Lecture: Comparative Federalism and the Unit Question

Dr.  Erika Arban, Senior Research Associate
Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne (Australia)

Date: 22.1.2024, 6:00 p.m.
Venue: Room 101-02, 1st floor | Sigmund Freud University | Freudplatz 3, 1020 Vienna


As Hirschl observed, in constitutional law and federalism studies ‘the near-exclusively applied “unit” … is the state and its equivalents’ and, with limited exceptions, political and constitutional theory never really discuss other units, preferring to focus on state-sized entities. The absence of theoretical accounts on the unit question implies that, in a world that is becoming increasingly complex, comparative federalism seems to overlook less visible – or even invisible – units. Drawing upon such observation, my presentation explores the unit question in theoretical terms, in order to contribute to the debate on whether (and to what extent) units as traditionally conceived in federal systems (fail to) address and respond to some existing or emerging challenges. Specifically, after introducing the unit question, I map a preliminary list of potential federal units that often lack a recognised status as federal subjects, such as cities, spatially concentrated economies, resource rich regions, and aboriginal, first nation, or indigenous communities. I will then look at the potential implications that the unit question has for constitutional law and federalism theory more generally.


Please register until 21.1.24: konrad.lachmayer@jus.sfu.ac.at


Erika Arban is Senior Research Associate with the Laureate Program in Comparative Constitutional Law “Balancing diversity and social cohesion in democratic societies” at Melbourne Law School, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Milan Statale. She holds a PhD from the University of Ottawa, where her thesis was awarded the Governor General Gold Medal for the best doctoral thesis in the Humanities. She also held teaching positions at the University of Ottawa and at the University of Antwerp. Erika researches primarily in comparative constitutional law and theory, with a focus on federalism and legal methodology. She is the author of Italian Regionalism and the Federal Challenge. Reconciling Economic Regionalism and Solidarity (Palgrave 2023). She is also one of the co-editors of Federalism and Constitutional Law. The Italian Contribution to Comparative Regionalism (Routledge 2021), and the sole editor of Cities in Federal Constitutional Theory (Oxford University Press 2022). She is the comments editor of Comparative Constitutional Studies. Her work has been published in journals such as The Modern Law ReviewThe Oxford Journal of Legal Studies and the International Journal of Constitutional Law.