Exploration and Contestation in the Study of World Politics

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Statehood, self-determination, sovereignty, minority rights, secession, non-use of force are all part of the institutional vocabularies that make it possible to express the character of collective life as a 'project'. Included in that 'project' are our institutions and practices as platforms on which the point of that project is constantly imagined, debated, criticized and reformed, over and over again.

International law invites everyone to participate in the imagining of humankind's collective telos, not despite its indeterminate character but precisely by virtue of its openness Koskenniemi So the question remains: how to understand a global order in which there are complex patterns of power diffusion and even more complex patterns of social, economic and political change, in which our inherited categories of analysis are eroding, and in which new hierarchies and inequalities are becoming established?

We certainly need to pluralize, to relativize, and to historicize. And, for all the reasons given above, we need to recognize the continued power of Chakrabarty's claim that western analytical and theoretical categories remain indispensable but inadequate. We cannot escape from the disciplinary and theoretical western mainstream.

But concepts and ideas never travel unproblematically. We would surely also want work that de-centers other regional or cultural perspectives and that problematizes unreflective 'non-western' theories. A major goal must be to avoid a narrowly 'critical' or 'Southern' view, and, instead, seeking to encourage differently situated scholars to theorize about their own experience, whether empirically or normatively; and whether this means connecting with western social science or mounting a challenge to it.

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Five more specific points can be made. In the first place, we need to take the power of the global very seriously but at the same time to recognize that neither capitalist globalization for the liberal and Marxist nor global power competition for the neo-realist produces homogenization; and that each demands a deep understanding of how the global plays out in particular contexts. The global and the general are so important and so powerful that they must be placed centre stage in our analysis.

The option of not confronting what is happening at the global level out of a deep suspicion of grand narratives and big historiographical stories is not sufficient. It is for this reason that the recurrent binary thinking that has underpinned so much liberal writing on International Relations and global order has been so unhelpful. Examples of this binary thinking can include setting a supposedly consolidated peaceful liberal core vs a periphery of failed states and ungoverned spaces; or seeing a group of responsible liberal democracies in clear opposition to a group of irresponsible nationalist and authoritarian states.

Indeed, the need is to understand the relation between the outside and the inside and to track the processes by which western ideas of international order and capitalist modernity have been transposed and translated into different national and regional contexts and to the mutual constitution of ideas and understandings that resulted from that interaction.

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In some cases, perhaps most plausibly China, on-going integration may well involve a questioning or re-casting of the fundamental social categories of western social thought - state, market, civil society. In other cases we need to be constantly alert to what Cardoso once labelled the 'originality of the copy' Hurrell In many places, relations of space, time and belonging have shifted so that 'North' and 'South' co-exist simultaneously within the same geographical space Harvey The mixed and hybrid character of the global order means that we need to be especially alert to the recombination of old and new not just at the level of global order but also at the level of the state and of state-society relations domestically.

Here one might focus less on groups such as the BRICS, and more on the intellectual and policy 'bricolage' - to use Mary Douglas's term - that has been taking place within each of the emerging states and through which old and new ideas and policies are melded together in ways that are working against these states becoming simply absorbable within some expanded version of a liberal Greater West Douglas The importance of thinking in this way is reinforced by the degree to which the western historical teleologies underpinning so much western liberal writing on global order have frayed or eroded.

Take the case of democratization. Western thinking had moved by the mids away from stressing the limits of democratic change in the developing and emerging world to stressing the breadth and depth of demands for more inclusive, responsive, and accountable systems of government, as well as the potential for productive democracy promotion. As the s progressed, however, democratization theorists have had ever greater difficulty in understanding the succession of surprises and disappointments in terms of actual democratic outcomes, despite a generally favourable external and global environment.

Many democracies, old as well as new, have failed to meet the demands and expectations for more responsive political systems.

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Interventionist democracy promotion has failed from Iraq to Libya to Afghanistan. And non-democracies have more confidently asserted policies of active resistance to preferred Western models. Whilst the social drive for accountability and responsiveness show little sign of abating, there appears to be neither any clear universal model nor an easily identifiable pathway to greater democratization, but rather a multiplicity of complex and cross-cutting trajectories.

Democratization is therefore an increasingly uncertain foundation stone or modernizing narrative that can reinforce the sort of legitimating values democracy, human rights, and the rule of law that many have adopted as central to their preferred model of global order. Few are likely to dispute the proposition that contemporary global order is being challenged and shaped by the revival of geopolitical rivalries. Many might also accept that some of the most convincing accounts of new patterns of realist-inspired power competition rely on a far more social view of the system, and a much more constructivist account of the identities of states and actors.

