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Is Somaliland a Country? The Status of Institutional Objects in the Social Sciences

Somaliland is a democratically governed, autonomous region that defends its borders and issues currency in its own name. Yet it has not been officially recognised as a country by any state-level actors. Instead it is considered an ‘autonomous region of Somalia’. The above case forces us to ask the question ‘what makes something a country’? The default answer when asking about what makes it the case that X is a country is that X is a country if, and only if, regulative bodies consider it a country. Of course, such regulative bodies have declared that ketchup is a vegetable and that Microsoft is a person. Botany and psychology have ignored these uses of ‘vegetable’ and ‘person’ to no ill effect. So why should we care what regulative bodies have to say about countries?
The project considers the question of what criteria social scientists should use when choosing theoretical categories (like ‘country’, ‘money’, border’, etc.) for studying the social world. It argues that the standard view explained above is badly wrong and proposes a better way to think about choosing the categories that illuminate our social world.


Fellows involved in this project

South Africa

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Is any information on this page incorrect or outdated? Please notify Ms. Nel-Mari Loock at [email protected].