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The boundary between the religious and the secular spheres of life is contested in many parts of the world. From the latter decades of the 20th century, controversies over issues such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, assisted dying, and freedom of speech, as well as clashes around reproductive rights and equality issues, have all featured highly on national political agendas. Set against a backdrop of the “return of religion” to public life, these debates and tensions have given rise to the notion that secularism might be in a state of crisis or moving toward some form of post-secular condition. The term “secularism” is itself also contested. The precise nature of the “secular” and the “religious” spheres of life is subject to interpretation, and secularism in practice can be manifest in a number of ways. This ranges from exclusivist forms of secularism in countries such as the United States and France to inclusive secularism in the case of India. Supporters of a role for religion in public life maintain that religion provides a range of valuable public goods and gives individuals a sense of meaning and identity. Secularists, on the other hand, claim that the separation of church and state provides the best framework for upholding the rights and freedoms of all citizens regardless of their religion or belief.
Jörg Stolz and Pascal Tanner
In the second half of the 20th century, theories on secularization and secularism have been dominated by three approaches: secularization theory, individualization theory, and market theory. In the new millennium, approaches that both built on and revised these neoclassical approaches emerged: deprivation and insecurity theory, the theory of secular transition and intergenerational decline, theories of religious–secular competition, and theories focusing on the tipping point of the 1960s. These four new approaches have deepened our understanding of secularization, secularity, and secularism; however, they each have their own theoretical and empirical problems that need to be addressed by future research.
It has become customary in sociology and the political sciences to distinguish three large types of macro-theory on secularization, secularity, and secularism, namely secularization theory, individualization theory, and market theory. Each of these types includes a large number of approaches, ideas, and research endeavors. These neoclassical theories were formulated in the last millennium and have been described, discussed, and criticized many times since. A brief overview of the three neoclassical theories is provided, but then four theoretical approaches are focused on that have been developed in the new millennium: deprivation and insecurity theory, the theory of secular transition and intergenerational decline, theories of religious–secular competition, and theories focusing on the tipping point of the 1960s. These approaches are in the process of being discussed and tested thoroughly.
Since it was launched in the mid-1990s, the concept of securitization has consistently been in vogue, at least among European scholars of world politics and security studies. The idea of viewing security as intersubjective, where anyone or anything can be a threat if constructed as such, is both an appealing and useful conceptualization when analyzing security issues beyond the traditional, realist, state-centric view of security being equal to military issues. However, the precise aspects that make securitization appealing have also limited its broader impact on security studies or foreign policy analysis (FPA), as these fields often adhere to the assumption of threats being actor-based and external. Nevertheless, several studies demonstrate that both the theoretical assumptions of securitization theory and prior empirical applications of these assumptions are useful when analyzing different policy and security issues, and the concept can be applied to a broad range of issue areas, contexts, and actors. In order to capture the applicability of securitization theory to the study of foreign policy, this article will set out to describe and review the central assumptions of securitization theory and the different conceptual developments that have taken place since its inception. I thereafter proceed to outline different issue areas to which securitization has been employed, focusing on both domestic and external military and nonmilitary threats. This review of prior works demonstrates that although many studies are not self-proclaimed analyses of foreign policy, they capture important dynamics of the internal-external security nexus that epitomizes politics in the globalized era. The article concludes with a discussion of the added value that a securitization framework can bring to FPA.
Randolph M. Siverson and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
The Selectorate Theory is based upon one simple, perhaps even commonplace assumption: Once in office, leaders want to remain in office. They have a variety of tools to enhance their longevity in office, but the theory hypothesizes the leader’s allocation of two types of goods will be paramount in their efforts. One good is private, meaning that it is enjoyed by those to whom it is allocated and not to others. Such goods would include money, jobs, opportunities for corruption, but their hallmark is that they are not shared. These goods may be given to one individual or to a group, but they are not shared outside those to whom they are given. The second type of good is public and is shared by all those in the state. These goods would include potable water, clean air, education, and, importantly, national defense. There is little unique about the Selectorate Theory’s understanding of these goods, as they approximate ideas from economics.
The importance and values of these two goods depend critically on the political institutions of the state. The Selectorate Theory identifies two political institutions of dominant importance: The Selectorate, from which it takes its name; and the Winning Coalition. The former consists of all those people who have a role in selecting the state’s leader. This group may be large, as in the electorate in democratic states, or small, as in the case of an extended family or a junta. In unusual circumstances it can even be a group outside the state, as when a foreign government either imposes or influences choices made inside the state. The winning coalition may be large, but not larger than the selectorate, or it may be as small as an extended family or a junta, groups that essentially constitute the selectorate.