But the crucial point is surely that stressed by Rogers Smith notably that as students of politics, we must be especially attentive to the politics of identity: explicitly politicizing identity claims; de-naturalizing identity claims, historicizing identity claims. His own work is all about the politics of multiple and contested stories of 'peoplehood' and deeply contested traditions.

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In international law , the rule is that a state has the exclusive right to have control over an area of governance, people, and that a state has a legitimate exercise of power and the interpretation of international law. War and Change in World Politics. Liberal social theory might teach that those conflicts are erased in a well-functioning society and in IR liberals might argue that consensual international institutions represent state-centric free-will in practice. Principles of Public International Law. Peter R. Kurki, and S.

As scholars of global order, we constantly need to be suspicious of culturalist accounts, not because culture does not matter but because it is with the politics of culture that we need to be concerned. So, for example, when we are presented with accounts of Brazil's supposedly pacific identity we need to see this as a historically contingent set of identity claims and to ask exactly how they emerged and precisely whose power and interest they reflect. It is also surely the case that, as Marx predicted, global capitalism transforms the societies with which it comes into contact.

Yet, at the same time, the cultural and historical traditions of those societies shape the manner in which 'capitalism' takes on a specific social and political meaning and manifestation. As Wolfgang Streeck states:. While recent analyses of institutional change had made progress in classifying certain formal properties of the processes found to be at work in the real world of contemporary capitalism in general terms, they were unable to speak to the underlying causes of such processes.

They also remained unconnected to the growing literature that had become dissatisfied with universalistic representations of 'the economy' as nature, or as a black box, returning for remedy to the concept of capitalism as a historically specific socio-economic order. Streeck , p.

A second important goal is to develop concepts and conceptual frameworks that emerge from particular regions and contexts but that then have more general application and relevance. Of course understanding difference is crucial, both the apparently radically different and the apparently similar. Even if the language is shared, the real meaning may be very different. Policy-makers may talk a language of powers and the balance of power, but the precise meaning and implications of these concepts may well differ considerably from their western ideal-typical meaning.

Rather than concentrate on the 'radically different', it is the 'nearly the same' that is often of greater importance in the analysis of non-western international relations. A really crucial point is the one stressed by Iain Johnston For Johnston, area studies is not about the exotic and the esoteric; it is part of how we can do good social science. Hence his important work arguing that mainstream analysis of East Asia and of absolutely mainstream IR concerns the rise of China, major power rivalries etc.

The may involve mistaken coding and data collection, omitted variable bias, and, most important, conceptual impoverishment. Yes, we are interested in hierarchy and hegemony. So why would we ignore or downplay the understandings and rich conceptualizations of hierarchy in Asia?

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They should be explored not just because we want to understand Asia but precisely in order to generate better general categories of analysis - for understanding global order generally. The regional needs to be played back into the global, the insights of the many worlds back into our understanding of the one world.

Hence we certainly want to understand what is distinctive and different - why Putin's world is so radically different from those who write about the EU as a normative power. But it is also, and very crucially, about how differently-situated ideas and practices may come to have more general relevance for current and future policy challenges. The question, then, is what the non-western world can do for Political Science more generally Tsai In some cases, this may well have to do with concept development.

In others it might be more about opening up the range of comparative research. Western social science remains a prisoner of particular patterns of comparative work that grew out of the way in which disciplines developed and regional and area studies were formed. Again from intellectual history we know that western academic disciplines and the structure of area studies grew out of 19th century Europe and reflected national and imperial political interests.

So 'who compares what with what and why? Equally, whilst comparative research reigns methodologically supreme, we spend much less time thinking about connectivity how are the regional and the global connected? Conceptual questioning and conceptual reconstructing may also take us back to history.


Edited by Peter J. Katzenstein, Robert O. Keohane and Stephen D. Krasner. Over the last thirty years, international political economy and international relations have become increasingly sophisticated, both empirically and theoretically. This is a republication in book form of a. Exploration and Contestation in the Study of World Politics: A Special Issue of International Organization [Peter J. Katzenstein, Robert O. Keohane, Stephen D.

Recent work has usefully stressed the crucial role of the 19th century in creating the modern world of global international relations Buzan and Lawson Yet even more than stressed by Buzan and Lawson, we need to understand better the historical construction of notions of time and history, and of space and globality, without which modern western understandings of global order make very little sense.

