Cambridge Studies in International Relations, Cambridge University Press. 2022.

(Paperback now available for purchase; see discount flyer)

“Top 5 Books: New Thinking in International Relations Theory”

- International Affairs (2023)

“Most Notable Reads of 2023" [Review editors pick their top 2 books of the year]

- International Studies Review of Books (2023)

Three-starred review [Highly recommended]

- Choice (2023)

Scholars' Circle honoree [promising first book manusript in International Relations]

- International Studies Association–Northeast (2018)

The idea of 'hybrid sovereignty' describes overlapping relations between public and private actors in important areas of global power, such as contractors fighting international wars, corporations regulating global markets, or governments collaborating with nongovernmental entities to influence foreign elections. This study shows that these connections – sometimes hidden and often poorly understood – underpin the global order, in which power flows without regard to public and private boundaries. I clarify the stakes of public/private hybrid relations for sovereign accountability and provide analytically useful ways to differentiate hybrid types by examining the English East India Company, Blackwater, the International Chamber of Commerce, and Amnesty International. These transnational private organizations are typically conceived as eroding state sovereignty, but I mobilize them to detail how public/private hybridity actually enables enactments of sovereign power.

Drawing on original, multi-sited archival materials, including minutes from 23,552 organizational meetings covering 193 years and news data covering 70 years, I reveal the little-known stories of how hybrid sovereignty operated at some of the most important turning points in world history: spreading the British empire, founding the United States, establishing free trade, realizing transnational human rights, and conducting twenty-first century wars. In order to sustain meaningful dialogues about the future of global power and political authority, it is crucial that we begin to understand how hybrid sovereignty emerged and continues to shape international relations.

Keywords: sovereignty, global governance, public/private, nonstate actors, social construction, hybridity, international relations theory, contractors, corporations, INGOs

Read an Excerpt of the Introduction, the Table of Contents, and an interview about the book.

Hear about the book on the New Books Network podcast and the International Studies Review of Books podcast.


Hybrid Sovereignty is motivated by reconciling the realities of enmeshed public/private relations in global governance with the stylized representations of separate state and nonstate realms in foundational International Relations theory.

The book's first theoretical contribution presents sovereignty as the interplay of two contrasting modalities. In Idealized Sovereignty, sovereign authority is represented exclusively in “the state” per the doctrine of indivisibility developed by early modern theorists and reified in International Relations. In Lived Sovereignty, achieving sovereign competence involves divisible practices of state and nonstate actors in a variety of social relations. I argue that we would do a disservice to sovereignty's complexity if only one of the two modes prevailed. Instead, sovereignty should be hybridized as both idealized and lived at once. In hybrid sovereignty, public/private hybridity is both integral to sovereign power and a challenge to sovereign authority. Treating sovereignty as hybrid enables scholars to embark on more meaningful dialogues about the future of sovereign governance and authority.

Another distinctive theoretical contribution is the book's development of three ideal-types of public/private hybridity based on relative formalization and publicization. Contractual hybridity features formal, publicized performances where sovereign power is negotiated in public/private contractual exchanges. Institutional hybridity features informal, partly publicized performances where sovereign power is negotiated through public/private institutional linkages. Shadow hybridity features informal, non-publicized performances where sovereign power is negotiated in public/private shadowy bargains. The contribution of the typology is to underscore that not all public/private relations operate in the same way, nor do they implicate state sovereignty in singularly positive or negative ways.

The book's empirical contribution follows from conducting multi-sited original archival research in the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, and United States for the four case studies (the English East India Company, Blackwater, the International Chamber of Commerce, and Amnesty International). The data collection deliberately sought traces of sovereign power outside standard governmental archives. The analysis uncovers a range of practices in the making of global sovereign power, including secret company committees negotiating imperial wars, contractors conducting foreign policy, lobbyists killing international organizations, and NGOs collaborating with governments under their scrutiny to protect individual dignity.


"A challenging and provocative read, this is a groundbreaking work that, by offering a novel perspective, is a major contribution to traditional scholarship on this subject … Highly recommended."

- D. Ettinger, Choice

"This book is a valuable contribution to the literature on the dynamics of sovereignty and governance. The framework introduced will be useful to anyone seeking to understand both how governments rally around the notion of sovereignty and how they govern in practice."

- Hilary Matfess, International Affairs

"… a rich and wide-ranging study that impressively deploys a range of qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the murky borders around sovereign functions in public and private spheres."

- Joel Ng, Perspectives on Politics

" represents a real contribution that helps to clarify some of the perennial confusion around sovereignty."

- Sebastian Schmidt, Political Science Quarterly

"This is empirical social science at its best and most meticulous: it is difficult to imagine a research project based on more extensive materials."

- Jan Klabbers, European Journal of International Law

"By rigorously and systematically conceptualizing different manifestations of lived sovereignty, [Srivastava] provides readers with a nuanced account of the role of nonstate actors in actualizing sovereignty."

- Mansour AlMuaili, Political Studies Review

"The idea that sovereignty in the contemporary international system is an attribute of states is fundamental to much of international relations theory. In Hybrid Sovereignty in World Politics Swati Srivastava argues that the world is much more complicated than that. States and non-state actors are entangled in sovereign global politics in various ways, including contractually, institutionally, and performatively. Through case studies ranging from the English East India Company to Blackwater in the Iraq War, Srivastava provides fascinating historical illustrations of this important and timely argument."

- Samuel Barkin, University of Massachusetts Boston

"Srivastava has written a fascinating and deeply historical rethinking of the meaning of sovereignty, its contingent and hybrid character, and the porous boundaries between public and private authorities. She uses disparate cases, from Blackwater to Amnesty, to demonstrate how seemingly private organizations produce sovereign power in the ambiguities and tensions of public/ private hybridity."

- Virginia Haufler, University of Maryland, College Park