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Scientific article


Frustrated Sovereigns: The agency that makes the world go around

Written by

Ole Jacob Sending
Research Professor, Head of Center for Geopolitics
Charlotte Epstein
Thomas Lindemann



In this special issue we build on the growing interest in recognition to suggest that a shift from recognition to misrecognition open up new theoretical perspectives. Our point of departure is that failure – not obtaining the recognition one seeks – is built into the very desire for recognition. Thus understood, the desire for recognition is not simply a desire for social goods, for status or for statehood, but for agency. This, we suggest, is Hegel’s fundamental lesson. On this basis, we argue that the international system is defined by a symbolic structure organised around an always unrealisable ideal of sovereign agency. We discuss the implications of such a focus on the workings of misrecognition and the ideal of sovereign agency, and introduce the key themes – focused on failure and the negative, the striving for unity and actorhood, and sovereignty and the international system – that the contributors address in their respective articles.


  • Governance