Variations in these two institutions can have important consequences for how the state conducts its foreign policy. For example, leaders in states with small winning coalitions should be able to take greater risks in their policies because if these fail, they will be able to mobilize and distribute private goods to reinforce their position. If these goods are not readily available, it is possible to purge non-critical supporters and redistribute their goods to others.
These institutions are also important in identifying the kinds of issues over which states are more or less likely to enter into conflict. States with small winning coalitions are more likely to enter into disputes over things that can be redistributed to supporters, such as land or resources. Large winning coalitions will have little use for such goods, since the ratio of coalition size and goods to be distributed is likely to be exiguous.
The Selectorate Theory also provides a firm analysis of the foundations for the idea of the Democratic Peace, which has been generally either lacking or imprecise.
Despite its clarity, some interpretations of the Selectorate Theory have led to mistaken inferences about what it says. We discuss several of these and close with a consideration of the need for improvement in the measurement of key variables.
Charles Manga Fombad
One reason why dictatorships flourished in Africa until the 1990s was that constitutions concentrated excessive powers in presidents. The democratic revival of the 1990s led to the introduction of new or substantially revised constitutions in a number of countries that for the first time sought to promote constitutionalism, good governance, and respect for the rule of law. A key innovation was the introduction of provisions providing for separation of powers. However, in many cases the reintroduction of multipartyism did not lead to thorough constitutional reform, setting the scene for a subsequent struggle between opposition parties, civil society, and the government, over the rule of law.
This reflects the complex politics of constitutionalism in Africa over the last 60 years. In this context, it is important to note that most of the constitutions introduced at independence had provided for some degree of separation of powers, but the provisions relating to this were often vaguely worded and quickly undermined.
Despite this, the doctrine of separation of powers has a long history, and the abundant literature on it shows that there is no general agreement on what it means or what its contemporary relevance is. Of the three main models of separation of powers, the American one, which comes closest to a “pure” system of separation of powers, and the British, which involves an extensive fusion of powers, have influenced developments in anglophone Africa. The French model, which combines elements of the British and American models but in which the executive predominates over the other two branches, has influenced developments in all civilian jurisdictions in Africa, particularly those in francophone Africa. The common denominator among the models is the desire to prevent tyrannical and arbitrary government by separating powers but doing so in a manner that allows for limited interference through checks and balances on the principle that le pouvoir arrête le pouvoir.
The combined Anglo-American (common law) and French (civil law) models received during the colonial period remain applicable today, but despite its adoption in the 1990s, the effectiveness of the doctrine of separation of powers in limiting governmental abuse has been curtailed by the excessive powers African presidents still enjoy and the control they exercise over dominant parties in legislatures. South Africa in its 1996 Constitution, followed by Kenya in 2010 and Zimbabwe in 2013, entrenched a number of hybrid institutions of accountability that have the potential not only to complement the checks and balances provided by the traditional triad but also to act where it is unable or unwilling to do so. The advent of these institutions has given the doctrine of separation of powers renewed potency and relevance in advancing Africa’s faltering constitutionalism project.
Discussion of some representative work from the scholars of foreign policy provides a review of the literature that can guide researchers in examining the separate yet interrelated stages of the decision-making process and that can demonstrate the importance of sequences in the process of foreign policymaking.
Matteo Bonomi and Milica Uvalic
Serbia is negotiating European Union (EU) membership, a process that started in 2014 after the Brussels-mediated agreement between Kosovo and Serbia was signed in April 2013. Although the Federal Republic (FR) of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) was officially included into the EU’s Stabilization and Association Process soon after the fall of the Milošević regime in October 2000, complex political issues have prevented its faster progress toward the EU. EU measures after 2001 in the areas of financial assistance, trade, and legal harmonization have sustained in a major way the country’s political and economic reforms, facilitating fast economic integration with the EU economy, financial and banking integration, the adoption of many laws in conformity with the acquis communuataire, new business opportunities, and increasing foreign direct investment. However, the Serbia–EU integration process has also been accompanied by strict political conditionality that has greatly delayed the establishment of contractual relations. Despite major efforts of various governments to comply with EU conditions, it was only in late April 2008 that Serbia concluded a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, which has paved the way for obtaining candidate status in 2012 and the opening of EU accession negotiations in 2014. In the meantime, EU’s enlargement negotiations framework has been strengthened further, making the negotiation talks much more complex and demanding. In addition to Serbia’s insufficient compliance with accession criteria, particularly reforms of the judiciary and public administration, the contested issue of Kosovo’s independence continues to pose a major threat to Serbia’s entry into the EU. Despite the absence of a common position on the part of the EU, given that Kosovo has still not been recognized by five EU member states, the limited progress in the Belgrade–Priština EU-facilitated dialogue represents one of the major obstacles for Serbia’s EU membership. Serbia’s entry into the EU, which could possibly take place in 2025, is likely to bring many benefits to the country and its population, but also to the EU, as this is a region of not only risks but also opportunities.
