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Article

Felix Berenskoetter

The identity perspective first emerged in the international relations (IR) literature in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a result of two overlapping trends. First, the postmodern Zeitgeist encouraged the questioning of accepted and “naturalized” categories associated with modernity. Embracing diversity and committed to an agenda of emancipation, postmodern thinking was to bring about the “death of meta-narratives” and to unravel assumptions which had come to be taken for granted and justified with, for instance, the need for parsimony. In IR, this meant “fracturing and destabilizing the rationalist/positivist hegemony,” including its ontology of the international system, to establish a new perspective on world politics. The readiness to do so was aided, second, by the end of the Cold War and changing structures of governance. The dissolution of seemingly stable political entities such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia raised questions about the volatility of borders, loyalties, nationalism(s), and the ability to manipulate them. Simultaneously, the phenomenon of “globalization” and processes of European integration undermined the conception of the Westphalian state as the fixed/dominant entity in world politics. Against this backdrop, many IR scholars searching for new conceptual vocabulary turned to “identity” to highlight the socially constructed nature of the state and its interests, and to explain the causes of war and the conditions for peace.

Article

Foreign policy analysis benefits from careful attention to state identity. After all, identity defines the field itself by making it possible to speak both of policies and of a domain that is foreign. For some scholars, identity has proven useful as a guide to agency and, in particular, to agent preferences. For others, identity has served as a guide to social or institutional structure. Theories of state identity can be divided into three categories: conditions internal to agents, social interactions among agents, and “ecological” encounters with a broader environment. Internal conditions refer to either processes or constraints that operate within the agent under consideration. In the case of the state, these may include domestic politics, the individual characteristics of citizens or other internal actors, and the collective attributes of these citizens or other actors. Although internal causes are not social at the state level, they nevertheless have social implications if they give rise to state identity, and they may themselves be social at a lower level. The social interactions of states themselves constitute a second source of identity, one that treats states as capable of interacting like persons. This approach essentially writes large social and psychological theories, replacing individuals with the state. Finally, the ecological setting or broader environment is a third possible source of identity. The environment may be material, ideational, or discursive, and treated as an objective or a subjective influence.

Article

Emmanuel Balogun

The study of regionalism has experienced numerous transformations and focal points. Comparative regionalism has emerged as the next wave of scholarship on regional cooperation and integration in international relations. What differentiates comparative regionalism from this earlier scholarship? There are three research themes that characterize the field of comparative regionalism: (a) an empirical focus on regional identity formation as a way of distinguishing between autonomous regions, (b) decentering Europe as the main reference point of comparative regionalism, and (c) defining what is truly “comparative” about comparative regionalism. These research themes emerge in a global context, where regional cooperation and integration are being tested from all sides by events such as Brexit in Europe, elusive global cooperation in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and challenges to democratic stability across the globe. While the development of regionalism has primarily been concerned about the defining of regions and the world order context in which regional cooperation emerges and sustains itself, the interrelated themes of regional identity formation and the decentering of Europe in comparative regionalism drive the comparative regionalism agenda, giving substance to the identification and measurement of the “local” and other context-specific mechanisms of regionalism. While these three themes are helpful in discerning the state of the comparative regionalism research agenda, they also have some limitations. While comparative regionalism is progressive in its integration of constructivist ideas of identity formation, its project of withering Eurocentrism, and its methodological flexibility, comparative regionalism research would be well served to incorporate more reflexive and interpretivist research practices and methods, particularly to serve the goal of offering new knowledge and theories of regional cooperation in the Global South that are not tethered to Europe.

