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CPP Colloquium with Raf Geenens: Constituent Power in Federal Settings: A Puzzle without a Solution?

  • Raf Geenens ( Leuven)
Thursday 13 April 2017
CPP Colloquia 2015-2016 & 2016-2017
Reuvensplaats 3-4
2311 BE Leiden

The Center for Political Philosophy in Leiden is pleased to announce a talk by 

Raf Geenens (Leuven)


Constituent power poses a well-known puzzle. In principle, constituent power should precede all institutionalized forms of power and all forms of representation. Yet it is clear that the effective expression and usage of constituent power requires procedures, institutions, and representation. This "paradox", as it is usually called, becomes even more complex in (con)federal settings, where there are multiple and often overlapping groups with a potential claim to constituent power. Moreover, this division or distribution of constituent power is typically a product of the existent institutions.

This puzzle has rarely been addressed head-on, and the solutions that have been proposed ("the splitting of the constituent subject" or a "pouvoir constituant mixte") are not entirely satisfying. This paper lays out the pieces of the puzzle and investigates potential solutions, at a conceptual level but also at a practical level, as this puzzle is of great political importance for (con)federations where the basic institutional architecture is actively contested, such as Belgium or the European Union.


Raf Geenens is a lecturer in ethics and legal philosophy at KU Leuven's Institute of Philosophy. He was educated at the universities of Brussels, Leuven, and Paris VIII Vincennes, and was a visiting student at the New School for Social Research. In 2008 he obtained his PhD-degree in philosophy at KU Leuven, with a thesis on Claude Lefort's and J├╝rgen Habermas's models of democracy. He has held visiting positions at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Centre Raymond Aron) and at Columbia University. His primary research interests are in continental political and legal philosophy.

Raf Geenens currently leads a multidisciplinary team (including colleagues and PhD-students from the faculties of law and philosophy) doing research on sovereignty in the Belgian constitution. This 4-year project encompasses both fundamental research (concerning sovereignty, citizen participation, and constitutional change in federal settings) and work in intellectual history (concerning the influence of French liberal thought on the drafters of Belgium's 1831 constitution). More information on this research project can be found here. Raf Geenens is also in the process of completing a monograph on Claude Lefort. Next to his work in political and legal philosophy, Raf Geenens maintains a vivid interest in the history and philosophy of dance.

Raf Geenens serves on the editorial board of the Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy and is secretary of the Belgian section of the International Association for Legal and Social Philosophy.

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