Sex Reclassification for Trans and Gender Nonconforming People: From the Medicalized Body to the Privatized Self
Sex reclassification is a core issue of gender nonconforming legal engagements. Access to proper identification documents for trans and nonbinary people relates to lower levels of exposure to anti-trans violence, discrimination, and suicidality. In the first decades of the 21st century, the majority of global jurisdictions have seen some kind of reform with respect to sex reclassification. Nonbinary classifications, such as the X marker, are also becoming available for those who wish not to be classified as either M or F. Across the globe, five major policy streams can be found: total ban on reclassification, that is, having no law or policy in place that allows for reclassification; reproduction-related prerequisite, that is, requiring applicants to undergo sterilization or genital-related surgery; other medical intervention-based schemes, that is, requiring applicants to provide proof that they have modified their body using some kind of gender-related medical technology; corroboration requirements, that is, requiring that a third party, usually a medical professional, corroborates the identity of the applicant; and the emerging “gold standard,” gender self-determination, that is, laws and policies requiring only an expression of a desire or need to be reclassified.
These streams of policy provide varying levels of access to proper identification documents and place different burdens on applicants, some requiring bodily modifications while others rely on autonomous will. Yet all these policies still demand an alignment between the internal truth of the body and external facts, resonating with the logic of birth assignment of sex itself—that is, the idea that the allocation of differentiated legal status of M or F reflects an immutable truth about legal subjects. Current laws and policies fail to address harms caused to gender nonconforming people by state mechanisms themselves. They only provide remedies ex post facto. In the early 21st century, all countries assign a differentiated legal status of either M or F at birth based solely, in almost all cases, on external genitals of newborns. This differentiated legal status is recorded on the birth certificate and becomes a part of one’s legal identity for life. This allocation of status reflects the idea that external genitals of newborns are proof of their owners’ future roles as men or women, that is, an idea that there is a pre-legal alignment between certain bodily configurations, social role, and gender performance. This mundane administrative mechanism not only justifies different treatment for men and women but also marks trans and nonbinary people as others. In order to better address the harm caused by systems of gendered distribution of resources and opportunities, there is a need to go beyond sex reclassification to question birth assignment itself.
Ewa A. Golebiowska
Public opinion on LGBT Americans’ rights has become more supportive of equal treatment over time. The movement toward greater egalitarianism has been particularly pronounced on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Today, the general public is overwhelmingly supportive of laws to protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. It is also overwhelmingly supportive of legal protections for gay and lesbian employees, although we do not know whether abstract support for equality in the workplace translates into support for the hiring of gays and lesbians in all occupations. Yet, many questions concerning LGBT Americans’ rights remain controversial. The general public is especially polarized on the questions of whether transgender individuals should be able to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify and whether business owners in the wedding services industry can discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds.
Systematic research on political attitudes of LGBT individuals using probability samples is practically nonexistent, although there are many studies of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals’ attitudes, identities, and behavior that use convenience samples. The existing studies demonstrate that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals tend to identify as ideologically liberal and favor the Democratic Party in their affinities and votes. LGBT Americans are far more supportive of equality in all issue domains although bisexuals—compared to lesbians and gay men—are more lukewarm in their embrace of equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Scholarship on LGBT Americans in public opinion has primarily explored attitudes toward gays and lesbians and has tended to focus on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and adoption. It examines psychological, political, and demographic correlates of public opinion regarding LGBT individuals and explores links between interpersonal contact with LGBT individuals and attitudes toward them. Generally speaking, moral traditionalism, gender role conceptions, and attributions for the existence of homosexuality are especially important psychological predictors of attitudes toward sexual and gender identity minorities. Partisan and ideological identities play an important role too as do cues from ideologically compatible political elites. Of the several demographic attributes that researchers have included in their models, religion-related variables stand out for their predictive prowess. Finally, interpersonal contact with sexual and gender minorities, as well as community exposure to LGBT individuals, is associated with more favorable views toward them.
