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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.
Because social complexity is rarely defined beforehand, social science discussions often default to natural language concepts and synonyms. Assert a large sociotechnical system is complex or “increasingly complex,” and notions of many unknowns, out-of-sight causal processes, and a system difficult to comprehend fully are triggered. These terms, however, also suggest the potential for, if not actuality of, catastrophes and their unmanageability in the sociotechnical systems. It is not uncommon to find increasing social complexity credited for the generation or exacerbation of major crises, such as nuclear reactor accidents and global climate change, and the need to manage them better, albeit the crises are said to be far more difficult to manage because of the complexity.
The costs of leaving discussions of “complexity, crisis, and management” to natural language are compared here to the considerable benefits that accrue to analysis from one of the few definitions of social complexity developed and used over the last 40 years, that of political scientist Todd R. La Porte. Understanding that a large sociotechnical system is more or less complex depending on the number of its components, the different functions each component has, and the interdependencies among functions and components underscores key issues that are often missed within the theory and practice of large sociotechnical systems, including society’s critical infrastructures. Over-complexifying the problems and issues of already complex systems, in particular, is just as questionable as oversimplifying that complexity for policy and management purposes.
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.
Lara Rusch, R. Khari Brown, Ronald E. Brown, and Francine Banner
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual vision of a Beloved Community, equally valuing all humans, called for direct, transgressive action for political and cultural change. Despite his and others’ effective mobilization for racial justice, this vision of an economically just society has largely not been achieved. The 20th century witnessed a growing chasm in political interpretations of American Christianity, between those who believe their faith requires challenging the roots of poverty and those who believe such inequality reflects fair judgment on personal behavior. These dynamics affect the charitable and political choices of religious institutions as well as individual support for social programs. Most clergy in the United States report preaching about issues social justice, and the vast majority of churches provide some social services; however, less than a third engage in political action toward similar goals. Regional inequality, the mobility of people and capital, and dynamics of congregational adaptation create challenges for religious leaders who seek to educate and engage congregants on social justice. Still, a persistent minority of leaders and institutions actively seek Dr. King’s vision, often working in community coalitions, such as innovative programs for court reform, addressing the criminalization of poverty. More research is needed to assess what kinds of anti-poverty programs and activism are the product of congregations across ideology, and what belief systems or contexts shape their choices to assist the needy. Additionally, future work could consider the appropriate roles for religious institutions in negotiating their own religious mandates and community pressures in relation to the interests of the state, such as through the criminal justice system or public social programs, and the interests of vulnerable community members.
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.
Social policy has a particular character and set of associated politics in the European Union (EU) context. There is a double contestation involved: the extent of the EU’s agency in the field and the type of social policy model pursued. The former is contested because social policy is typically and traditionally a matter of national competence and the latter because the social policy model is crucial to economic and market development. Hence, social policy has both functional and political significance, and EU engagement risks member states’ capacity to control the social fate of their citizens and the associated resources, authority, and power that come with this capacity.
The political contestations are at their core territorially and/or social class based; the former crystalizes how wide and extensive the EU authority should be in social policy and the latter a left/right continuum in regard to how redistributive and socially interventionist EU social policy should be. Both are the subject of a complicated politics at EU level. First, there is a diverse set of agents involved, not just member states and the “political” EU institutions (Parliament and Council) but the Commission is also an important “interested” actor. This renders institutional politics and jockeying for power typical features of social policymaking in the EU. Second, one has to break down the monolith of the EU institutions and recognize that within and among them are actors or units that favor a more left or right position on social policy. Third, actors’ positions do not necessarily align on the two types of contestation (apart perhaps from the social nongovernmental organizations and to a lesser extent employers and business interests). Some actors who favor an extensive role for social policy in general are skeptical about the role of the EU in this regard (e.g., trade unions, some social democratic parties) while others (some sectors of the Commission) wish for a more expansive EU remit in social policy but also support a version of social policy pinned tightly to market and economic functions.
In this kind of context, the strongest and most consistent political thrust is toward a type of EU social policy that is most clearly oriented to enabling the Union’s economic and market-related objectives. Given this and the institutional set-up, the default position in EU social policy is for a market-making social policy orientation on the one hand and a circumscribed role for the EU in social policy on the other.
The linkage between voters and political parties is to some degree based on stable social cleavages. Such cleavages express important and lasting societal divisions, allow parties and voters to establish long-term ties, and provide incumbents with clear representative and policy-making tasks against which they can be evaluated. Most research on cleavages has been based on the classic cleavages that were outlined in the Lipset-Rokkan model for social cleavages in industrial societies. These are:
(1) the center–periphery cleavage, which is anchored in geographical regions and related to different ethnic and linguistic groups as well as religious minorities; (2) the religious conflict between the Church and the State, which pitted the secular state against the historical privileges of the churches; this cleavage has more recently polarized the religious section against the secular section of the population; (3) the class conflict in the labor market, which involved owners and employers versus tenants, laborers, and workers; and (4) the conflict in the commodity market between buyers and sellers of agricultural products, or more generally, between the urban and the rural population.
