Minority rights and nationhood in written constitutions

Changing legal definitions of minority rights and nationhood in written constitutions

Matthias Koenig


This project examines how the legitimating principles of nation-states have changed since their emergence in the late eighteenth century by analyzing their written constitutions. The project’s initial phase was devoted to building a unique dataset in which all national constitutions in the world are coded with a three-dimensional coding scheme that captures provisions on cultural homogeneity, individual cultural rights, and group cultural rights. In the initial research phase, two core research questions were addressed. First, the project used the dataset to trace descriptively how different models of minority incorporation have evolved over time and become globally influential. The hypothesis is that the cultural homogeneity model became increasingly dominant in the late eighteenth century, but has declined since the mid-twentieth century, while the individual cultural rights model and multiculturalism have gained prominence since the mid-twentieth century and the 1990s respectively. Second, the project used the dataset as dependent variables to examine which domestic and global factors have influenced constitutional change. The hypothesis is that in addition to domestic factors, such as levels of development and power configurations, global factors, such as exposure to global human rights discourse and linkage with transnational legal networks, are crucial in shaping the decision to adopt one or another model of minority incorporation in national constitutions.
The project’s later stage is devoted to complementing the quantitative large-N analysis with qualitative case studies that examine in greater detail the transnational diffusion processes and domestic socio-legal contestations over ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity in particular moments of constitution-writing. The project is developed and carried out in cooperation with Kiyoteru Tsutsui at the University of Michigan.