(CNN) -

Scotland will next month decide in a referendum whether it wants to go it alone as an independent country and split away from the United Kingdom.

But for some, it doesn't take a vote involving millions of people to start a nation.

Earth is dotted with dozens of self-proclaimed kings, emperors, presidents and princesses presiding over a quirky collection of homemade empires known as "micronations."

Many claim their own borders and laws, fashion their own currency and regalia and boast a growing number of "citizens" from around the world.

Dr. Judy Lattas of Macquarie University in Sydney is one of only a handful of academics studying the micronation phenomenon.

She defines a micronation as a self-declared entity that's either virtual or very small (though some are actually quite large when compared with microstates such as Monaco or the Vatican).

What they share in common are characteristics of earlier utopian movements, a DIY spirit and a lack of formal recognition from established nations and global bodies like the United Nations.

But that's where the similarities end.

"There are incredible differences among them and no clear sense of unity at all," Dr. Lattas explains.

"Many reject the notion of micronations outright. Some are secessionists and some aren't. Some are more like virtual game-playing, some are art projects, some are very cyberpunk and others are quite serious political protests or indigenous sovereignty movements."

From dissent to 'independence'

Many of the non-virtual micronations, or those with territorial claims, are built out of a gripe with local authorities.

These generally follow a secession model and take inspiration from the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (signed in 1933 by the United States and numerous Latin American countries).

There must be a grievance, members and some sort of declaration against a perceived wrong.

And if that claim goes unanswered -- you don't, for example, receive any kind of formal rejection -- then it's assumed by default that you've succeeded in seceding.

There's also the national sovereignty model in which you simply refuse to secede from a country you don't recognize exists.

Challenging legal parameters

Dr. Lattas believes micronations pose interesting questions regarding law and history.

Take Prince Leonard of the Principality of Hutt River.

His departure from Western Australia under the national sovereignty model is featured in legal and sociology textbooks around the world, while his idea galvanized scores of other Australians to draw up constitutions and paint invisible borders around their properties.

George Cruickshank is one of them.

He drew a dotted line around his yard and became the Emperor of Atlantium in 1981.

He's also one of the quirky geopolitical phenomenon's top researchers, creating a micronation wiki, maintaining the most popular Facebook group for micronationalists and coordinating the biannual PoliNation Conferences. (The next one will be July 11-12, 2015).

"The whole idea is to share information and make it easier for people to achieve success in their individual projects," Cruickshank says.

His online forums attract thousands of participants -- including many "bedroom kingdom kids" -- and explore the roughly 250 micronations of historical merit.