Other social cleavages, such as gender, educational differences, and new divisions within the large new middle class, have been focused upon during the last decades. The new divisions within the new middle class are “horizontal” conflicts and can be conceptualized as a basic conflict between public and private employees, and as an alternative way of conceptualization, between those who work within technical, organizational, or interpersonal service environments.
Some of the cleavages have declined in importance over time, while others have increased. Some cleavages have changed character such as the class cleavage where part of the new middle class has voted for the New Left and part of the working class has voted for the New Right in the last decades. Changes in the impact and character of different cleavages have resulted in strategic reconsideration of important policies and changing location of the parties in the political space.
Sociological institutionalism is part of the larger group of new institutionalisms, which share the basic understanding that institutions matter in social processes. Opposing a more descriptive, “old” institutionalism and a rational-choice version of institutionalism, which defends the idea that actors have the option to choose independently from a large number of attitudes, sociological institutionalists introduced the notion of logic of appropriateness, influenced by a specific strand of the sociology of organizations. This understanding, however, led to limits in the explicatory force of the approach: institutional change, as well as continued conflict and differentiated power relations among actors, could not be explained well. More recent approaches that took sociological institutionalist assumptions very seriously offered a series of possible solutions to those difficulties. While elements of rationality and power exist implicitly in different conceptualizations of sociological institutionalism, these authors explicitly brought together both actors’ rational behavior and their embeddedness in broad institutional frameworks through concentrating on the power relations that exist among agents.
Huiyun Feng and Kai He
Soft balancing is a conceptual product of one of the academic debates triggered by unipolarity in world politics. Examination of the soft balancing debate from 2005 to 2016 and critical evaluation of the progress and problems of the soft balancing research program suggest that the significance of the soft balancing debate does not lie in the answers offered by soft balancing scholars. Rather, its significance rests in the question that scholars pose for analysis under unipolarity—the underbalancing phenomenon—and the later endeavor to expand the soft balancing program beyond unipolarity. The future of the soft balancing program depends on continuous scholarly efforts to further clarify the concept of soft balancing, theorize a generalizable model of soft balancing across different cases, as well as demarcate the boundary of soft balancing theory from other research traditions.
Solidarity is one of most contentious and contested concepts in European Union (EU) politics. At the same time, it was, and remains, a central value of European integration that has been more and more institutionalized over time. The numerous codifications in the EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, along with the increasingly frequent references to the value in political declarations and decisions, prove the value’s growing significance.
Yet, there also exists a fundamental divide between rhetorical commitments to solidarity and the practice of the EU and its member states. The most recent crises of the EU have shown the instrumentality and strategic use of the concept in order to promote particular political positions rather than work toward a more common understanding of European solidarity.
This makes the application of solidarity in the EU a question not just of arriving at definitional clarity, but also of developing practices that reflect solidarity in concrete cases. Such practices are inextricably linked with three grounds for action: voluntariness, selflessness, and identification.
Despite, or precisely because of, these difficulties in defining, concertizing, and implementing solidarity as a European value, there is a rising interest in solidarity in various fields of studies, such as political science, sociology, philosophy, law, and history, making it an interdisciplinary and multidimensional subject matter.
Marco Verweij and Antonio Damasio
The somatic marker hypothesis has not always been fully understood, or properly applied, in political science. The hypothesis was developed to explain the personally and socially harmful decision-making of neurological patients who appeared to have largely intact cognitive skills. It posits that affect (consisting of emotions, feelings, and drives) facilitates and expands cognition, is grounded in states of bodily physiology and on the processing of those states in the entire nervous system, and is shaped by a person’s past experiences in similar situations. Thus far, it has received empirical support from lesion studies, experiments based on the Iowa Gambling Task, and brain imaging studies. The somatic marker hypothesis is not compatible with key assumptions on which various influential political and social approaches are based. It disagrees with the largely cognitive view of decision-making presented in rational choice analysis. Contrary to behavioral public policy, the somatic marker hypothesis emphasizes the extent to which affect and cognition are integrated and mutually enabling. Finally, it differs from poststructuralist frameworks by highlighting the constraints that evolutionarily older bodily and neuronal networks impose on decision-making. Rather, the somatic marker hypothesis implies that political decision-making is socially constructed yet subject to constraints, is often sluggish but also is prone to wholesale, occasional reversals, takes place at both conscious and unconscious levels, and subserves dynamic, sociocultural homeostasis.
