David O. Wilkinson
The study of comparative civilization raises a variety of questions; for example, how “civilization” is related to “culture,” what criteria shall be used to distinguish one civilization from another, or whether the past of civilizations can tell us anything about the future of our global civilization. One way to approach these elements of the comparative-civilizational problematique is by analyzing the successive theses of notable workers in the field, from Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Marco Polo to Garcilaso Inca de la Vega, Ibn Khaldun, Giambattista Vico, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The works of Hegel and four other scholars—Nikolai Danilevsky, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, and Pitirim Sorokin—are considered classics in the study of macrosocial systems. More recent studies of macrosocial systems that deserve consideration are those by André Gunder Frank and Barry Gills; Christopher Chase-Dunn and Thomas Hall; Carroll Quigley; Matthew Melko; and Samuel P. Huntington. The “civilizations” and “world-systems” approaches to macrosocieties are both strongly concerned to explain political conditions like hegemony and rivalry, general war, and general peace. Thus, it would be useful to concentrate on the political–military–diplomatic foci of both approaches. A key to making comparative-civilizational research more systematic is to identify the spatio-temporal boundaries of civilizations as complex systems with particular locations in space and time.
Stephen J. Larin
Since the mid-nineteenth century, the term “ethnic” has come to mean “member of a group of people with a set of shared characteristics,” including a belief in common descent. As such, “ethnic groups” refer to human groups that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical or customs type or both, or because of memories of colonization and migration. Ethnic phenomena are primarily explained through the “primordialist” and “instrumentalist” explanations. Primordialism holds that ethnicity is a constitutive and permanent feature of human nature. Instrumentalists argue that ethnicity is a social construct with the purpose of achieving political or material gain. However, the real debate is among constructivists over whether ethnicity should be studied from the participant or the observer perspective. Meanwhile, it is difficult to determine exactly when and where “the nation” first became identified with “the people” as it is today, but the process is closely tied to the rise of popular sovereignty and representative democracy. When nations and nationalism became the subject of academic inquiry, three positions emerged: “modernism,” which holds that both nations and nationalism are modern phenomena; “perennialism,” which argues that nationalist ideology is modern, but nations date back to at least the Middle Ages; and “ethno-symbolism,” a combination of the previous two. Most contemporary classifications of nations and nationalism are typological, the most prominent of which identify two dichotomous types, such as the distinction between “civic” and “ethnic” nationalism. Other classifications are better described as taxonomies.
Social science scholars have repeatedly predicted the demise of regional (or peripheral) nationalism, from the late nineteenth century to the post-World War II period and in the 1990s. However, all suggestions about the death of regional nationalism have been proven wrong. On the contrary, nationalist movements in the West have not only survived advanced capitalist development in liberal democratic contexts but have thrived as well. In the developing world, decolonization gave rise to a variety of regional nationalist movements that frequently spiraled into violent conflict and secessionist attempts. To deal with regional nationalism, states often turned to devolution, resulting in the implementation of various schemes of autonomy, most of which came under the guise of federalism. Three trends characterize the literature on regional nationalism and its management through devolution: a change in the way regional nationalism is viewed; a transformation in the type of political, institutional, and constitutional response scholars have suggested toward regional nationalism; and a willingness to accept, or even favor, secession as a possible solution to conflict in multinational and/or multiethnic countries. At the same time, there are at least two challenges in the study of regional nationalism and its management: objectivity and the need to develop a greater comparative perspective.
Ethnicity and nationalism, interethnic conflicts, and human migration have been major forces shaping the modern world and the structure and stability of contemporary states. A notable reason for the current academic interest in ethnicity and nationalism is the fact that such phenomena have become so visible in many societies that it has become impossible to ignore them. In the early twentieth century, many social theorists claimed that ethnicity and nationalism would decrease in importance and eventually vanish as a result of modernization, industrialization, and individualism, but this never came about. Instead, ethnicity and nationalism have grown in political importance in the world, particularly since the Second World War. It is important to note that ethnicity and nationalism are social and political constructions, as well as modern phenomena that are inseparably connected with the activities of the modern centralizing state. One characteristic of a modern state is the presence of population diversity brought about by migration. Human migration can be defined as the movement by people from one place to another with the intentions of settling permanently in the new location. One of the reasons why immigrants choose to migrate to another country is because globalization has increased the demand for workers from other countries in order to sustain national economies. Known as “economic migrants,” these individuals are generally from impoverished developing countries—usually people of color—migrating to obtain sufficient income for survival.
Landon E. Hancock
Ethnicity and identity are largely about boundaries; in fact, there is no way to determine one’s identity—ethnic or otherwise—without reference to some sort of boundary. In approaching the study of ethnicity and identity, sociology, anthropology, and to a lesser extent political science and international relations tend to focus on the group level and define ethnicity and ethnic identity as group phenomena. Psychology, by contrast, focuses on the individual level. These two disciplinary areas represent the opposite ends of a conceptual focus in examining both ethnicity as a group phenomenon and identity as an individual phenomenon, with a “middle ground” outlined by symbolic interactionism focusing on the processes of formation and reformation through the interaction of individuals and groups. The thread that runs through each of these ordinarily disparate disciplines is that, when examining ethnicity or identity, there is a common factor of dialectic between the sameness of the self or in-group and differentiation with the other or out-group. Moreover, an examination of the manner in which the generation of identity at one level has an explicit connection to the germination of identity at other levels of analysis shows that they combine together in a process of identification and categorization, with explicit links between the self and other at each level of analysis.