Article

Marie-Eve Desrosiers

In the context of nationalist and ethnic struggles, framing refers to strategic communication aimed at changing perceptions and behavior, such as persuading members of a group to unite and fight or their opponents to demobilize. The concept and theory behind framing stem from sociology, and in particular American social movements theory, where they have helped reconcile an interest in the construction of identities and “meaning work” with the study of structures that favor participation in collective endeavors. Framing not only unpacks the processes behind this form of strategic communication through notions such as alignment and resonance, but it has also produced extensive scholarship on types of frames that foster mobilization and the socio-psychological keys they play upon in so doing. Framing theory has also focused on some of the elements contributing to the success—or lack thereof—of communication aimed at persuasion. Considering that participation in crises and conflicts is an extreme form of mobilization, framing has, since the mid-2000s, made headway in conflict studies, where scholars have turned to framing processes to shed light on how people can be convinced to rally around the nationalist or ethnic flag and even take up arms in their group’s name. More recently, framing-centric approaches have been used to shed light on frames deployed in conflicts of a religious nature, as well as in the study of radicalization and the ideological or ideational framing behind it. The future of framing theory with regards to identity-based conflicts depends, however, on scholars’ ability to produce framing concepts and theoretical insights specific to conflict studies able to federate the community or researchers adopting the approach to study armed violence. As growing research on armed conflict turns to understanding the links between national and local realities, framing theorists may in addition benefit from greater attention to local frames and framing dynamics, and how they relate to the broader, elite-driven frames more commonly focused on in the study of armed violence. Finally, though so far little explored, framing proponents may stand to gain from engaging with literature using survey experiments or other promising quantitative approaches that have also sought to generate insights into ethnic relations or government representation and policy regarding crises and war.

Article

Much of what goes on in the production of a security state is the over-zealous articulation of the other, which has the effect of reinforcing the myth of an essentialized, unambiguous collective identity called the nation-state. Indeed, the focus on securing a state (or any group) often suggests the need to define more explicitly those who do not belong, suggesting, not only those who do, but where and how they belong and under what conditions. Feminists are concerned with how highly political gender identities often defined by masculinism are implicated in marking these inclusions and exclusions, but also how gender identities get produced through the very practices of the security state. Feminists in the early years critiqued the inadequacy of realist, state-centric notions of security and made arguments for more reformative security perspectives, including those of human security or other nonstate-centric approaches. At the same time, feminist research moved to examine more rigorously the processes of militarism, war, and other security practices of the state and its reliance on specific ideas about women and men, femininity and masculinity. Feminist contributions from the mid-1990s through the first decade of the millennium reveal much about the relationships between gender identities, militarism, and the state. By paying attention to gendered relationships of power, they expose the nuances in the co-constitution of gender identities and the security state.

Article

Liah Greenfeld and Nicolas Prevelakis

Nationalism is the worldview of the modern world. It is based on three fundamental principles: it is secular; it sees the members of the community defined as a nation as fundamentally equal; and it presupposes popular sovereignty. Modern ethnicity, that is, ethnic identity, is the result of ethnic nationalism. One can classify nationalisms into three major types: the individualistic-civic type, as seen in England, the United States, and a few other countries, though it remains a minority in the world; the collectivistic-civic type—also a minority; and finally, the collectivistic-ethnic type, which is found in most of the nations in the world. This third and last type is what is usually referred to as “ethnic identity” in the modern world. These types of nationalism seldom exist in their ideal form. Typically, one will find a combination of elements from different types. Their relative importance may vary from one period to another, or within the same period and among different social strata. The case of Greek nationalism illustrates this point. It also represents a clear example of the causal role of nationalism in shaping ethnic identity. The seeds of ethnicity emerged in the first decades of the Greek state, though it was only in the middle of the nineteenth century that Greek nationalism took its definite ethnic form. This evolution can be seen in two areas: the emergence of Greek irredentism, and the construction of Greek historiography.

Article

Wolfram Dressler and Sally Babidge

The changes in anthropological theory and perspectives on identity and difference can be explored in the context of three major periods of development: the colonial, postcolonial, and postdevelopment periods. In the colonial era, anthropologists drew heavily on the idea of social evolution located in the works of Herbert Spencer, Lewis Henry Morgan, and E.B. Tylor. In their work, lower-order “savages” (i.e., indigenous people) were thought to evolve socioculturally into higher-order, “civilized” Europeans. In the postcolonical period, the wave of independence throughout much of the developing world led social anthropologists to interpret how different groups came to self-identify with people and situations in a relational sense in an emerging postcolonial context. Ethnographers considered how people identified with certain social and cultural characteristics as being contingent upon their shared understanding of these features in relation to group membership and how others perceived such characteristics. Since the 1990s, social anthropologists have considered conceptions of indigeneity and other identity work with greater nuance, focusing on the layered processes that constitute identity. Recent scholarly contributions have considered how and why people have socially constructed their identities through reflections of self, sociopolitical positions, and culture relative to individual and group experiences in society. In particular, three intellectual streams have begun to reconceptualize identity formation: social positioning, articulation, and transnational identity building.