Another yardstick by which commitment to equal treatment for LGBT Americans could be measured is whether and how sexual orientation and gender identity influence political fortunes of candidates for electoral office. Scholarship to date suggests that sexual orientation and gender identity function as important heuristics that influence voters’ thinking about LGBT candidacies. Some scholarship mines survey questions that inquire about respondents’ willingness to support hypothetical LGBT candidates for office. Others use experimental design to isolate the influences of sexual orientation and gender identity on political evaluation. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that LGBT individuals do not face a level playing field when they launch campaigns for office.
Erik A. Gartzke, Shannon Carcelli, J Andres Gannon, and Jiakun Jack Zhang
Costly signaling offers a solution to many foreign policy dilemmas. Though most commonly studied in the context of the bargaining theory of war, signaling can also play an important role in nonzero-sum interactions such as those characterized by chicken (e.g., nuclear deterrence) and the prisoner’s dilemma (e.g., tariff reductions). A rich game theoretic literature explains how actors can signal credibly in these situations. The most prominent strategies are sinking costs (actions that are costly ex ante) or tying hands (actions that are costly ex post). These strategies are theoretically elegant but have generated considerable controversy when studied empirically. One controversy concerns the existence of hand-tying domestic audience costs under different regime types. A second controversy involves the degree to which sinking costs increase or decrease the risk of war. These controversies speak to the inherent tension between theories of strategic interactions and measuring their outcomes in the foreign policy process, where some events are off the equilibrium path and thus unobserved.
The limited availability of foreign policy data was a major hindrance in earlier empirical efforts. Even as the quality of this data has improved, focus has been on the outcomes of conflict (crisis onset, escalation to war, victory, defeat) rather than the strategy. This is problematic given that all crises are sequential in nature and understanding the action–reaction cycle is vital to illuminating patterns of war, capitulation, and settlement. The frontier of research in the signaling literature is in bridging this gap. The advent of big data and machine learning has enabled more systematic empirical analysis of strategic moves by various foreign policy actors, including signaling. Some researchers, such as Lindsay & Gartzke, are harnessing these new data and methods to explore the means of signaling. Other scholars are beginning to ask questions about the efficacy of public versus private signaling, the role of ambiguity, and dyadic versus multi-actor signaling. This new wave of research seeks to nudge signaling closer to the concerns of foreign policy practitioners.
Ravi Bhavnani and David Sylvan
On several occasions in the past 70 years, simulation as a research program in FPA rose, then fell. We begin by defining what we mean by simulations before reviewing the two main streams of simulation work in FPA: human-based and computer-based, with this latter itself comprising two streams. We conclude with a speculative discussion of what happened to simulation in FPA and what the future may hold.
Ana Bojinović Fenko and Marjan Svetličič
Despite having fought for their bare survival against hostile foreigners, after finally reaching their independence and international recognition in 1991/92, paradoxically, even before fully assuming statehood Slovenians were eager to engage in yet another international integration—the European Union. This historical and societal wager, rather than merely political elites’ driven perspective, dominates as the prevailing reason for pursuing EU membership; thus security assurance to a small geopolitically transit state, economic benefits of a larger common market in conditions of economic globalization, and cultural proximity of Slovenian to European society explain Slovenian general identity-related elements favoring membership in the EU. There is also a more immediate time-space related explanatory factor for this, namely, the collapsing of the socialist Yugoslavia starting by the end 1980s and a view of assuring the democratic political life and market-lead economy via integration with Western European countries rather than South Slavic nations or following other alternative scenarios like full liberalization with all partners’ strategy. Authors critically evaluate where and why during the effort of becoming an EU member state and performing excellently as one during the first four years, the state fell short of capability-building and/or seizing the opportunities of EU membership. As the latter has been most brutally exposed via the effects of the 2008–2014 economic and financial crisis, of key importance for Slovenians currently stands a self-reflection of its development strategy, enhancing competitiveness, and the state’s role within the European family of nations. The main challenge is how to overcome the small state hindrances and more effectively formulate and project national interest to the EU level; with that in mind, the central questions for Slovenians remain assurance of social security to citizens, upgrading economic union to face more effectively global challenges and inter-state solidarity, refreshing enlargement policy for the remaining Western Balkans non-member states and ensuring Slovenian participation in the group of core states leading the European integration.
