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Article

Dirk Nabers and Frank A. Stengel

International Political Sociology (IPS) emerged as a subfield of International Relations (IR) in the early 2000s. IPS itself may be understood as constituted by a field of tension between the concepts of “the International,” “the Political,” and “the Social.” Against this background, the centrality of anarchy and sovereignty as the fundamental structuring principles of international politics are increasingly called into question. While IPS remains an exciting, creative and important endeavor, researchers are also exploring paths toward what might be called a Global Political Sociology (GPS). Although IPS has become more global in orientation, more sociological with respect to sources, and more political in its stance, three ongoing shifts need to be made in order to transform IPS into GPS: first, insights from disciplines foreign to IR—both Western and non-Western—need to be employed in order to illustrate that specific localities have implications for the global as a whole; second, the continued engagement with causal theorizing must be replaced with contingency and undecidability as the fundamental constituting features of the political; and third, if the international that has been the nucleus of IR activities for decades, but impedes our understanding of politics instead of stimulating it, then alternative ways of theorizing global politics must be explored.

Article

John M. Hobson, George Lawson, and Justin Rosenberg

Over the past 20 years, historical sociology in international relations (HSIR) has contributed to a number of debates, ranging from examination of the origins of the modern states system to unraveling the core features and relative novelty of the contemporary historical period. By the late 1980s and 1990s, a small number of IR scholars drew explicitly on historical sociological insights in order to counter the direction that the discipline was taking under the auspices of the neo-neo debate. Later scholars moved away from examining the specific interconnections between international geopolitics and domestic social change. A further difference that marked this second wave from the first was that it was driven principally by IR scholars working within IR. To date, HSIR has sought to reveal not only the different forms that international systems have taken in the past, but also the ways in which the modern system cannot be treated as an ontological given. Historical sociologists in IR are unanimous in asserting that rethinking the constitutive properties and dynamics of the contemporary system can be successfully achieved only by applying what amounts to a more sensitive “nontempocentric” historical sociological lens. At the same time, by tracing the historical sociological origins of the present international order, HSIR scholars are able to reveal some of the continuities between the past and the present, thereby dispensing with the dangers of chronofetishism.

Article

Historical Sociology (HS) is a subfield of sociology studying the structures and processes that have shaped important features of the modern world, including the development of the rational bureaucratic state, the emergence of capitalism, international institutions and trade, transnational forces, revolutions, and warfare. HS differs from other approaches in sociology given its distinction between routine social activities and transformative moments that fundamentally reshape social structures and institutions. Within international relations, the relevance of history in the field’s study has been highly disputed. In fact, mainstream international relations (IR)—Neorealism and Liberalism—has downplayed the importance of history. Nevertheless, World History (WH) and HS have exercised a significant degree of influence over certain theoretical approaches to the study of international relations. The history of HS can be traced back to the Enlightenment period and the belief that it was possible to improve the human condition by unmaking and remaking human institutions. HS was then taken up by a second wave of historical sociologists who were asking questions about political power and the state, paving the way for greater engagement between IR and sociology. Third wave HS, meanwhile, emerged from a questioning of received theoretical paradigms, and was thus characterized by theoretical and methodological revisions, but only minor and incremental changes to the research agenda of second wave Historical Sociology.

Article

Teaching international political sociology (IPS) is intellectually rewarding yet pedagogically challenging. In the conventional International Relations (IR) curriculum, IPS students have to set aside many of the premises, notions, and models they learned in introductory classes, such as assumptions of instrumental rationality and canonical standards of positivist methodology. Once problematized, these traditional starting points in IR are replaced with a number of new dispositions, some of which are counterintuitive, that allow students to take a fresh look at world politics. In the process, IPS opens many more questions than it provides clear-cut answers, making the approach look very destabilizing for students. The objective of teaching IPS is to sow the seeds of three key dispositions inside students’ minds. First, students must appreciate the fact that social life consists primarily of relations that make the whole bigger than the parts. Second, they must be aware that social action is infused with meanings upon which both cooperative and conflictual relations hinge. Third, they have to develop a degree of reflexivity in order to realize that social science is a social practice just like others, where agents enter in various relations and struggle over the meanings of the world. There are four primary methods of teaching IPS, each with its own merits and limits: induction, ontology, historiography, and classics.