Southern Africa is a region marked by huge tensions caused by the longevity of colonial rule and racial discrimination. Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa all achieved independence only years after most of Africa, and only with protracted militarized struggle. Even those countries that did enter independence in the 1960s, alongside most of Africa, were marked by the struggles of their neighbors—Zambia, host to exile liberation movements, was a frequent military target; and wars, sponsored or supported by apartheid South Africa, continued to rage in Angola and Mozambique even after they achieved independence. This has marked the post-independence politics of most countries of the region, almost all of whom have gone through, or remain within, an era of one-party politics or dominant party rule. In part, this can be read as a residual longing for stability. In other part it can be read as a “liberation generation” using its history as a lever by which to hang onto power. Having said that, the politics of each country has distinctive characteristics—although one has certainly been protracted effort to adhere to forms of ethics, such as “Humanism” in Zambia, and truth and reconciliation in South Africa. The contemporary politics of the region, however, is one with forms of authoritarianism and corruption and, in many cases, economic decline or turmoil. The rise of Chinese influence is also a new marker of politics in the region as all of Southern Africa, with many different former colonial powers, enters a new era of problematic cosmopolitanism—with the international jostling with already sometimes-volatile elements of ethnic diversity, balancing, and conflict.
The sovereignty of postcolonial African states is largely derived from their recognition by other states and by the United Nations, irrespective of their actual effectiveness. Such international legal sovereignty has been a resource to weak African states, allowing them to endure against the odds, and to their rulers who have instrumentalized it to foster their domestic authority and domination. Yet, African sovereignty has also been a curse. Being exogenous to domestic social and political relations, it tends to isolate and shield rulers from the ruled and predisposes state institutions toward predation. It also standardizes and homogenizes the continent’s institutional landscape in disregard to the wealth and promise of effective institutional arrangements on the ground, to which it denies legitimacy. Despite the equilibrium properties of the African sovereignty regime, there might be opportunities to tweak the system in ways that could unleash more effective and accountable state and nonstate institutions.
While migration has always existed, and its consequences have always been important, few people have lived a mobile life in the history of mankind. Population immobility has recurrently been part and parcel of political strategies of social control and domination. Since the second half of the 20th century, however, the extent of geographical movements of individuals has expanded enormously. In particular, the size and scope of international travel has increased at an exponential pace. Favored by globalization and technological progress, transnationalism, initially linked to migration, has emerged as a relatively widespread phenomenon that involves a growing portion of the general population, especially, but not only, in developed countries. Mainly on the basis of research carried out in Europe, there is evidence that transnational practices tend to strengthen cosmopolitanism and the legitimacy of supranational polities (particularly the European Union [EU]), while it is less clear whether they entail denationalization. Further research is needed to improve the quality of independent and dependent variables in this area and assess the effect of international mobility and transnationalism outside the European context.
Special relationships are durable and exclusive bilateral relations between autonomous polities that are based on mutual expectations of preferential treatment by its members and outsiders as well as regular entanglement of some (external) governance functions. The concept has become more prominent over the past three decades in part because of recent changes in international relations and foreign policy analysis theory (the constructivist and relational turn) and long-term shifts in the social structure of international relations, that is, decolonization, international criminal and humanitarian law, which have posed questions of solidarity, reconciliation, and responsibility of current and past special relationships.
The term special relationship has a long and diverse history. After World War II, it was used mainly to depict the Anglo-American security relationship as special. Today, well over 50 international relationships are deemed special. Despite this trend, no common theoretical framework has been developed to explain their emergence, variation, persistence and demise. Realism interprets special relationships as asymmetrical power relations, in which presupposed counterbalancing behavior does not occur because shared ideas or institutions mitigate autonomy concerns. Liberalism postulates that the special relatedness occurs when policy interdependence due to shared commercial interests or ideas allows deep cooperation and trust building. Social constructivism, in turn, assumes self-assertion but does not presuppose with or against whom the self, usually a polity, identifies itself. It follows that special relations may occur between dyads with positive identification (Germany-Israel after reconciliation) or negative identification, such as in the enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan.
As a relational term, special relationships do not sit easily with the first generation of foreign policy analysis focusing on decision making processes rather than the policies themselves. As a consequence, special relationships have been primarily conceptualized either as a tool of foreign policy or as one context factor influencing foreign policy choices. In relational theories, such as social constructivism, special relations, such as solidarity relations, are not causally independent from actors, as these relations also define the actors themselves.
African politics have always had a significant effect on sport, despite cherished mantras that sport and politics are mutually exclusive. Conversely, sport has played a meaningful role in the politics of African nations, from nation-building to widening foreign policy options, to making national alliances of countries that may not have otherwise supported each other, particularly with respect to the anti-apartheid struggle. Twentieth-century African politics have been a laboratory for the testing and ultimate debunking of the long-standing notion that African sport (or any human activity) exists in a vacuum, apart from the political realities of the culture within which it exists.