The story of how a much-contested legal category—statelessness—transformed the international legal order and redefined the relationship between states and their citizens.
Two world wars left millions stranded in Europe. The collapse of empires and the rise of independent states in the twentieth century produced an unprecedented number of people without national belonging and with nowhere to go. Mira Siegelberg’s innovative history weaves together ideas about law and politics, rights and citizenship, with the intimate plight of stateless persons, to explore how and why the problem of statelessness compelled a new understanding of the international order in the twentieth century and beyond.
In the years following the First World War, the legal category of statelessness generated novel visions of cosmopolitan political and legal organization and challenged efforts to limit the boundaries of national membership and international authority. Yet, as Siegelberg shows, the emergence of mass statelessness ultimately gave rise to the rights regime created after World War II, which empowered the territorial state as the fundamental source of protection and rights, against alternative political configurations.
Today we live with the results: more than twelve million people are stateless and millions more belong to categories of recent invention, including refugees and asylum seekers. By uncovering the ideological origins of the international agreements that define categories of citizenship and non-citizenship, Statelessness better equips us to confront current dilemmas of political organization and authority at the global level.
Illuminating and rich…Over 10 million people are stateless today, and governments seem hell-bent on increasing their numbers…Siegelberg’s account offers a sober corrective to dewy-eyed stories in which the formation of postwar international institutions like the U.N. curtailed state-inflicted cruelties.
Siegelberg’s book is the first to consider the evolution of statelessness as a legal, humanitarian, and philosophical matter. It’s an essential contribution to scholarship on the subject, and it could not appear at a more fitting time.
Drawing on a wide variety of archival sources…she documents how the problem of statelessness informed theories of human rights and sovereignty…A comprehensive overview of international perspectives and experiences concerning statelessness and the modern state’s power to exclude.
Statelessness is a remarkable work of scholarship…This is an extraordinarily erudite historical study, a seminal work which fills critical gaps in the existing literature…Essential background for the twenty-first century reader.
Demonstrate[s] just how late the conceptual and legal borders of our political world map were drawn…Statelessness concerns the ways in which international lawyers and political scientists have responded to the modern phenomenon of exclusion and displacement that characterized much of the twentieth century and that forced new ways of thinking about the role of borders and boundaries of membership.
[An] important study.
Compelling…This is an impressive work that shows the impact of legal thought on social reality and the significance of possessing a (legal) identity—both at the beginning of the twentieth century and today…Siegelberg’s text is an important contribution, as she makes the understudied topic of statelessness intelligible and, on top of that, demonstrates how it intertwines with other foundational political concepts, such as sovereignty, citizenship, and human rights.
A necessary exploration of the development of statelessness as a Western philosophical and jurisprudential concept in the early and mid-twentieth century…A must-read for scholars and legal professionals studying citizenship and/or working on immigration, political theory, and human rights as it provides a needed engagement with statelessness as a contentious concept…A fascinating and important read.
A fine-grained history of statelessness.
Mira Siegelberg demonstrates that the question of statelessness, now a relatively minor aspect of a larger refugee crisis, in fact lies at the heart of the transformations in legal consciousness that produced the fragile and often ambiguous postwar international rights regime. Statelessness is an important book and a magnificent achievement.
A book equal parts compelling and sobering, Statelessness lives up to the importance of its topic. Siegelberg writes conceptual history for our twenty-first-century world.
Mira Siegelberg’s relentless and imaginative exploration of statelessness in the twentieth century ranges across several disciplines, languages, and legal traditions. Along the way, she manages to recast core episodes in the history of modern political and legal thought. And, even more, she models an ambitious approach to a critical history of international law.
This insightful and well-written work opens up a new perspective on the formation of our present international order and the place of individuals within it. With mass migration caused by wars and, in the future, by climate change, the problem of statelessness is not going to go away. In a moment when we need to think again about the relationship between states and individuals, this book is a good place from which to start.
- 2021, Joint winner of the Jerry Bentley Book Prize
- 2022, Winner of the Francesco Guicciardini Prize for Best Book in Historical International Relations
- 2022, Winner of the ASIL Certificates of Merit
- 328 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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