Changing legal definitions of minority rights and nationhood in written constitutions

Matthias Koenig


The project examines how nation-states have defined nationhood and minority rights since the late 18th century. Existing comparative literature on minority rights and multiculturalism has largely focused on the late 20th and early 21st centuries, comparing public policies across selected countries, mostly within the OECD. By contrast, the project takes a longue durée and global comparative perspective by analyzing written constitutions. Constitutions are key legal documents communicating a polity’s foundational principles to both internal and external audiences. To understand global trends and regional patterns in the constitutional governance of diversity, the project has constructed a unique dataset, in which more than 900 constitutions from around the world are coded with a three-dimensional scheme capturing provisions on cultural homogeneity, individual cultural rights, and cultural group rights. This allows describing how different models of minority incorporation have evolved over time and have become globally influential. Findings confirm that the cultural homogeneity model was dominant in the 19th century, but has declined since the mid-20th century, when individual cultural rights and, since the 1990s, cultural group rights, have gained in prominence. Moreover, the data facilitate examining the driving forces of constitutional change. In addition to domestic factors, such as levels of economic development and power configurations, global factors, such as exposure to human rights discourse and linkage with transnational networks, are crucial in shaping the adoption of constitutional multiculturalism. Complementing the quantitative large-N analysis, the project has also engaged in qualitative case studies that inspect in greater detail the transnational diffusion processes and domestic contestations over ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity in the 1990s. The project is carried out in cooperation with Kiyoteru Tsutsui (Stanford University) and has received additional funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), as well as the Japan Foundation.

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