Article

Kenneth J. Campbell

Genocide is an interdisciplinary problem for scholars; no single academic discipline has yet taken on the study of genocide in a serious, systematic, and significant way, let alone placed an exclusive claim on it. The historical development of the genocide literature begins with the emergence of Holocaust studies, and the word “genocide” itself was coined in 1944, during World War II. Comparative genocide studies were later developed, in addition to the post-Cold War explosion in the second generation literature on genocide. The scholarly questions on genocide that have been fairly well settled—at least to a certain extent—have to do with core elements of the definition of genocide. This literature, in short, focuses on three principal concerns: definition, explanation, and prevention. What emerges out of the genocide literature over the years is consensus on the fact that genocide is the destruction of people as members of a group. They are differences over which groups should be covered by the definition—for instance, political and socioeconomic groups—but not on the fact that the victims have been targeted because of their group identity, and no other reason. To supplement the scholarship on genocide, future research agendas might include a careful study of the growing transnational antigenocide movement, a comparative analysis of genocide leaders, and many more.

Article

Kristin P. Johnson and Ashlea Rundlett

Conflicts that occur along ethnic or nationalist lines are often the most protracted, violent, and difficult to resolve in the long term. Civil wars are often divided into two distinct types: ethnic/religious wars (identity), and revolutionary wars (nonidentity). The distinction between these conflict types is based on whether cleavages within a society occur along ethnic lines or along lines that cut across ethnic divisions and are focused on issues including class, ideology, or seeking significant policy orientation of change. The most significant theoretical and empirical contributions to the understanding of ethnic conflicts in recent years come from the disaggregation of civil wars focusing on micro- and group-level dynamics. This disaggregation supports theoretical advancement and a departure from using macro-level data with micro-level mechanisms supports transition from a monadic to dyadic study of ethnic conflict, and supports examination of potential causal mechanisms of ethnic violence. Scholarly traditions and theoretical approaches explaining identity mobilization along ethnic or nationalist lines, the contributing factors that explain the transition from mobilization to the exercise of political violence, the duration of identity-based conflicts, and the long-term prospects for settlement of the conflict have enjoyed a proliferation of studies using newly available data featuring subnational units. These include explanations of conflicts based in sociological foundations focused on the formation and maintenance of identity, structural explanations for internal conflict focus on the capacity of the state and the distribution of political authority within a political system, and the opportunity for rebellion.

Article

Narrative research is a trending topic in international studies, with a growing body of literature adopting limited insights from narratology, sociolinguistics, and related fields to construct new insights into the workings of international relations. These studies are mainly concerned with questions about how narratives can be used to shape future policy courses, or how they impact the identity of agents and actors. The proliferation of studies using “narratives” in international studies research has been widespread since the 2000s, following a series of puzzles raised by scholars writing on language and discourse more broadly, ever since the late 1980s as part of the “linguistic turn” in the field. The adoption of narrative theory into international relations research presents a series of important questions about the methodological implications of taking narratives seriously. These include inquiries into the extent to which scholars see themselves as contributing to current social, political, and economic configurations of the world through their own work. Other questions motivated by this include: can international relations scholarship contribute to narrative theories of their own, or are they content in borrowing insights from other disciplines? How far should scholars engage in assessing what actors say, rather than what they do? Or is this distinction a false one to begin with? Are there more or less potent narratives, and why do some become prominent while others do not? What is the causal significance of narratives, and what is the best way to study them?

