Tim Dunne, Christian Reus-Smit, eds. The Globalization of International Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 544 pp. $50.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-19-879343-4; $110.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-879342-7.
Reviewed by Christopher McIntosh (Bard College)
Published on H-Diplo (September, 2017)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
Tim Dunne and Christian Reus-Smit’s The Globalization of International Society, much like its intellectual interlocutor Hedley Bull and Adam Watson’s The Expansion of International Society (1984), has the potential to become, like other books focusing on complicated colonial legacies, an “indispensable” (Dipesh Chakrabarty’s term) work for scholars of global politics (p. 427). Building off a move toward decentering European history and the European experience in favor of a more globalizing perspective, the chapters in this volume offer a breadth of engagement with canonical historical narratives and central concepts of the English school, as well as those of International Relations (IR) as a whole. Unlike other edited volumes, this book offers a set of interventions that inform each other and constitute a whole that, once read, demands engagement and the rethinking of central concepts and norms of IR. Richly argued and historically detailed, this is a deeply historical work that IR scholars, regardless of school, orientation, or approach will benefit from engaging.
The volume is an ambitious undertaking seeking to reconsider the idea of globalization not as a teleology or post-Cold War phenomenon but as a “process,” something that Dunne and Reus-Smit refer to as the world “becoming global” (p. 34). They argue that “expansion” or globalization and “the growing speed and density of transnational social, economic, and political relationships, and the corrosive impact” globalization has on “state sovereignty” dominated the “literature published in the 1990s.” They displace the implicit Euro-American bias intrinsic in the assumption that these ideas are spreading or expanding to the “rest of the world” (p. 5). Instead, they argue, IR has always been “global IR” where encounters and engagements occur in a myriad of directions, rather than only as imposition or discovery by those who are already members of international society (p. 426).
This powerful idea is central to the work. To think about IR in this way reorients the historical narratives that inform and shape IR scholarship and practice. Most authors accept that sociality and discursive representations of the “international” or “global politics” are at least partially implicated by the lenses we use and the understandings we articulate. Altering those, therefore, creates new ways of engaging the world, but equally so, it creates new worlds. In some respects, world-making is precisely what IR does—both in theory and in practice. This volume’s implicit political move is to remake the world in a fashion that places the global nature of politics at the center, rather than the perspective of, or reaction to, “Europe” or “The West.”
The volume begins by setting up its conceptual framework in detail that resists summary but treats globalization as an “ongoing process” that is never “realized in its final form at a particular moment in time” (p. 6). It then moves from setting up the “conceptual framework” to addressing “four broad issues: global context, dynamics of globalization, institutional contours, and contestation” (p. 7). In the first section, authors identify how the emergence of sovereign states in Europe is not a historically novel maneuver but the product of multiple overlapping and interrelated systems at the world, regional, and individual levels. It is a mutually constitutive process rather than a mark of European distinctiveness. Contributors privilege what Andrew Phillips in his essay refers to as “themes of hybridity, rather than cultural and institutional uniformity” in historicizing the development of international systems (p. 43), identity (Heather Rae), extant economic orders and high levels of exchange (Hendrik Spruyt), and indigenous politics in the Americas (Neta C. Crawford). The second section explores this constitutiveness and calls into question the empire/resistance binary, moving toward a more complex interweaving of endogenous and exogenous factors inside and outside Europe that shape global interactions. Such institutions as civilization (Jacinta O’Hagan) and imperial rivalry (Richard Devetak and Emily Tannock) as well as the construction of the concept of war (Paul Keal) are explored through a narrative account that reconsiders the interaction of factors inside, outside, and in between Europe and other areas.
The final two sections address the shape of international orders and the contestation that generates and reproduces them. Part 3 examines institutional norms and institutional orders that constitute international society—what they refer to as “institutional contours” (p. 225). Such norms as state sovereignty (Barry Buzan) along with international law and multilateralism (Ian Clark and Gerry Simpson) are explored as are international financial institutions (Mark Beeson and Stephen Bell). Finally, part 4 addresses what contributors refer to as contestation: how globalization was constituted when it ran up against forces that disagreed, opposed, or resisted the formations that were emerging. This move, while familiar to contemporary understandings of order and institutions, importantly diverges from Bull and Watson who see expansion as produced by adherence to and admission into systems of rules and norms. In this volume, the contributors invert this, articulating an awareness of the important/inextricable role contestation plays in the construct of these institutions. This section is particularly good in expanding the idea of sovereignty and resistance to empire/imperialism (Sarah Tiett) and the contemporary understanding of sovereignty as a responsibility to protect. Equally notable is its exploration of systemic inequalities and the way international orders constitute and shape these structures along racial (Audie Klotz) and gender lines (Ann E. Towns).
Ultimately, the parts holistically support the argument that rethinking the global development of international society constitutes a “reframing” of contemporary debates in IR, thus altering our understanding of the past that informs the IR’s present conceptual apparatus. This manifests in a multitude of areas. For instance, the supposed de-racialized nature of IR in Euro-American politics may parallel the more widely recognized gendered construction of IR as a gender-neutral space. In its articulation as a race-neutral space, it reproduces a deeply racialized order that erases itself from appreciation. As well, states may be very different entities than we realize. Institutional orders in international society may be better understood via axes of agents that transcend and resist state-centrism, for instance. And contrary to some social theoretic approaches in IR, enhanced socialization, for instance, may not be a process that is intrinsically opposed to violence. On the contrary, this volume argues that it has historically been constitutive of the development of those aspects of our current international society that produce conflict and violence. While the specific implications are not necessarily spelled out in each and every case, they are clearly there and important.