Jacqueline M. Klopp and Jeffrey W. Paller
Africa’s growing slums are complex, diverse neighborhoods with their own histories. Currently, these places, characterized by spatially concentrated poverty and human rights abuses, are where large proportions and, in many cases, the majority of Africa’s growing urban populations live. These slums often have a politics characterized by clientelism and repression, but also cooperation, accountability, and political mobilization. Importantly, they must be understood within a wider political context as products of larger historical processes that generate severe inequalities in standards of living, rights, and service provision. Varied approaches (modernization vs. more critical historical and political economy approaches) attempt to explain the emergence, dynamics, and persistence of slums and the politics that often produces, characterizes, and shapes them in Africa. While raising important questions about the link between urbanization and democracy, modernization theories, which are typically ahistorical, do not fully explain the persistence and actual growth of slums in African cities. More historically grounded political economy approaches better explain the formation and dynamics of slums in African cities, including the complex, uneven, and inadequate service delivery to these areas. Whether the conditions of Africa’s slums and the social injustice that undergirds them will give birth to greater democratization in Africa, which, in turn, will deliver radical improvements to the majority, is a critical unanswered question. Will social movements, populist opposition parties, and stronger citizenship claims for the poor ultimately emerge from slum—and wider city—politics? If so, will they address the political problem of inequality that the slum represents? A focus on cities, slums, and their politics is thus a core part of growing concern for the future of African cities and democratic politics on the continent.
Baldur Thorhallsson and Sverrir Steinsson
Size matters in international relations. Owing to their unique vulnerabilities, small states have different needs, adopt different foreign policies, and have a harder time achieving favorable foreign policy outcomes than large states. Small states show a preference for multilateral organizations because they reduce the power asymmetry between states, decrease the transaction costs of diplomacy, and impose constraints on large states. Small state security policies vary widely depending on domestic and international conditions. Despite the inherent disadvantages to being small, small states can compensate for the limitations of their size and exert influence on world politics, provided that they use the appropriate strategies.
Diana Panke and Julia Gurol
Smaller European Union member states face size-related challenges in the EU multilevel system, such as weighted voting in day-to-day policymaking in which EU secondary law is produced or high workloads and fewer resources during intergovernmental conferences (IGC) to set EU primary law. Coping with these challenges is paramount to smaller states’ success. Thus, they can use different strategies, most notably selective engagement and negotiation strategies that do not require much material power, such as persuasion, framing, and coalition-building, as well as the Council Presidency as a window of opportunity to influence the agenda. Applying these strategies allows small states to punch above their weight. Yet, doing so is easier the longer states have been members of the EU. Older, smaller states have more extensive networks, more insights about past policies, and in-depth knowledge on best practices that help them in effectively navigating day-to-day EU negotiations as well as IGCs.
Power is a complex topic that is viewed in entirely different ways by different writers. Power can be seen as a property of agents, with some agents having more power than others. It can be seen as a property of social systems, where structures hold power. It can also be seen in terms of specific actions by people to coerce or dominate, or it can be regarded as a subliminal force that leads people to think and behave in one way rather than another. It can be analyzed descriptively to try to explain how it is distributed, and critically to argue for changing structures to provide a more egalitarian and fairer distribution.
Power studies flourished in the great community power studies of the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these works suggested that democratic nations were controlled by powerful elites who ruled in their own interests; some that power was more widely distributed and elites could not simply rule for themselves; others that in capitalist societies, despite some counterexamples, elites generally ruled in favor of developers and capitalists. Later studies examined how people’s interests are defined in terms of the structural positions in which they find themselves, and how the very ways in which we think and express ourselves affect our individual powers.
Social capital is a slippery concept that signifies different things for different authors, and its uses are not always consistent. Despite this lack of consensus, most scholars agree on its basic idea: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Participation or membership in social networks and voluntary organizations creates norms and values such as trust, cooperation, and reciprocity that lead to productive state, institutional performance, and democratic communities. Social interactions and connections expand access to information and political ideas, nurture active citizens, stimulate individual participation in politics, collective decision-making, and policy formulation, which increase governmental accountability. In recent years, civil society actors in Africa have been emboldened to build social capital in response to restrictions and attacks on civil and political liberties, creeping authoritarianism, constitutional manipulations, and lack of governmental accountability. However, there are formidable challenges to generating social capital due to the character of civil society, its structural weaknesses and internal contradictions, socio-cultural factors, and limitations from the state.
