Creating a state: A Kleinian reading of recognition in Zimbabwe’s regional relationships

Julia Gallagher

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This article contributes to recent debates about mutual recognition between states, and more broadly to discussions of the role of emotion in IR. It challenges ‘moral claims’ made in some of the literature that inter-state recognition leads to a progressive erosion of difference or a pooling of identity; and underlying assumptions that recognition constitutes a stage in the development of states that have already established internal coherence. Instead it claims that processes of recognition are fractious and unstable, characterised by aggression and self-assertion as well as affection and the creation of a ‘we-feeling’; and that such processes are an enduring feature of state identity. Using the case of Zimbabwe – a state that is clearly fractured, with an apparently insecure collective identity – the article explores how recognition both challenges and reinforces state selfhood through dynamics that are bumpy, intense and unstable. It moves on to develop a theoretical interpretation of these dynamics drawing on the work of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, showing links between individual psychic anxiety and collective needs for a state that exists uneasily but inextricably in relation to others. The article concludes that international recognition works as a way both to establish and challenge state coherence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-407
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number2
Early online date29 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • statehood, recognition, object relations theory, Melanie Klein, Zimbabwe

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