Markus Thiel and Jeffrey Maslanik
“Transnational” is a frequently mentioned key word in international relations today; it is used to denote in a simplifying manner an organization working beyond state boundaries and acting independently from traditional state authorities. The scholarly recognition of such actors occurred relatively late in the field and advanced with the acceleration of globalizing economic, political, cultural, and social processes. Despite the appearance of transnational actors as a topical and palpable concern for academics and practitioners alike, questions of conceptual vagueness and relational indeterminacy remain, and the continual proliferation of these entities lend urgency to the need for more scholarly attention to these agents.
Fiona Robinson and Anupam Pandey
One of the most vigorous debates within the discipline of international relations (IR) revolves around the “universal/particular” dichotomy: the tensions between worldviews that emphasize the “whole” as a unified entity or set of ideas—in the case of IR, the “whole” typically refers to the “whole world”—and those that emphasize constituent “parts”, and the differences among them. Discussions regarding universalism and particularism have involved the traditions of realism, liberalism, and the English School, as well as critical theory, poststructuralism, and postcolonialism. Furthermore, the opposition between universalism and particularism has often taken the form of the analysis of conflict between the sovereign state, on one hand, and universal human rights, on the other. Feminists have been particularly influential in challenging the universal/particular debate in the context of human rights. Their perspectives on human rights are exemplary of feminist scholarship in the field of international ethics more generally. Indeed, feminists are constantly striving to mitigate and overcome the tensions between the universal and the particular through their commitment to relationality. The crucial question that remains is: What should be the relationship between the universal and the particular and how should we conceive of this relationship in a non-antagonistic and constructive manner? The answer lies in conceiving the relationship between the two as a dialectical one. In order to understand the universal, it is important to accept the fact that it is derived from particular local contexts and can only be realized through the culturally specific norms and rules in each context.
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson
The concept of theory takes part in a conceptual network occupied by some of the most common subjects of European Enlightenment, such as “science” and “reason.” Generally speaking, a theory is a rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking. Theories drive the exercise of finding facts rather than of reaching goals. To formulate a theory, or to “theorize,” is to assert something of a privileged epistemic status, manifested in the traditional scholarly hierarchy between theorists and those who merely labor among the empirical weeds. In so doing, a theory provides a fixed point upon which analysis can be founded and action can be performed. Scholar and author Kenneth W. Thompson describes a nexus of relations between and among three different senses of the word “theory:” normative theory, a “general theory of politics,” and the set of assumptions on the basis of which a given actor is acting. These three types of theory are somehow paralleled by Marysia Zalewski’s triad of theory as “tool,” theory as “critique,” and theory as “everyday practice.” While Thompson’s and Zalewski’s interpretations of theory are each inherently consistent, both signal a different philosophical ontology. Thompson’s viewpoint is dualist, presuming the existence of a mind-independent world to which knowledge refers; while Zalewski’s is more of a monist, rejecting the mind/world dichotomy in favor of a more complex interrelationship between observers and their objects of study.
John Boli, Selina Gallo-Cruz, and Matt Mathias
World-polity theory is a widely used sociological perspective for the analysis of world culture, organization, and change. Also known as world-society theory, global neo-institutionalism, and the “Stanford school” of global analysis, world-polity theory is largely compatible with the globalization perspective associated with Roland Robertson and the cultural analysis approach of anthropologists Ulf Hannerz and Arjun Appadurai. Proponents of world-polity theory argue that rationality, purposes, and interests are profoundly cultural constructs bound up in an over-arching canopy (or underlying foundation) that endows actors with properties, identity, meaning, interests, and guides to action. The theory also recognizes the key role played by international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) in the formation, codification, and propagation of world culture. The intellectual foundations of world-polity theory can be traced to the work of its founder, John W. Meyer, as well as Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Erving Goffman. Two institutional domains of world society that have generated the most attention in world-polity theory are the responsible and responsive state, and the sacred and empowered individual. A variety of criticisms have emerged regarding world-polity theory, such as the alleged failure of world-polity research to address issues of inequality and stratification more directly. Among other issues, future research should focus on elucidating the ontological structure and normative order of global culture, as well as the historical origins, growth, and development of world culture, transnational organization, and global actor models over the longue durée (the past millennium or so).
Robert A. Denemark
World system history is a perspective on the global sociopolitical and economic system with a structural, long-term and transdisciplinary nature. The intellectual origins of the study of world system history can be characterized by three general trajectories, beginning with the work of global historians who have worked to write a “history of the world.” Attempts were also made by scholars such as Arnold Toynbee to write global history in terms of “civilizations”. A second pillar of world system history emerged from anthropology, when many historians of the ancient world, anthropologists, and archaeologists denied the importance of long-distance relations, especially those of trade. A third pillar emerged from the social sciences, including political science and sociology. One of the central ideas put forward was that sociopolitical and economic phenomena exhibited wave-like behavior. These various intellectual strands became self-consciously intertwined in the later 1980s and 1990s, when scholars from all of these traditions began to cross disciplinary boundaries and organize their own efforts under the rubric of world system history. This period saw Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills questioning the value of identifying a uniquely modern system based on a transition to capitalism that was said to have occurred in the West. Frank and Gills introduced the “continuity hypothesis,” which suggests that too much scholarly emphasis has been placed on the search for and elucidation of discontinuities and transitions. World system history faces two important challenges from determinism and indeterminacy, and future research should especially address the implications of the latter.