Article

Yale H. Ferguson and Richard W. Mansbach

Postinternational theory in international relations (IR) theory offers an alternative to the state-centric perspectives on the world that have dominated IR theory. A state-centric approach is far too restrictive. Despite the resurgence of populist nationalism, contemporary scholars are much more aware than in the past of the enormous variety of states, the important distinction between state and nation, the fact that states, even at the policy-making level, are not unitary actors, and the recurring possibility that violence will be intrastate or trans-state rather than interstate. It is apparent, too, that the stage of global politics is crowded by countless actors of different types, whose complex interactions substantially determine the intermediate and longer-range scenes in particular dramas. Moreover, the flow of events significantly reflects not only such ideational factors as competing identities, ideologies, and mental spaces, but also the pace and volume of globalization in its multiple dimensions and related localization dynamics that include resistance to globalization. Postinternational theory embodies the foregoing worldview. It shares some areas of agreement with leading schools of IR theory, but provides a much better foundation for future theory building as well as a policy-relevant way of thinking about the world and analyzing global political issues.

Article

Discussions of race and racism are often missing in the curriculum of international relations courses or, when present, categorized as a “critical approach” and placed outside the mainstream. But this absence or marginalization from the mainstream of the discipline does not mean that such discussions are beyond the scope of its primary agenda—that is, theorize interstate relations. On the contrary, questions of race and racism have been foundational to the historical development of international relations. In its formative years, the discipline’s understanding of the global order was shaped by the Darwinist conceptions of racial hierarchies adopted by some its core theorists. They viewed the imperial domination of the “White races” over the “darker peoples of the world” to be justified, considering the immeasurable racial superiority of the former. Revisionist international relations scholars, also active during the formative years of the discipline, worked to upend these racialized hierarchies and underlined the need to account for the struggles and national aspirations of the dominated in international politics. Yet, international relations’ racist disciplinary precepts have persisted, and a color line—both globally and within the discipline—continues to divide the world into racialized, binary categories (e.g., civilized/uncivilized, modern/backward, and developed/undeveloped) that legitimize Western authority in international politics. However, the introduction of race and racism in the teaching of the discipline equally unsettles the assumption that international relations embodies a value-free scientific endeavor. Instead, the role of racist precepts in the making and workings of the field demonstrates that the discipline’s mainstream is deeply positioned in its view of the world and, as a consequence, fails to account for the multiplicity of ways in which international politics is encountered and experienced.

Article

Germán C. Prieto and Juan Carlos Aguirre

The relationship between identity and institutions has traditionally been a main explanatory factor of the unfolding of regionalism from a constructivist lens. Yet, this relationship has not been largely addressed in the study of regionalism in Latin America, where collective identity is often expected to be strong, but regional institutions are often considered weak. The relationship between institutional flexibility and inertia with collective identity can be illustrated by the cases of the Andean Community (AC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), where due to harsh disagreement between member states about crucial issues, these regionalist projects risked being thrown into question or even terminated. The AC has stronger institutionalization than UNASUR. Analysis of the AC shows that institutional flexibility and inertia, articulated with certain dimensions of Andean collective identity and even triggering identification effects among member states, helped overcome certain critical moments. First, Peru’s reluctance to adopt certain commercial schemes for meeting the project’s aim of constituting a common market led the other AC members to consider expelling Peru from the regional scheme, but institutional flexibility and inertia, along with issues of collective identity, allowed Peru to remain an AC member. Second, Bolivia’s and Ecuador’s abandoning of collective FTA negotiations with the EU could have implied dismantling the regionalist project due to the impossibility of it acting as a bloc in the trade area, but the relationship between institutional flexibility and inertia with collective identity enabled maintaining the project and handling the critical moment successfully. In contrast, while the disagreement around the constitution of the Banco del Sur did not endanger the creation of UNASUR and later its continuity, mainly thanks to institutional flexibility though not so much to institutional inertia, the lack of a strong collective identity, together with the lack of institutional inertia, made the regionalist project fail in facing its first profound crisis regarding diplomatic conflict among its members around the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela, despite but also due to the huge institutional flexibility that had persuaded member states to join UNASUR in the first place.

