International Relations theory has tended to overlook the role of Africa and Africans in the international system. Traditionally, the discipline’s most influential theorists have focused instead on relationships between and perspectives of “major powers.” A growing body of work, however, has challenged these more limited efforts to conceptualize African agency in international politics. This scholarship has emphasized the significant space available to, and carved-out by, African states in molding the agendas of international institutions, and the role of African governments and advocacy networks in influencing the trajectory of major international debates around issues such as aid, development, trade, climate change, and migration. The study of African agency in international politics continues to wrestle with two key debates: the meanings of “agency” and “African.” Much of the literature focuses primarily on the role and influence of African states rather than that of African citizens and communities. This focus provides, at best, only a partial and qualified view of the ways in which African agency is secured and exercised at the global level, particularly given the significant structural constraints imposed on Africa by global economic and political inequalities. The extent to which contemporary analysis captures the breadth of African engagement with the international system is also compromised by current state-centric approaches. It is thus necessary to examine a range of approaches adopted by scholars to deepen and nuance the study of African agency in international politics, including work on agenda-setting, mesolevel dynamics and microlevel dynamics.
Conventional views assume a systematic intertwining between the Orthodox Church and the state, which makes Orthodox countries culturally hostile to modernity. These views have been shaped by a long history of antagonistic relationships between Western and Eastern European states and fail to grasp important long-term trends within the Orthodox religious landscape. The political culture in Orthodox countries has undergone several changes across the centuries. Under the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, complementarity provided the blueprint for church-state relations. In later centuries, this model was modified to suit the Ottoman and Russian empires. Modernization also prompted Orthodox states to create state churches. Church-state separation was further pursued by communist and colonial regimes and was sometimes accompanied by the active persecution of clergy and the faithful. The political culture of modern Orthodox countries was decisively shaped by the nationalization of the faith, spurred by various national revivals. In the 19th century, Orthodox Christianity became a nationalized religion, whereby strong associations were established between newly constructed churches in Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania and these countries’ respective nations. This version of Orthodoxy was exported into the New World through communities of East European immigrants. The communist takeover of Eastern Europe further strengthened administrative fragmentation. After 1989–1990, the fragmentation of the USSR allowed for a more open expression of the model of national religion. Orthodoxy was revitalized but also served as a cornerstone for Russian, Ukrainian, and Estonian national identities, leading to regional ecclesiastical disputes. Current institutional dilemmas have resulted from these long-term processes.
In the aftermath of the third wave of democratization, Latin American courts left behind decades of subservience, conservatism, and irrelevance to become central political players. They now serve as arbiters in struggles between the elected branches, and increasingly affirm fundamental rights. Indeed, some rulings champion highly controversial rights and have huge budgetary implications, sending shock waves across these new democracies. What explains this unprecedented expansion of judicial power? In trying to answer this fundamental question about the functioning of contemporary democracies, scholars of Latin America have developed a truly vibrant and theoretically dynamic body of work, one that makes essential contributions to our knowledge of judicial politics more generally. Some scholars emphasize the importance of formal judicial reforms initiated by politicians, which resulted in more autonomous and politically insulated courts. In so doing, they address a central puzzle in political science: under what conditions are politicians willing to accept limits to their power? Inspired by rational choice theory, other authors zoom in on the dynamics of inter-branch interactions, to arrive at a series of propositions about the type of political environment in which courts are more capable to assert their power. Whereas this approach focuses on the ability of judges to exercise power, a third line of scholarship looks at how ideas about the law and judicial role conceptions affect judges’ willingness to intervene in high-stakes political struggles, championing some values and interests at the expense of others. Finally, more recent work asks whether assertions of judicial power make a difference in terms of rights effectiveness. Understanding the consequences of judicial decisions is essential to establishing the extent to which more assertive courts are actually capable of transforming the world around them.
Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule.
Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate.
Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.
Transboundary haze pollution affects about half of the countries in Southeast Asia with varied intensities on an almost annual basis. Haze not only affects visibility, but also causes widespread health problems, transportation disruptions, and other socioeconomic issues. This haze, and the fires that cause it, has been a key topic for environmental politics research in the region since the late 1990s. This has largely been driven by one overarching objective: how to prevent haze from returning in the following years. However, conditions on the ground (mostly in Indonesia and in the larger Southeast Asian region) have been changing and evolving drastically. This has resulted in a very dynamic research agenda that has to keep up with these changes.
Within the context of environmental politics, fires and haze can be viewed through the broad lens of national interest. There is a strong link between the severity of haze and the burgeoning agribusiness sector in the region: that of oil palm in particular. Oil palm is a very important crop in the region, with Indonesia and Malaysia making up almost 90% of total global palm oil output. Hence, national and business interest theories have often been used as a framework for research in this area, with commercial oil palm plantations often being the unit of analysis. This includes research by this author, using the patronage politics framework. However, this has been called to question lately as these plantations face increasing market pressure to act more sustainably. A new group of actors that have since been highlighted are smallholders, either independent or in contract with larger plantations. There is potentially much to be uncovered with regard to the relationships between smallholders and commercial plantations, and how this affects patterns of fire use and global sustainability issues.
