Conceptual Clusters and the Art of (Non-)Definition

Fundamental legal concepts, in many areas of public law, seem to come in clusters. By “clustering,” I mean quasi-synonyms where the conceptual identity or separateness of the concepts within the is never quite clear. One such cluster is the series sovereignty – statehood – territor(ialit)y – jurisdiction. Another similarly wide cluster consists of citizenship – nationality – status – residence – domicile. Courts and scholars sometimes take great pains to distinguish these concepts, and at other times seemingly carelessly use them as interchangeable words.

Clusters permit several types of ambiguities within law. Concepts can be distinguished or assumed to be identical; distinguishing can be done for specific purposes, events or legal domains. Concepts can also be avoided by substituting process for definition. My proposal aims to create a typology of clusters and their uses, and to engender a debate about the metapolitics of concepts within clusters.