On time we need to explore the way in which the very structuring conception of history in the later 18th and early 19th century rewrote the past, placed limits on the possibilities of political and historical imagination in the present, and produced new intellectual ways of world-making that were predicated on the intellectual history of the rise of the nation-state. On space, it is important to develop further work on the creation of regional studies, on the construction of the global and of globality; on the myths of regions and continents; and on the ways in which the global is not just the site of intensifying global connections but is also the site of the mutual constitution of both the global and the local.

And there also remain important silences. If the racial and civilizational underpinnings of ideas of global order are well known, the religious remain far less explored - although they are very obvious to many who approach the history of western thinking from the outside. Charles Taylor for example, brings out the extent to which the taken-for-granted quality of what he calls the 'immanent order' is only explicable against a very particular process of western secularization. And the neglect of Christianity in the historical development of Wilsonianism is one of the more striking gaps in the more recent history of international political thought.

For an exception see Babik A third important issue concerns the study of the normative and the global study of political ideas. The normative analysis of International Relations is perhaps the most western-centric of all. Cosmopolitan liberal understandings of global justice have been framed in terms of achieving justice for individuals; it was about what 'we' in the rich world owed distant strangers.

Here, of course, we find the enormous growth of work on distributive justice, especially on the part of those who have sought to deploy Rawlsian approaches at the global level.

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At the same time, it is important to note that most of this work saw the post-Cold War dominance of the US and the West not as a problem but as an opportunity to be exploited. Very little of this work made reference to the self-understandings of the 'objects' of justice in the non-western world. One part of the challenge here is political: actually listening and noting the views and values that are expressed and argued in different parts of the non-western world. Even at the level of government policy, the problem often seems to be more one of 'Do the dominant listen? The study of western political theory has advanced hugely in methodological terms: contextualism, conceptual history, reception theory, theories of ideology etc.

However, the study of global political theory remains in its infancy Goto-Jones ; Godrej ; Rao ; Jenco Another element involves looking beyond understanding and engagement. Much of the critical engagement with non-western normative political theory has been driven by the goal of interpretation, of provincializing the categories of western theory, of promoting dialogue, and of seeking greater reflexivity. But, as with explanatory theory, the goal must be to avoid ghettoizing the contributions of the 'non-west'. It is important to escape from unhelpful macro units of analysis 'Islamic' ideas, 'Chinese' values , and to explore how ideas that emerge from different historical, developmental and cultural contexts can have more general, even global relevance and application.

A final area for exploration concerns contending global narratives. We suggested earlier in this chapter that an enormous amount of work within western thinking on global order and governance has depended on a set of mostly 19th century narratives about history and time, space and modernity. Particularly in their liberal incarnation it is these that often produce the greatest incredulity when viewed from outside.

The critique comes in different forms but the core point is clear:. Thus complex social formations - up to and including whole world orders - can be described as liberal, while simultaneous practices demonstrably integral to those formations, such as racism or colonial and imperial violence, are asserted not to be liberal Laffey and Nadarajah It is perhaps around the study of different and alternative narratives of the global and their contestation that the re-articulation of the study of global order might begin.

I have tried to suggest that the overriding challenge is to explore how we can move beyond critique and seek collectively to develop, to debate and to contest the global study of international relations. In many, perhaps most, countries of the world those studying International Relations face a paradox: politics is everywhere becoming more inward-looking; publics and electorates are reacting to the pressures and dynamics of an unequal and restless global order; and established political and party systems are in disarray.

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Except in the form of critique it is all too often very hard even to discuss questions of global order. In addition, the subject often finds itself on the defensive, both within academia and in the policy world, for example when compared to the authoritative claims made by Economics. And yet the claims of academic International Relations, including with its traditional focus on inter-state and major power relations, are more important than ever. In the first place, 'International Relations' are a far more central element of globalization than is often recognised.

Globalization is usually seen in contradistinction to the state and as something that poses a fundamental challenge to the state. And yet the globalization of the state was arguably the most important aspect of globalization.

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In part this follows from the deep connections between the drivers of globalization in particular periods and patterns of inter-national and inter-imperial politics. In part, and more fundamentally, the most ignored - or taken-for-granted - aspect of globalization has been the globalization of the nation-state.

For the first time in human history there is a single global political system with a set of legal and political institutions, diplomatic practices, and accompanying ideologies that developed in Europe and then the wider western world and which, in the traditional parlance, 'expanded' to form a global international society. Second, the dynamics of this globally expanded society of states are of tremendous significance at a time when we have witnessed a return of geopolitics.