Who are “We the People”?: Community beyond the state

Project summary

“The people” are sovereign; “the people’s will” must prevail; but who are “the people”? Who gets to belong to this group, and who decides? How do individuals coalesce into a collective “people”, and what other communities are formed in the same way?

This project, drawing on Durham’s strengths in Classics, Law, Human Geography, Politics, and History, investigates how individuals come together to form communities which are legal or social entities in themselves.

One strand, led primarily by Classics and CNCS (who will be holding a parallel lecture series on popular sovereignty) will consider definitions of “the people” from antiquity to today, from the populus Romanus to ‘real Americans’. The second, led primarily by colleagues in Law and SGIA, will explore contemporary communities larger or smaller than the state, from the Cham people in Southeast Asia to Scottish nationalists, and from identity groups looking to find their place within a state to groups seeking recognition as part of the international community.

The project seeks to draw prestigious visiting fellows to the project, and will feed into multiple departments’ strategic plans for internationalisation. The primary outputs will be a seven-figure grant application led by Dr Amy Russell, but an equally important goal will be developing new research areas and collaborations, and methodologies.

Term: Epiphany 2019

Project fellows

Principal Investigator: Dr Amy Russell (Department of Classics and Ancient History)

University of Chicago

Michèle Lowrie is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Classics and the College at the University of Chicago. Her research examines the formative role of Roman literature in shaping political thought from the first beginnings of Latin letters up to our own day.

“In comparison to other places I’m familiar with, the current system at the IAS Durham stands out as ideal. Its great virtue is flexibility.”

Australian National University

Professor Paul Pickering is Director of both the Research School of Humanities and the Arts (2013-) and the new Australian Studies Institute (2017-) at the Australian National University. During his stay at Durham, he began work on a project exploring notions of the people, popular rights and political leadership, not only within Britain but also across Britain’s colonies of settlement.

“IAS is an outstanding institution, which promotes excellence in research and this is evident by the quality of the Fellows, the access it provides to outstanding scholars in the Durham faculties and, it goes without saying, the from the directors.”

University of Sydney

Michael Sevel is Senior Lecturer in Jurisprudence at the University of Sydney Law School. His research interests are in the perennial questions of general jurisprudence – the nature of law, authority, legitimacy, and adjudication – as well as the ideal of the rule of law, and other topics in moral and political philosophy. He also has substantive interests in admiralty and maritime law, torts, and international law.

Radboud University

Gert Jan van der Wilt is professor of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) at Radboud University Medical Centre, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. His main research interest is how empirical analysis and normative inquiry can be integrated in the context of HTA.

“My fellowship at the IAS has been extremely inspiring, giving rise to a whole range of new ideas to pursue my research. There are many institutes that claim to foster interdisciplinary research, but few of them succeed in this respect. The IAS of Durham University is a precious exception.”