International relations as a subfield in political science has always been fundamentally concerned about the relations between actors and how they lead to conflictual or cooperative outcomes. However, despite this inherent interest in relations between actors, the gap between theoretical conceptualization and empirical estimation considerably widened until spatial econometric and network analytic estimation approaches allowed researchers to address interdependencies in multiactor settings empirically. However, the discipline needs to strengthen the link between theoretical and empirical network analysis by integrating formal theoretical advances and fully embracing inferential statistical network approaches that are available to researchers. Formal theories of network behavior need to be further developed to establish systematic insights into the conditions under which complex network structures arise and how they affect actor behavior. Rigorous theoretically guided research will form the basis of linking network theories of conflict and cooperation and empirical testing.
Nils W. Metternich
Academic studies on the globalized dimension of African protests have complexified the understanding of “transnational social movements,” too often considered as the mechanical and adequate response to a newly globalized neoliberal economy. The long history of globalized protest in and about Africa, starting from the antislavery campaigns to the global justice movements, shows that these movements, often initiated outside the continent, have contributed to the “invention of Africa.” The notion of “extraversion” developed by Jean-François Bayart to explain African states’ relation to the outside world helps interrogating the material and symbolic asymmetrical relationships inside these networks but also the agency of African protesters in shaping their causes. Resources, legitimate knowledge, and audiences of protest are structurally located with Western actors, creating misunderstanding or conflicts in these globalized networks. But African activists do benefit from their internationalization, acting as a protection and a—sometimes contested—legitimation. Also, against the imposition of supposedly universal causes, African protesters have developed new concepts and narratives, especially on gender and sex rights, to assert an African way of framing these causes. Far from being completely constrained by Western agenda, funding, or audience, some local conflicts also benefit from often international ramifications born out of the development of transnational criminal economies. Lastly, reflections on the regional variations and the diffusion of protest inside the continent shows a differential density of international networks and the growing importance of social media in the globalization of protest.
Marisa von Bülow
Latin American transnational social movements (TSMs) are key actors in debates about the future of global governance. Since the 1990s, they have played an important role in creating new organizational fora to bring together civil society actors from around the globe. In spite of this relevance, the literature on social movements from the region focuses primarily—and often exclusively—on the domestic arena. Nevertheless, there is an increasingly influential body of scholarship from the region, which has contributed to relevant theoretical debates on how actors overcome collective action problems in constructing transnational social movements and how they articulate mobilization efforts at the local, national and international scales. The use of new digital technologies has further blurred the distinction among scales of activism. It has become harder to tell where interpretative frames originate, to trace diffusion paths across national borders, and to determine the boundaries of movements. At the same time, there are important gaps in the literature, chief among them the study of right-wing transnational networks.
Jacob R. Neiheisel
Shaped by Marxist understandings of religion as a source of comfort, but not action, numerous scholars have explored whether various aspects of religion can be linked to participatory acts, either in politics or in civic life more generally. Decades of social scientific research on the subject offer no simple lessons regarding the relationship between religion and participation. Some elements or aspects of religion have been demonstrated to drive down levels of civic and political engagement. Although the whole picture is much more complicated, it is accurate to say that private devotionalism and other facets of religious belief that emphasize individual spirituality and a relationship with the divine over taking steps to improve conditions on Earth are going to promote detachment from the civic realm. By contrast, collective aspects of religious belief and practice often track with greater levels of political participation. These collective elements include the creation of religiously based social networks, as well as opportunities to practice civic skills and receive entreaties to political action. At a different level of analysis, government action on such moral issues as abortion and same-sex marriage has served as a spur to the political involvement of religious interests, whereas government regulation of religion has been shown to deter participation in the civic arena by religious organizations and groups. Taken together, the literature on religion and participation suggests that religion can serve as both a spur to civic and political engagement and as a suppressant, depending both on an individual’s approach to his or her faith and on the institutional dynamics that impinge on the political involvement of religious interests in the public square more generally.
Since Lebanon’s independence in the mid-1940s, its military—the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)—has played a pivotal role in the country’s politics. The political role of the LAF in Lebanon might seem surprising since the Lebanese state did not militarize, and its political leaders have continuously managed to keep their military relatively weak and small. Indeed, in this respect Lebanon has been markedly different from its close neighbors (Syria and Israel), but also from several other Middle Eastern states (especially Egypt and Iraq), where the military, which was large and powerful, was continuously involved in politics. Additionally, both Lebanon and the LAF have persistently striven to distance themselves from regional conflicts since 1949, particularly in relation to the Palestinian issue, albeit not always successfully. Still, and despite these ostensibly unfavorable factors for the military’s involvement in politics in Lebanon, the LAF has played an important political role in the state since its independence. This role, which has been marked by elements of continuity and change over the years, included mediation and arbitration between rival political factions (in 1945–1958, 2008, 2011, and 2019); attempts to dominate the political system (in 1958–1970 and 1988–1990); intervention in the Lebanese civil war (in 1975–1976 and 1982–1984); attempts to regain its balancing role in politics (in 1979–1982 and 1984–1988); and facilitating the state’s postwar reconstruction (since 1991). The political role of the military in Lebanon can be explained by several factors. First, the weakness of Lebanon’s political system and its inability to resolve crises between its members. Second, Lebanon’s divided society and its members’ general distrust towards its civilian politicians. Third, the basic characteristics of Lebanon’s military, which, in most periods, enjoyed broad public support that cuts across the lines of community, region, and family, and found appeal among domestic and external audiences, which, in their turn, acquiesced to its political role in the state.