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Dr Catherine Frost

Catherine Frost awarded SSHRC Insight Grant

Project Probes Constituent Power to Better Understand the Legitimacy of States at their Founding and over the Longer Run

Jul 29, 2019

Congratulations to Dr. Catherine Frost, whose project entitled "Speech, Declarations of Independence, and the Paradox of Constituent Power" was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada in their most recent Insight Grant competition.

Here is the summary of Dr. Frost's successful application:

Most states born in the modern era (1776-present) date their origins to a declaration of independence, yet the DOI is a poorly understood instrument that fails to meet minimal standards for coherence set by law, democratic legitimacy, or linguistics. One problem is that a collective has no means to express itself properly until after a new order is established, so whose voice is heard in the first instance? Only the American Declaration has received sustained analysis on this question, and it reveals that “who speaks” is all but impossible to know. Rather than ask “who” makes up the founding people, this project is organized around the question of “how” it is possible for constituent power to speak. Over two hundred years of declaratory foundings followed the original American example, yet most remain poorly understood. In the absence of adequate theory, the international community is forced to make decisions around new states or regimes without a clear sense of how to proceed. The problem concerns not only the birth of states, but also their ongoing authority. To be successful a new political order must bind constituent power through law and institutions, causing it to fade from active view. In so doing, a regime silences the source of its own legitimacy. Over-zealous constitutionalism thus risks dampening the source of transformative democracy, while populist formulations can stoke dangerous romanticism that leaves populations vulnerable to demagoguery. See-sawing between the rigidities of law, and the volatility of populism in this manner is unsustainable. By investigating declarations – including their historical variety and the global setting in which they appear – this project addresses claims that constituent power arises from mysterious or unaccountable forces.