Crawford is particularly good on this point. Building on her previous work on the Iroquois and the challenge posed by indigenous Americans to IR theory, she states that “examining IR with attention to the ontological challenges posed by Native Americans is profoundly destabilizing, disorienting and denormalizing of our discipline’s understanding of our world.... What is a state? What is ‘international relations’? What is war? What is sovereignty? What is power? What is security?” (p. 103). Taking this volume seriously amplifies perspectives and pasts currently less appreciated when considering these foundational questions. According to Dunne and Reus-Smit, quoting Ken Booth, “‘we are as we are because we got this way.’ If Ken Booth is right, then the most significant contribution of this book concerns the multiple and diverse ways in which international society has become globalized. We have not sought to replace one ethnocentric account with another; instead, we offer an array of insights that bring the background into the foreground” (p. 431).
As a work of scholarship, this volume possesses significant advantages. First and foremost, it advances research on Bull and Watson’s seminal work as well as English school scholarship overall. The binary of imperialism and decolonization that characterized much of Bull and Watson’s account—and continues to challenge those writing in its wake—is displaced in favor of understanding the “encounters, engagements, and interactions between Europeans and non-European peoples, producing a global international order that is culturally and politically far more complex than the conventional narrative allows” (p. vii). Specifically, it reconceptualizes Bull and Watson’s separation of international society and international system by calling into question Bull and Watson’s social basis of their “international society” (p. 31). Rather than seeing society as a different form of interaction that is largely consensual and opposed to coercion and force, it shows that throughout this process, contestation, coercion, and violence are part and parcel of the resolution of inevitable tensions arising from greater political interaction. For instance, sovereignty, Buzan observes, inevitably involves tensions between territoriality and nationalism; these tensions are frequently resolved through force, which we see characterizing many of the areas of concern considered central by contemporary IR scholars.
At a conceptual level, an implicit intervention made by this volume is that it demonstrates the value of thinking about the temporal dynamics of global politics; it exemplifies the way in which conceptions or constructions of the past shape what we understand to be “our” present and thus what futures we believe we are most likely to accept. As IR becomes increasingly aware and concerned with issues of time and relating scholarship to the contemporary moment, this volume makes a metatheoretical move. It implicitly argues for a move away from the epistemological ideal of “timeless” theories and toward nuanced approaches to scholarship that are as temporally complex as the sociality it purports to engage.
There are some points where an IR audience will find the volume almost excessively historical. The transformative and “destabilizing” potential of this historicization is clearly there, but there are times where there could have been more explicit development of how IR would change its outlook and areas of inquiry (p. 103). To be clear, this is not to say that there isn’t an enormous amount to be built on politically and intellectually—for example, Klotz’s “racial institutional orders” (p. 379). Rather, some readers convinced by the project will also wish to see how these authors imagine the transformations they anticipate following from their analysis.
As Crawford relays her experience engaging Native Americans and IR in her contribution, she notes that it is self-professedly “difficult” to do these type of projects without “reproducing categories and paradigms that ought to be challenged or cause offense” (p. 103). Reaction to this book may indeed follow similar lines regarding the implicit centering of disciplinary IR, the performance of (parts of) colonialist discourse(s), and historical oversights made by the contributors. My read of the book is that these potential critiques may or may not be valid but are also inevitable, and something the authors might welcome and encourage, rather than reject and deny. Any work that seeks to engage history from an IR perspective—particularly less canonical historical narratives—will necessarily make some choices that leave out certain voices, emphasize theoretical strictures, and utilize the history in a particular way.
This work has opened a space for an important, timely, and necessary refiguration of the field and should remain a touchstone for those furthering this project going forward. Much as the editors assume that “the story of Europeanization of international society” found in Bull and Watson “needed to be retold from diverse standpoints” and that “we like to think that Bull and Watson would have approved,” one can imagine a similar move in the future regarding this work (p. vii). As IR fully evolves into a more “global IR” that normalizes decentering Europe as the subject/object of international politics, one can imagine a similar project decades from now revisiting this volume. An overwhelming strength of this project is that it is reflexive enough to stimulate, encourage, and ultimately withstand such intellectual engagement.
Moving forward, one way future work could build on this is through efforts to incorporate and engage non-English-language sources of IR and global political scholarship. Areas in East Asia, for instance, are in conversation with Euro-American IR scholarship and are influenced by differing historical understandings of global politics. As some have already argued, these accounts could be fruitfully engaged. While this is a big ask, to be sure, I think the importance of the volume’s arguments and move toward truly globalizing IR warrants exploring projects that involve “heavy lifting” especially as technology advances and communication becomes increasingly easy. While currently this project is likely an idea only for scholarly imagination, it is precisely the type of innovative thinking this volume inspires. It refigures our sense of the possible, and therefore the editors appropriately choose to conclude with Crawford’s contribution: “if the historical narrative is amended, our sense of what is possible in the present and future might also be altered. The real world could be otherwise. In fact, it already is” (p. 432).
. David Kang, “International Relations Theory and East Asian History: An Overview,” Journal of East Asian Studies 13, no. 2 (2013): 181-205; Amitav Acharya, “Advancing Global IR: Challenges, Contentions, and Contributions,” International Studies Review 18, no. 1 (2016): 4-15; and Arlene Tickner and Ole Waever, ed., International Relations around the World (New York: Routledge, 2009).
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Christopher McIntosh. Review of Dunne, Tim; Reus-Smit, Christian, eds., The Globalization of International Society.
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