Article

Ethnicity and identity are largely about boundaries; in fact, there is no way to determine one’s identity—ethnic or otherwise—without reference to some sort of boundary. In approaching the study of ethnicity and identity, sociology, anthropology, and to a lesser extent political science and international relations tend to focus on the group level and define ethnicity and ethnic identity as group phenomena. Psychology, by contrast, focuses on the individual level. These two disciplinary areas represent the opposite ends of a conceptual focus in examining both ethnicity as a group phenomenon and identity as an individual phenomenon, with a “middle ground” outlined by symbolic interactionism focusing on the processes of formation and reformation through the interaction of individuals and groups. The thread that runs through each of these ordinarily disparate disciplines is that, when examining ethnicity or identity, there is a common factor of dialectic between the sameness of the self or in-group and differentiation with the other or out-group. Moreover, an examination of the manner in which the generation of identity at one level has an explicit connection to the germination of identity at other levels of analysis shows that they combine together in a process of identification and categorization, with explicit links between the self and other at each level of analysis.

Article

Critical theory in International Relations originated from the Marxist tradition which, during the mid- to late Cold War, formed the basis of dependency and world systems theory. In the years before and after the Cold War, critical theory became part of a larger post-positivist challenge to the discipline and to the development of critical security studies. At the heart of contestation within the broader arena of critical security is the concept of emancipation, developed by members of the Frankfurt School such as Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Several key debates have been at the center of critical security studies relating to the construction of threats, identity and difference, human security, and emancipation. In particular, critical security analysts have addressed the question of how, given the range of threats or risks that exist in the world, some threats come to have priority over others and become the focus of discourses of security. Also, some scholars have disputed the idea that identity is dependent on difference. The concept of human security shifts attention away from states to individuals, emphasizing human rights, safety from violence, and sustainable development. In the case of emancipation, critical theorists have expressed concern that the concept is too closely linked with modernity, meta-narratives, especially Marxism and liberalism, and the Enlightenment belief that humanity is progressing toward a more perfect future. What is needed is not to avoid emancipation per se, but to pay close attention to its underlying assumptions.

Article

Ethnicity, nationalism, and migration are popular topics in many academic disciplines, but research on public opinion in these areas has suffered from a lack of good data, disciplinary fragmentation, and a dearth of studies that engage one another. This is evident in the case of public opinion survey research undertaken in the world’s hotspots of ethnic conflict. As a result, ethnic conflict scholars have had to rely on proxy measures or indirect studies to test “opinion” towards ethnicity and nationalism in the developing world. In the developed world, however, there is more to work with in terms of opinion measurements. A prominent example is the European Union’s “Eurobarometer” surveys, which gauge attachment to and identification with “Europe” and the individual nation. Research on national identity and ethnic conflict has often been the starting point for theories of public opinion regarding immigration. A common finding is that there is a weak connection (if any) between opinion and policy on the immigration issue. Several areas need to be addressed as far as research is concerned. For example, the picture of xenophobic hostility in rich countries must be understood in a context of general changes in word migration patterns, with some emerging economies also experiencing high levels of immigration, and concurrent anti-immigrant public opinion. Two shortcomings of the literature also deserve closer attention: a focus on developing-to-developed country migration; and a lack of analyses that combine push and pull factors, to measure their relative causal weight in terms of bilateral immigration flows.

Article

Mary N. Hampton and Kathleen A. Mahoney-Norris

One aspect of women’s professional experience in the field of international studies is that of teaching. Women’s experience in the gendered classroom has been shaped by three general factors: their identity, their interests, and the institutions in which they work. Major dimensions of identity can be grouped into: identity as reputation; identity as race and sex; and identity as role models and mentors. Meanwhile, women’s teaching is clearly affected by their scholarly interests, which impact on both the subjects they choose to teach and their pedagogical approaches. While it would not be surprising to find that women teachers tend to teach more about women and feminism, a major survey of International Relations (IR) faculty in the United States found other significant differences between women and men in the classroom, often linked to women’s differing research interests. Women’s teaching is also impacted by the institutional environment in which they work. Surveys and studies across the academic spectrum confirm the importance not only of gender equity at institutions, but also the presence of an institutional climate, or culture, that is friendly to women faculty. Major elements that affect the institutional environment include the number of faculty women (including senior women); the type of institution (its focus on research or teaching); and the ability to offer feminist and gender courses, and related pedagogies.