Mehmet Sinan Birdal and Josephine Squires
International relations theory has much to gain from studying ethnicity, nationalism, and colonialism. Research on nationalism has produced important theoretical contributions to constructivist approaches in international relations. Similarly, postcolonial theory can contribute to international relations theory by exploring aspects of identity construction that are neglected in studies with exclusive focus on Western states. For example, postcolonial theory can be used in the study of ethnic conflict by combining both aspects of identity construction and strategizing, and how research on ethnicity and nationalism and postcolonial studies can benefit from closer dialogue. Moreover, postcolonial studies raise important epistemological and normative questions that need to be taken seriously by international relations scholars. Postcolonial and subaltern studies question the knowledge claims made by area studies by criticizing their representational strategies of colonialism and the postcolonial situation. They pose a challenge for international relations as a discipline by questioning the knowledge–power nexus. They assert that the presumably “scientific” accounts of the non-West carry the ideological baggage of colonialism. What is needed therefore is to account first for the historical representation of the non-West in Western scientific discourse and produce a critique of this knowledge system as a legitimating and administrative discourse in the service of colonialism.
Migration has had a strong impact on the interplay between ethnicity and nationalism in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s ethnic map of Africa is the outcome of a lengthy history of comings and goings. Before the European conquests, Africa was not populated by clearly bounded, territorially grounded tribes or ethnic groups in the Western sense. Instead, the most prominent characteristics of precolonial African societies were mobility, overlapping networks, multiple group membership, and the context-dependent drawing of boundaries. Colonialism was later seen as having shaped, even created ethnic identities, contributing to the African shift away from Western notions of nationalism. Afterward, with the postcolonial state taking up its mantle, ethnic loyalty continued to overpower national identity. Local ethnic associations have since acted as a substitute for national citizenship, and ethnic belonging for national consciousness. Three countries in particular demonstrate this interplay of ethnicity, nationalism, and migration in sub-Saharan Africa: Côte d’Ivoire, together with the homeland of many of its migrants, Burkina Faso, in West Africa; South Africa, together with the homeland of many of its migrants, Lesotho; and Botswana in southern Africa. They show that, even across very disparate countries and regions, a common trend is visible toward official attempts to subsume internal ethnic differences under a form of nationalism defined partly by excluding those deemed sometimes rather arbitrarily to be external to the polity.
Since the second half of the 1940s, the Middle East has experienced intense migrations. In 2005 alone, the region received a total of approximately 6 million refugees. Migration flows to and from the Middle East have been linked to nationalist movements and ethnic conflicts. However, these relations have received little attention from scholars. Scholarly work on migration in the Middle East that has accumulated between the early 1950s and the late 1980s falls into two broad categories in terms of subject matter: Jewish migration to Israel and the Palestinian refugees, and migrations to labor-short countries of the Gulf and Europe. New trends in the literature on migration in the Middle East can also be identified, including those relating to the gender aspects of migration, population displacement and resettlement, return migration, and the relationship between migration and security. Although the field has made significant progress—the scope of the literature with respect to subject matter has broadened from the 1980s onward, and the methods used by scholars have become more sophisticated over the years—there are some shortcomings that need to be addressed. A number of important issues, such as citizenship or economic dynamics, remain unexplored. Since labor migrations to and from the Middle East are central to economic development, a focus on the evolution of migration may shed light on numerous relevant themes.
Gender, religion, and politics are closely intertwined, and both have a significant impact on international relations (IR). There is a large body of literature dedicated to the intersections between gender, religion, and IR, and they can be categorized into matters regarding female subordination, human rights and equality, and feminism and agency. Religion has been historically, traditionally, and androcentrically gendered both in practice and ideology. A good portion of the literature on the linkages between gender and religion in the IR context discusses the ways in which women have been subordinated within Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Their religious subordination can be linked to legal equality, and the different forms of subordinating women implicitly and often explicitly lead to the inequality of women. Scholars who address this issue vary widely between being critical of the religions that perpetuate inequality and a dearth of women’s rights, to arguing in support of religion but in critique of its application and cultural practice. In addition, as women’s rights are but one element of the international engagements of various forms of feminism, scholars also engage in a range of discussions on political agency and the critical analysis of gender from both within and without religious and secular feminisms.
Moving away from the conventional geopolitical analyses of territory, states, and nations, geographical research is now focused on the ways in which political identities are constituted in and through space and place, as well as the power and the marginalization associated with identity making and their implications for social justice. Poststructuralist theory problematized the fundamental premise that the literal subject is resolutely individual, autonomous, transparent, and all knowing. Feminist scholars have also insisted that the self is socially embedded and intersubjective. Meanwhile, research on geographies of gender and sexuality has emphasized the importance of embodied research. There are four prominent and inherently political themes of analysis in geographical research: nation states and nationalism; global identities; citizenship and the public sphere; and war and security. Geographers have critically examined the production and reproduction of national identity. Geographers have also focused on the contemporary transnationalization of political identity, as the mobility of people across borders becomes more intensive and extensive because of globalization. Consequently, globalization and global mobility have raised important questions around citizenship. Rethinking war and the political, as well as security, has also become a pressing task of geographers. Meanwhile, there has been a growing attention to the political identities of academics themselves, which resonates with a concern about forms of knowledge production. This concern exists alongside a critique of the corporatization of the university. Questions are being raised about whether academics can use their status as scholars to push forward public debate and policy making.