Article

There are two primary reasons why empires are central to our understanding of International Relations (IR). First, the empire has been replaced by juridically equal sovereign territorial states over the past century. Formal empires no longer exist, and only one head of state retains the title of Emperor—Akihito of Japan. The second reason why the study of empire matters to IR is that much of the conventional distinction between hierarchy and anarchy has been subject to various criticisms from a wide array of methodological and political perspectives. In particular, International Political Sociology (IPS) has offered a framework for critical analyses of phenomena such as systemic transformation, international unevenness, and global inequality, or war, violence, and racism in international politics. Since the end of the Cold War, new theorizations of empire have placed empire and imperialism at the center of debates in IR. Contemporary investigations of empire in IR, and IPS in particular, have dwelled on a number of political debates and methodological issues, including the nature of American imperialism, the link between IR and global history, and the relationship between empire and globalization. The category “empire” continues to both illuminate the pertinence of IR to social theory more generally and at the same time highlights the shortcomings of the discipline in addressing the causes and dynamics of global inequality, violence, and uneven development.

Article

Benjamin J. Muller

Governmentality and biopolitics has emerged as a chief source of scholarship and debate within contemporary international relations (IR), particularly among those involved in the sub-disciplines, Critical Security Studies and International Political Sociology. Governmentality, first and foremost, is a term coined by philosopher Michel Foucault, and refers to the way in which the state exercises control over, or governs, the body of its populace. Meanwhile, biopolitics, which was coined by Rudolf Kjellén, is an intersectional field between biology and politics. In contemporary US political science studies, usage of the term biopolitics is mostly divided between a poststructuralist group using the meaning assigned by Michel Foucault (denoting social and political power over life), and another group who uses it to denote studies relating biology and political science. The foci of literatures on governmentality and biopolitics are particularly agreeable to many scholars critical of traditional IR scholarship and its distinct articulation of “world politics.” The shifty nature of both concepts, as defined by Michel Foucault and the subsequent use by various scholars, presents challenges to setting any specific account of these terms; yet the blurriness of these concepts is what makes them productive, contrary to the zero-sum, rationalist accounts of power and behavior so central to much of conventional IR.

Article

Robbie Shilliam

Modernity is defined as a condition of social existence that is significantly different to all past forms of human experience, while modernization refers to the transitional process of moving from “traditional” or “primitive” communities to modern societies. Debates over modernity have been most prominent in the discipline of sociology, created in the nineteenth century specifically to come to terms with “society” as a novel form of human existence. These debates revolved around the constitution of the modern subject: how sociopolitical order is formed in the midst of anomie or alienation of the subject; what form of knowledge production this subject engages in, and what form of knowledge production is appropriate to understand modern subjectivity; and the ethical orientation of the modern subject under conditions where human existence has been rationalized and disenchanted. In its paradoxical search for social content of modern conditions of anomie, alienation, and disenchantment, sociology has relied upon Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. Sociological inquiry of modernity and the anthropological/comparative study of modernization have provided two articulations of sociopolitical difference—temporal and geocultural, respectively—that have exerted a strong impact upon approaches to and debates within IR. The attempt to correlate and explain the relationship between temporal and geocultural difference presents a foundational challenge to understandings of the condition of modernity and the processes of modernization.

Article

The reality of war has always been connected with political, economic, and social dynamics, as opposed to the notion that it is held within the confines of the battlefield. International political sociologists argue that practices of war and peace are positioned at the crux of institutional continuities and societal change, and that it is wrong to presuppose a dichotomy between the domestic and the international. As a result, scholars have become interested in the study of warfare, which, apart from military history, encompasses various themes such as the nature of human conflict and issues of defense policy, logistics, operations, and strategic planning. One particular study is International Political Sociology (IPS), a field of research that is concerned with how wars draw boundaries, how they influence political authority and trajectories of power, and how these are integrated in the global sphere. Meanwhile, International Relations (IR) is a formal subject that addresses the origin of war, how it impacts the dealings of the international system, and the institutional arrangements that might restrict or enhance war as a determinant of state relations. The study of International Relations is rife with various analytical perspectives, from realism to neo-realism and liberal internationalism, all of which exhibit how war continues to have a central place in scholarly disciplines.

