What's it Like to be a State? An Argument for State Consciousness

Adam Lerner

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Questions of consciousness pervade the social sciences. Yet, despite persistent tendencies to anthropomorphize the state, most IR scholarship implicitly adopts the position that humans are conscious and states are not. Recognizing that scholarly disagreement over fundamental issues prevents answering definitively whether states are conscious, I instead demonstrate how scholars of multiple dispositions can incorporate a pragmatic notion of state consciousness into their theorizing. Drawing on recent work from Eric Schwitzgebel and original supplementary arguments, I demonstrate that states are not only complex informationally integrated systems with emergent properties, but they also exhibit seemingly genuine responses to qualia that are irreducible to individuals within them. Though knowing whether states possess an emergent ‘stream’ of consciousness indiscernible to their inhabitants may not yet be possible, I argue that the concept of state consciousness can contribute to a more complete understanding of state personhood, as well as a revised model of the international system useful to multiple important theoretical debates. In the article’s final section, I apply this model to debate over the levels of analysis at which scholarship applies ontological security theory. I suggest the possibility of emergent state-level ontological insecurity that need not be understood via problematic reduction to individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Theory
Early online date14 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jan 2020

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