Department of Comparative Politics

Contested frontiers: Understanding the constitutional politics of settler-state peripheries (CONFRONT)

Aaron Spitzer

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Between Indigenous self-determination and settler colonization lie contested frontiers – places like Finnmark in Norway, Lapland in Finland, the Northern Territory of Australia, the Yukon Territory of Canada, Guam in the U.S. Pacific, and New Caledonia in the French Pacific. Such frontiers are torn between “us” and “them,” “theirs” and “ours.” As such, they are subject to constitutional politics – to competition over the framing of polities.

In the past, settlers used force to domesticate frontiers. Recent decades have seen an Indigenous resurgence, rekindling constitutional politics, particularly on the few settler-state frontiers that remain. Now, with the advent of the rights revolution, settlers’ use of force has been constrained. Hence, frontier constitutional-political contests are increasingly waged by weaponizing “constitutive principles”: Is the frontier demos universal or divisible? Is the domain domestic or foreign? Should individual or collective rights prevail? Should democracy or self-determination decide?

Resolving such contests is difficult. Yet the constitutional politics of today’s frontiers have escaped political-science attention. This project aims to develop a theory of frontier constitutional politics. It will study contests over constitutive principles in, and how such contests shape and are shaped by, settler-state peripheries. It will gather and test data from settler federal territories and related peripheries to pursue four research objectives: conceptualizing metapolitics to render it cognizable, compiling the first dataset of frontier constitutive political contests, analysing such contests and their interaction with the constitution of peripheries, and normatively theorizing how such contests should be approached and resolved.

CONFRONT will combine comparative politics, comparative constitutional law, and normative political theory to identify and open a salient new research field, making modern frontier constitutional contests visible, comprehensible, and more soluble. If successful, this project will place peripheries central to studies of constitutional politics, inspiring and preparing scientists, decisionmakers, civil-society actors, and even colonized peoples to grapple with the rising constitutional instability of not just of peripheries but of the “late Westphalian” world at large.

Illustration on Contested Frontiers

CONFRONT Project Overview

Aaron Spitzer