Article

Postmodernity is commonly perceived as a stage of late modernity or late capitalism that follows modernity, whereas postmodernism is understood as a theoretical trend that attempts to unsettle a number of key concepts associated with the Enlightenment, such as grand narratives of progress, a linear unfolding of history, and traditional notions of reason and rationality. Within the discipline of International Relations (IR), however, late modernity is used interchangeably with postmodernity/postmodernism. Postmodernist/poststructuralist accounts in IR emerged in the 1980s, drawing their inspiration from authors identified with poststructuralism, such as Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, and Julia Kristeva. Three important themes can be identified in the development of a set of concerns that shaped International Political Sociology (IPS) as a subfield of IR: the self-understanding of IR and its relation to broader sociopolitical structures and institutions; limits, borders, and frontiers; and the emergence of a concern with practices of power perceived as acting in various sites, such as security and citizenship. The concretization of a different set of research preoccupations that are associated with IPS has resulted in some of the more significant developments in postmodern IR theory. Nevertheless, there are a few issues that deserve further consideration in social research that would help decenter the Western frame of IR, including the need for postcolonial discussions concerning the project of Enlightenment.

Article

Mackubin Thomas Owens

Civil–military relations is an interdisciplinary area of research, reflecting the work of political scientists, military, sociologists, and historians. History and culture, the constitution of the state and the statutes and practices arising therefrom, changes in the international security environment, technology, the character of conflict, and the changing concept of “soldier-hood” all influence the civil–military relations of a state. There are many possible patterns of civil–military relations that provide different answers to the questions of who controls the military and how, the degree of military influence appropriate for a given society, the appropriate role of the military in a given polity, who serves, and the effectiveness of the military instrument that a given civil–military relations produces. Moreover, there is no “general” or “unified field” theory that successfully explains all of these patterns. For a variety of reasons, Samuel Huntington's institutional theory remains the dominant paradigm for examining civil–military relations. When it comes to the question of civilian control of the military, Peter Feaver’s agency theory corrects some of the flaws in Huntington’s theory. Morris Janowitz and the military sociologists also provide useful insights, especially regarding the question of who serves and related issues. In the case of concordance theory, critics argue that the definition of military intervention sets the bar too low to be meaningful. Ultimately, the patterns of civil–military relations affect national security because of their impact on strategic assessment.

Article

International migration is widening, deepening, and speeding up as described within a set of theories that have been developed by different disciplines of science. The sociological theories of migration go back to the concept of intervening opportunities, which suggests that the number of migratory movements to a destination is directly proportional to the number of opportunities at that distance and inversely proportional to the number of intervening opportunities. Economic theories of migration, meanwhile, generally focus on international labor migration, while the geographical theories of migration concentrate on the role of distance in explaining spatial movements. Finally, socioeconomic theories of international migration are derived from a Marxist political economy emphasizing the unequal distribution of economic and political power in the global economy in a world where the rich are getting richer by exploiting the poor. Taken together, these theories explain the causes of proactive migration. However, the literature on the opposite scenario—reactive or forced migration—is also quite extensive, linking the issue to international security and human vulnerability, humanitarian intervention, and to the so-called “root causes” that underline the social and international forces that generated refugees. But these theories only tell part of the story, as migration is a dynamic phenomenon. Once it begins, international movement of people perpetuates across time and space, and the causes of these perpetual movements can be rather different from those that initiate them. As it evolves, it creates new conditions that become both the means and the ends of new migrations.

Article

Since the late eighteenth century, nationalist movements have been one of the world’s most powerful agents of social change. As a social movement, nationalism serves as a primary instrument both for popular aspiration and for ruling ideology. It is embedded in political contexts and can only be explained in relation to the resulting dynamics of contention. There is considerable debate over types of nationalist movements and their role in history, in large part because nationalism is not often explicitly conceptualized as a social movement. These debates, especially those that played out through the 1980s and into the mid-1990s, offer important insights into nationalist mobilization and its conditions of emergence and development. In order to understand the dynamics of nationalism as a social movement, one may draw insights from the “political process” school of social movement scholarship, where the exercise of state power is seen as framing movement identification and as structuring mobilization. Three interrelated dimensions deserve consideration in this regard: material interests and resources, institutional opportunities, and ideological framing of nationalist mobilization. Each is linked to the other by a process of capitalist development that creates systemic inequalities and fragments global society into national units. What emerges is a political sociology of nationalist movements, where movements are embedded in the social forces that they inhabit. The interaction of social forces and nationalist mobilization can be conceived of as a hierarchy, where one leads to the other.