Article

In southeast Asia, ethnic tensions and conflicts stem in large part from economic or power rivalries rather than cultural differences. The political relationships between ethnic identities and nation-state identities in southeast Asia can be analyzed based on three different frameworks, each offering important insights into the region’s complexities and variations. The first is the plural society approach, which points to cultural pluralism as the source of political tensions in southeast Asia. The implication of this view is that ethnic violence will tend to take the form of rioting between people of different cultures as they compete for state resources or power. The second framework is a state legitimacy approach, which argues that the national identity strategies adopted by the state elites are the key factor influencing the structure of ethnic politics. In this context, the strategy of state legitimation is employed to promote the migration of highland ethnic minorities out of their ancestral homeland areas so as to facilitate their economic development, but also their assimilation into the ethnic core. The third framework is a globalized disruption approach, which suggests that globalization has three negative impacts relating to economic disparities, the problematical politics of democratization, and fears of international or domestic terrorism. It can be said that the politics of ethnicity and nationalism in southeast Asia arises from the enhanced appeal of ethnic and national stereotypes for people experiencing diverse insecurities, giving rise to inter-ethnic distrust as well as intra-ethnic factionalism.

Article

Jonathan M. Acuff

The question of the historical origins of nations and nationalism has long been the subject of vigorous debate among scholars. Indeed, there has been no interdisciplinary convergence among historians, sociologists, and anthropologists regarding the exact timeline of the emergence of nations and nationalism. Much contemporary international relations (IR) and political science scholarship relating to nations is primarily divided between two opposing assumptions: a relatively simplistic “ancient hatreds/modernist” dichotomy versus primordialist and other kinds of claims. This disagreement over the historical origins of nationalism influences both the ontological notions governing the nature of modernity and nations, as well as important epistemological implications as to the selection and interpretation of variables. Modernists argue that nationalism is the product of the specific effects of the modern age, dating roughly to the late Enlightenment or to the French Revolution specifically. They also emphasize the role of the international system in the forging of national identity. Primordialists and ethnosymbolists have advanced their own theories of nationalism, but most contemporary IR scholars favor the “modernist” paradigm. However, it is necessary to evaluate a larger literature beyond the modernist corpus in order to tackle questions such as whether modern nations are more conflict-prone than their more aged ethnic counterparts, or whether structural changes in the international system since the end of the Cold War have opened a window of opportunity for irredentist claims for nascent nations.

Article

Benjamin Meiches and Raymond Hopkins

The term “international regime” was originally used to describe formal agreements between states, but the concept has since evolved after going through considerable critique and reformulation. A universal agreement on the precise nature or elements of a regime has remained elusive, despite a general consensus on the definition. Nevertheless, the concept of regime offers a unique opportunity to better understand international relationships by underscoring the importance of specific attributes of international, multinational, and nongovernmental groups, sets of behavioral or epistemic practices, and processes of learning. As a heuristic device, regime theory helps to explain the rise of complex interaction between states, organizations, corporations, and other institutions as well as the potential for ideas or behavior to shape the international system. Regime theory has supplemented traditional explanations of international order, including hegemonic stability theory or neorealism, by explaining the emergence of cooperation and organization within what would traditionally be considered anarchical or highly unpredictable conditions. Common approaches to regime theory include realism, neoliberalism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Part of the strength of regime theory is that it has remained an elastic concept and has been used to analyze a huge diversity of issues, with many promising results. Regime theory should continue highlighting both the ideational and material dimensions of organization and bringing together positivist, inductive, and critical approaches to understanding power, interest, and identity so as to generate a series of new conversations or trajectories for exploring the creation of international order.