Secession and Ethics, Justice, and Human Rights: Teaching Ethical Reasoning in Geography

Authors: David Mcgraw*, James Madison University
Topics: Geography Education, Political Geography, Human Rights
Keywords: Secession, Political Geography, Ethics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Proteus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Geographers have long been interested in territory and boundaries. One of the most interesting phenomena in political geography is the changing borders implicated by secessionist movements, including examples such as Kosovo, the Basque and Catalan regions of Spain, Transdniester, South Ossetia, Quebec, Silesia, Chechnya, Western Sahara, and Somaliland. The claim by secessionist groups of a right to secede raises normative questions, and provide an opportunity to teach geography students ethical reasoning skills within a political geography course. Students are encouraged to consider several potential ethical positions, including the argument that all groups always have a right to secede based on the fundamental moral right to self-determination, and conversely the argument that no groups have a right to secede. Given the shortcomings of these extreme positions, students are faced with constructing an ethical theory that delineates which secessions are ethical and which are not. Among the alternatives considered are Buchanan’s remedial right rationale and this author’s proposed use of the capabilities approach to assess which political groupings might we best create a flourishing society. In the end, the students must come to a conclusion as to the relative strength of each secession movement’s arguments of a right to secede.

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