Deborah Welch Larson
Social identity theory (SIT) from social psychology provides a means to explore the influence of identity and status concerns on foreign policy. The theory argues that groups are motivated to achieve a positively distinctive identity. Groups compare themselves to a similar but slightly higher reference group. Inferiority on important dimensions may lead to the adoption of an identity management strategy: social mobility (emulating the higher-status group to gain admission), social competition (striving to equal or surpass the dominant group), or social creativity (revaluing an ostensibly negative characteristic as positive or identifying an alternative dimension on which the group is superior).
Applied to international relations, states may pursue social mobility by emulating the values and practices of higher-status states in order to be admitted to a higher standing, much as Eastern Europe did in seeking admission into the European Union after the end of the Cold War. If elite groups are impermeable to new members, and the status hierarchy is perceived to be unstable or illegitimate, aspiring powers may engage in social competition, which usually entails territorial conquest and military displays. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to catch up with and surpass the capitalist states. If elite clubs are not permeable, but the status hierarchy is stable, states may seek status through social creativity—either reframing a negative trait as positive or seeking preeminence in a domain apart from geopolitical competition. Social creativity may entail creating new international institutions, promoting new norms, or engaging in major diplomatic initiatives in order to increase the state’s prestige.
Research applying SIT to international relations has addressed the question of whether anarchy necessarily leads to conflict between states, the diffusion of values, the selection of an identity discourse on the domestic level, and state efforts at moral leadership.
Critics have charged that SIT does not clearly predict which identity management strategy will be chosen in a given situation. From a realist perspective, the selection of a strategy for enhancing a state’s status is constrained by geographic position, size, and natural endowments. But this argument does not take into consideration the availability of social mobility and social creativity as ways to achieve status that do not depend on relative military power.
The analysis of the diffusion of social media in Africa and its relevance for politics has been caught in a paradox. On the one hand, social media have been saluted for their newness and for their ability, especially in connection with increasingly accessible portable tools such as mobile phones, to offer a level playing field for individuals to participate in politics and speak to power. On the other hand, this very enthusiasm has evoked relatively tired tropes used to frame the advent of other “new” technologies in the past, stressing what they could do to Africa, rather than exploring what they are doing in Africa.
Early research on the relationship between social media and elections in Africa has tended to adopt normative frameworks adapted from the analysis of electoral contests in the Global North, presupposing unfettered citizens using social media to root for their leaders or demand accountability. A more recent wave of empirically grounded studies has embraced a greater conceptual and methodological pluralism, offering more space to analyze the contradictions in how social media are used and abused: how humor can be turned into a powerful tool to contest a type of power that appears overwhelming; or how armies of professional users have exploited people’s credulity of new media as “freer” from power to actually support partisan agenda. Interestingly, this latter approach has brought to light phenomena that have only recently caught global attention, such as the role of “fake news” and misinformation in electoral contests, but have played a determinant role in African politics for at least a decade.
Social media refer to websites and other Internet applications that enable users to create and share content with other users, as well as to react to such content in various ways. As social media have become more accessible, in terms of both Internet access and ease of use, it has become one means by which people, nonstate actors, and governments can share their foreign policy priorities in an effort to receive feedback, engage in diplomacy, educate people, and attempt to influence foreign policy outcomes. Foreign policy practitioners and scholars have rushed to describe and begin to analyze the ways in which social media has become part of the foreign policy process. The social and political upheaval associated with the Arab Spring, some of which has been traced to both foreign and domestic use of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, created a greater sense of urgency among those who seek a greater understanding of the impact of social media on foreign policy.
Thematically, much of the academic work concerning social media and foreign policy is conducted as part of the broader public diplomacy literature. Public diplomacy, which relates to efforts by international actors to engage with foreign publics in the pursuit of policy goals, can be advanced along a number of paths. However, given their accessibility, low cost, and ease of use, social media has become a critical tool for a wide variety of international actors running the gamut from governments to portions of civil society to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq Syria (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIS based in part on the group’s territorial claims). Social media and foreign policy work can also be found in the political communication literature, in working papers and articles generated by foreign policy think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, and in academic journals dedicated to area studies that often concentrate on specific episodes of social media used to influence foreign policy.
Theoretical development in the area of social media and foreign policy is fragmented across disciplines and approaches. Network theories focus on interactions between parts of a network (in this case a social network); network analysis methods are sometimes employed as part of this theoretical framework. Other theories in this area focus on traditional problems associated with collective action and how these problems can be overcome by removing barriers to communication and lowering the cost of some types of political action. Different theoretical perspectives are often accompanied by different empirical results. Results vary from findings of a profound impact of social media on foreign policy outcomes to skepticism of the role played by social media in the face of other, potentially confounding, factors.