The Recognition dilemma in world politics

International relations scholars are increasingly making use of micro-level behavioral theories on the individual’s need for self-verification, and the signaling practices this desire for recognition entails, to explain a widening array of state behavior in international politics. In elevating the desire for "thick recognition" as a major source of state action, however, extant theories have largely treated recognition as an intrinsic force that happens behind the scenes of international politics.

In this dissertation I focus on an alternative set of cases—highly public and visible campaigns for recognition—in order to better explain why actors vocalize demands for recognition, why they may abandon these demands, be harmed by them, and at times strategically and nefariously embrace the cause of recognition. Doing so helps reveal deeply embedded contradictions in the practice of struggling for recognition that are especially acute in international politics. The dissertation illustrates how these contradictions operated at times to constrain, and other times to benefit, actors who vocally embraced recognition seeking rhetoric and policies in three detailed case studies: (1) Israel’s insertion, since 2007, of a “Jewish state” recognition demand into peace talks with the Palestinians; (2) the Armenian diaspora’s decades-long demand that Turkey, and the rest of the world, recognize the 1915 massacres of Ottoman Armenians as genocide; and finally, (3) Britain’s evolving post-war debate over its status, place in, and relationship to, Europe.

By focusing attention on highly visible recognition struggles in the foreground of international politics, the dissertation serves to reveal the consequences, inner contestation, and often counter-intuitive motives that accompany the actual practice and politics of recognition-seeking in the international system.