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Abstract

Since the revolution emerged in North and East Syria (NES) in 2012, there has been much scholarly attention on democratic confederalism and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES, Rojava). Much of this literature has focused on its exceptional nature. Following Michel-Rolph Trouillot I ask, what is being obscured or masked when we assume and focus on the AANES as exceptional? To that aim, I uncover what North and East Syria (NES) reveals about sovereignty as an ideal and the production of what we recognize as a coherent hierarchical state system. Building on the analyses of Samir Amin and Andre Gunder Frank, I examine the constraints that decades of development of underdevelopment have placed on North and East Syria and on the Autonomous Administration. I ask four primary questions: [1] Can sovereignty exist beyond the state? And if so, what are the contradictions that emerge in a hierarchal state system? [2] How has this hierarchical state-system structured the counterhegemonic worldmaking project of democratic confederalism in NES? [3] How has the AANES sought to increase their legitimacy, to what audiences, and why? Upon what justifications, discourses, and venues do their bids rest? [4] What does this project reveal about sovereignty, the state, and the production of a coherent hierarchical state-system? Methodologically, I conduct semi-structured interviews with twelve people in NES and triangulate these interviews with current fieldwork and research being produced. This thesis is written in three sections. The first provides a genealogical background to the revolution. The second looks at the political economy and ecology of the Jazira. The third turns to three areas of investigation: the international peace process; international aid in a global pandemic; and the repatriation of ISIS fighters and their families. I argue that NES demonstrates that sovereignty beyond the state is possible. However, embedded in a hierarchical state system, this assertion of non-state sovereignty produces contradictions.

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