Related to this is the ever-evolving collection of local, regional, and national policies (and related enforcement issues) over land and fire use in Indonesia. One key area of contention is the use of peatlands. Fires on peat produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, and are notoriously hard to put out. Political research in this area is heavily framed by a tough debate between the scientific community and socioeconomic concerns. While peatlands play an important role in the global climate change balance, at the same time, these peat areas face immense pressure for development fueled by the scarcity of land.
The regional context has also been an important theme for haze research. Haze primarily affects the Southern Southeast Asian subregion. And the major players of the palm oil sector also come from this region. The Indonesian palm oil sector is a vibrant combination of Malaysian, Singaporean, and local companies. And ASEAN has been the hub of cooperation and mitigation activities over haze. Hence, many scholars have searched for answers at the regional level. However, new national developments like Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act suggest that countries may be losing confidence with regional efforts, which may be an indicator for future directions for solutions as well.
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.
The discussion on the relevance of the “inclusion-moderation” thesis to Islamist parties has always been very stimulating. The rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) in Turkey has so far attracted the attention of the international community in a period riven with the intensification of a civilizational discourse on a global scale since the early 2000s. The main premise of the study is that the “inclusion-moderation” thesis is not very relevant for the Islamists in Turkey. Rather, an “exclusion-moderation” thesis has been more relevant for Islamists’ experiences since the 1960s. AKP was established in 2001 as an offspring of traditional oppositional political Islam in Turkey, which is renowned as the “National Outlook” movement. The name of the party very successfully addressed the two missing elements of the Turkish state and society: “justice” and “development.” The party came to power in 2002 in the aftermath of the one of the most devastating economic crises to hit the country: that of 2001. Starting with a very democratic, inclusive, cohesive, liberal, universalist, and fair political discourse, the party gradually became more and more anti-democratic, authoritarian, populist, polarizing, neo-Ottomanist, and Islamist, at the expense of liberal, secular, non-Sunni, non-Muslim, and other oppositional social groups. Election declarations (seçim beyannameleri) as well as the speeches of the party leaders will be discursively analyzed to find out whether there has been any behavioral moderation in the AKP before or after they came to power. The same documents and speeches will be scrutinized to understand whether there is ideological moderation in the party. The focus will be on the latter to detect the ways in which the AKP leadership has so far deployed an Islamist ideology, which has lately become coupled with a populist political style.
Scholars of Latin American social movements since the 1980s have sought to explain the apparent upswing in cycles of contentious politics, the innovative characteristics of these new movements, and variations in how they interact with or sidestep conventional institutional politics. The regional context for these developments is very different from the postmaterialist conditions said to have spawned European “new social movements” since the 1970s revolving around identity and values, such as ecology, peace, gay rights, and women’s movements. Relevant causal factors for Latin America’s contemporary movements include popular reaction against neoliberal policies imposed by international financial institutions and brokered by national governments. Another factor was the transition from military authoritarianism in much of the region, inaugurating a struggle between political elites with a liberal-representative vision of democratization and social movements favoring radical/participatory democracy. The era of globalization also brought reexamination of the citizenship pact and of the hegemonic (mestizo) construction of the nation-state, fueling a reinvigoration of indigenous movements, some with their own cosmovisions of buen vivir (living well) that destabilized mainstream notions of the political. The interplay between party-electoral politics and grassroots movement activism took place against the backdrop of the “pink tide” of elected leftist governments, which swept much of the region in the first decade of the 21st century and subsequently appeared to recede. Throughout this period, scholars and activists alike debated whether fundamental change could best be achieved by movements pushing parties and governments to use state power to enact reforms or by movements themselves adopting radically horizontal and inclusive patterns of organizing—“new ways of doing politics”—that would transform society from below.
The January 1, 1994, Zapatista uprising among mostly Maya peasants in the poor southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, launched the day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, became emblematic of new ways of doing politics from below. What began as a rebellion of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional [EZLN]) quickly morphed into a social movement that both criticized national and global power structures and sought to empower local communities through everyday practices of de facto autonomy. Negotiations with the state over indigenous rights and culture quickly broke down, but the Zapatistas proceeded anyway to develop their own structures of self-government, autonomous education, healthcare, justice, and agrarian and economic relations, among other innovative practices. The Zapatista movement continues to raise important issues such as the role of culture and identity in popular mobilization, the social spaces for organizing in an era of globalization, the new characteristics of movements that practice alternative forms of prefigurative politics, and the possibility of redefining power from below. Scholars of the Zapatista movement have also posed probing self-reflective questions about the adequacy of conventional definitions of politics and Western positivist epistemologies and about the need for decolonizing research in indigenous and other oppressed communities.