facto, which we claim is one of the most widely used and under-examined concepts in the social sciences. Through the historical ethnography of statebuilding in one such unrecognized state, we argue for a theory of the de facto that takes us to the heart not only of unrecognized but also of “real” statebuilding.
Sovereign Longings: Anthropological Perspectives on Political Agency Edited by Rebecca Bryant and Madeleine Reeves
Forthcoming December 2019 with Cornell University Press.
Protestors rally for Brexit. Stock photo from Getty Images.
This volume seeks to situate sovereign agency at the foreground of anthropological inquiry. We take sovereign agency to denote the variety of practices, strategies and future-oriented claims that co-constitute institution and subject in ways that make the latter politically recognizable and capable of agentive action. Sovereign agency, in this sense, is often more aspiration than realization. It is an aspiration for forms of institutional recognition and political legibility that enable efficacious action, or what we call in this volume “state desire.” The desire for sovereign agency, in turn, often emerges from a sense of loss—of political voice, of political legibility, of political order—and a yearning to regain it. We seek in this volume to take those desires and those yearnings seriously as objects of ethnographic attention. Rather than asking, “What is sovereignty?” or who, in a given political configuration, really is sovereign—questions of political form and political ontology that have generated rich strands of theoretical debate within anthropology, political science and international relations—we seek instead to ask: what is being desired when the desire is for a regaining of sovereignty? Who or what is the locus of political imagination in claims to “take back control?” What does sovereignty look like from the ground up?
Faking the State: On Pirates, Puppets, and Other Unbecoming Subjects
A checkpoint to enter the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Photo by R. Bryant
This book asks what people understand and believe they are doing when they enact a state that they know everyone else considers to be “pseudo,” in other words what they’re doing when they’re “faking it.” The so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is one of the two states—the other being Taiwan—that have shown the greatest longevity as de facto entities. But despite its longevity and the seeming permanence of its institutions, today there is a common perception amongst its citizens that, as one of many recent newspaper articles phrased it, “a state called the TRNC never existed and never will.”
Since the easing of movements restrictions within the island in 2003, Turkish Cypriots have become more tied to the world, with increasingly direct relationships with international bodies and institutions, such as the EU and its representatives. Ercan Airport—the unrecognized airport outside north Nicosia—has become almost as busy a hub as the recognized Larnaca Airport in the south. Global capital has arrived in the form of Nike and Adidas stores, Popeyes chicken, Johnny Rockets, Mercure hotels, and Re/Max estate agents. With their EU passports, Turkish Cypriots are now free to take package tours to Thailand and Zanzibar, while youth can win scholarships to study anywhere in Europe. Moreover, Turkish Cypriots have experienced their own pseudo-ness for several decades, so why would a discourse of fabrication, or the “made-up state,” come to the fore and become an accepted part of public life only in recent years?
The book explores this paradox in order to think with literature on the construction and performance of the state. While I take the literature on the performance of the state as a starting point, my own concern is the point at which such performances succeed, or indeed, where they might fail, even for those enacting them. The argument uses examples of engagement with an unrecognized state to show how, in the context of globalization and transnational institutions, citizens of that de facto entity learn, in their daily lives, to perform not stateness and sovereignty, but rather “stateness” and “sovereignty.”
Ledra Palace Blues: Making Divided Nicosia
When it was built in the 1940’s, the Ledra Palace was Nicosia’s most luxurious hotel. Diplomats, movie stars, and war-weary journalists drank gin by its pool, and the local elite danced away evenings in its ballroom. Because of its location immediately outside the city’s old Venetian walls, however, Nicosia’s most glamorous venue was also one of the first historic casualties of Cyprus’s conflict. While barricades first arose to separate Nicosia neighborhoods in 1956, war and partition in 1974 engulfed the hotel and left it stranded in a narrow strip of buffer zone. The United Nations appropriated the hotel as housing for its troops, who today patrol the ceasefire line and hang their laundry from the hotel’s windows. The marble floors that once reflected dancers now echo with military boots, and the grand chandeliers that shimmered on silk dresses illuminate the mundane khaki of peacekeeping. Today the building is a bullet-pocked memorial to the days of Nicosia’s unity.
This book uses the Ledra Palace Hotel and the buffer zone that surrounds it as an entry point to this divided city. Through descriptions of particular neighborhoods and the characters that populated them, the narrative shows the processes of gradual separation and ultimate violent partition that resulted in two different worlds on either side of Nicosia’s ceasefire line. The city, in turn, serves as a microcosm for the processes that partitioned the island, including large-scale displacement and resettlement in the island’s cities. The result of more than two decades of research on Cyprus, the book is the first comprehensive work of urban history that explains for a general audience how the divided city and island that we experience today emerged in their current form.