In peacetime, why does Sovereignty matter?

31 August 2018

Dr Marigold Black has utilised the opportunity to work in both defence and civilian contexts to inform her primary research of modern conceptualisations of sovereignty.

Marigold, a Visiting Australian Army Research Fellow at the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, says “sovereignty is fundamental to our national integrity, but it is something we don’t understand well enough because we have had such a long period of relative peace and security”.

Marigold’s research pursuits in topics of sovereignty have been an evolving interest over the last decade. Her PhD investigated sovereignty as the key idea in the intellectual origins of the modern world, looking specifically at understandings of the concept in the context of the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. She has also researched sovereignty as it intersected with the doctrine of freedom of the seas and world economy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Now, her research agenda as a post-doctoral fellow focuses on Australian sovereignty in a context of changing strategic order; the rise of China and evolving international norms. Such a context “has us confused and flailing about. Understanding the parameters of sovereignty tells us a lot about what we are trying to protect, gives us a language to articulate what is against our interests, and provides us with a conceptual anchor for understanding the implications of shifts in the international order”, she says.

Marigold cites that such a lack of progress in research about perceptions and representation of sovereignty could leave Australia more exposed to both internal and external threats. Marigold says “understanding sovereignty will provide us with a better, and more accurate, sense of how national integrity might be compromised and what that might look like”.

The AARC Research Fellowship allows Marigold exclusive access to work at the Russell Department of Defence offices. This access, ‘to be inside the tent’, is critical to the research agenda for the three year fellowship which will produce a monograph and numerous journal articles and short online blogs.

Marigold’s research will be shaped by an investigation of the current public discourse, as it speaks to the historical and theoretical evolution of concept, and with a view to future Defence strategies. “Sovereignty is, and always has been, a staple of defence and political discourse without people thinking about it critically”.

“It is such a nebulous concept, and it is used in so many different contexts… but this only makes it more important that we have a conversation about its parameters.” An ‘historian by trade’, Marigold hopes that her research findings will deliver a greater understanding of modern Australian sovereignty by investigating the concept through multiple prisms, and help to promote a national conversation.

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