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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Seminar - Structure and process in the explanation of federal systems

11th December 2017, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Professor Nicholas Aroney (University of Queensland)


There is a longstanding tension in federal theory between approaches that focus on the legal structures of federal systems and approaches that focus on political processes within such systems. This tension is partly due to disciplinary boundaries: constitutional lawyers tend to be interested in questions of legal form (within which political action occurs) whereas political scientists are mostly interested in political action (which occurs within legal frameworks). However, both disciplines generally recognise the inter-penetration of law and politics and that the two domains cannot easily be demarcated. An understanding of one requires an understanding of the other. Moreover, it is not as if law is only about structure while politics is only about process. Questions of structure and process arise within both fields. Indeed, on closer analysis the very categories of ‘structure’ and ‘process’ begin to break down: the structural appears to be constituted by the procedural while the procedural is constituted by the structural. This leads to an important consequence for federal theory: its basic components present as both structure and process.

This seminar paper will explore this Janus-like quality of the structural and procedural aspects of federal theory. It will be proposed that, contrary to approaches that force a choice between structural and procedural explanations, federal systems display what has been called ‘temporally diverse processes of structuration’, in which structure and process are understood as two ways of understanding the one phenomenon, rather than two distinct (albeit related) kinds of phenomena. It will be argued that when this insight is applied to the central questions of federal theory—questions of constitutional formation, competence distribution, representation of constituent units, and constitutional change—our understanding of all manner of federal and federal-like systems can be enhanced. This applies not only to ‘central case’ federations such as the United States, Canada and Australia for example, but also to ‘outlier cases’ such as the European Union on one hand and the United Kingdom on the other.

Places are limited at these lunchtime seminars and so any academic colleagues interested in attending, should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

Contact for more information about this event.