Article

Nuclear proliferation became an increasingly major concern after France and then China joined the nuclear “club” in the 1960s. However, it was not until India’s “peaceful nuclear explosive” test of 1974 that a real sense of potential worldwide crisis emerged, which also spawned a substantial amount of serious writing on the issue. The basic puzzle facing the study of nuclear proliferation is why there is a considerable and persistent disparity between the number of nuclear weapons-capable states and the number of actual nuclear weapons states. Three early works that represented crucial conceptual breakthroughs in the struggle toward a proper descriptive inference of the dynamics of proliferation are William Epstein’s The Last Chance (1976), Stephen M. Meyer’s The Dynamics of Nuclear Proliferation (1984), and Opaque Nuclear Proliferation (1991), edited by Benjamin Frankel. More contemporary political science work features attempts by each of the major international relations paradigms to tackle the proliferation puzzle: realism, psychological constructivism, neoliberal institutionalism, liberalism, and sociological constructivism. While scholars disagree over a host of issues, a consensus on the dynamics of nuclear proliferation may be discerned. In particular, there are five points on which most recent works converge: that proliferation has been historically rare; that we cannot take the demand for nuclear weapons for granted; that domestic politics and identity considerations play a crucial role in shaping proliferation choices; and that theory-guided, in-depth comparative case studies are the most appropriate means of advancing the state of our knowledge at this point in time.

Article

The number of organizations involved in world politics has long been increasing and so has, consequently, the number of relations among them. For scholars of international studies, it is of central importance to examine these inter-organizational relations. The state-centrism in international relations, however, impeded the discipline’s engagement with this phenomenon for some decades. It was only in the mid-2000s that this began to change. Since then, the study of inter-organizational relations in world politics has mostly drawn on five theoretical approaches: sociological neo-institutionalism, resource dependence, network accounts, regime complexity, and classical pragmatism. These approaches will be introduced; for the sake of comparability, all five are presented in the same way, by carving out their theoretical tradition and key concepts, their core argument and causal logic, as well as their understandings of organizations and how they relate. Each presentation offers a brief look at how the respective approach has been applied.

Article

Conceptions of “risk” have permeated different forms of governance in both developed and developing countries. Many scholars have theorized how societies, states, organizations, and economic actors cope with uncertainty, giving rise to an international political sociology (IPS) of risk. A major concern of the IPS of risk is how uncertainty has become a central problem for governance. The ways in which risks are assessed and managed are taken as problematic spaces from which to question the roles of states, societies, economic actors, and individuals in coping with uncertainty. The origin of risk research as a disciplined field can be traced to Chauncey Starr’s article “Social Benefits versus Technological Risks” (1969), which offers a way of measuring the social acceptability of risks associated with technological development. Starr’s argument exemplifies what is known as the problem of “the ethical transformation of risk.” Risk as an ethical problem is central to modern debates on the distinction between “risk” and “uncertainty.” International Relations (IR) as a discipline has slowly begun to incorporate theoretical developments in risk theory arising from sociology, economics, and anthropology. Beyond rational choice theory implementations of threat-based conceptions of risk, IR scholars began to be influenced by three main currents of thinking risk: the risk society thesis, the governmentality of risk, and modern systems theory. A host of challenges remain with regard to the development of an IPS of risk, foremost of which is theorizing the ways in which power proceeds through practices of uncertainty.

Article

Benjamin Herborth and Oliver Kessler

The term “public” is predominantly used in International Relations (IR), often appearing as an attribute in collocations such as “public goods” or “public opinion.” The study of public spheres can be meaningfully situated within the scope of the emerging field of International Political Sociology (IPS). At the heart of the study of public spheres as an integral part of IPS is the challenge of theorizing the relations between public spheres and an emerging postnational political order. One perennial concern of IPS that can be addressed through the study of public spheres is the relation between empirical and normative inquiry. In addition, the study of public spheres constitutes an interdisciplinary arena that contributes to the process of opening up IR to the theoretical and methodological toolkit of adjacent intellectual fields. In this context, the study of social movements comes to mind, especially when it directly tackles processes of “contentious politics.” An analysis of the way in which the term “public” is used in IR can offer important insights into the social-theoretical presuppositions and implicit concepts of social and international order that go along with it. The study of public spheres is not confined to the study of a set of firmly delineated empirical phenomena, which may or may not be observed. It can also be used to elucidate the oft-neglected problem of how political authority is constituted in terms of both theoretical and empirical inquiry.