Some years back I participated in a series of workshops that culminated in a book on New Systems Theories of World Politics (value priced at $115). PM and I have been working, somewhat haphazardly, on a review essay dealing with contemporary imperial formations that deals with what I’ve called the “New Hierarchy Studies.” There’s also a draft blog post hiding somewhere or other on that subject. But I think that renewed interest in hierarchy might better be characterized by, for lack of a better term, the “New Structuralism” movement in International Relations.
Thomas Oatley’s recent posts exemplify a major trajectory of the new structuralism. The first revisits his “Reductionist Gamble” article in International Organization. In his account of why he feels compelled to devote blogspace to explaining his argument, he notes:
It has been met with some puzzlement and it has been misunderstood. I can understand both reactions, as the paper asks people to think differently about the world, and yet it does so by using terms and concepts in ways that depart from more typical usage. I say reductionism, and people hear Waltz. I say system, people here system level.
The problem, as I see it, isn’t just a matter of Waltz’s use of terms like “system,” “structure,” and “reductionism” dominating analytical discourse in the field. Waltz’s use of these terms aren’t even very well understood. They’ve been ripped from their historical and intellectual context. They’ve become fetishized, such that Waltz’s interventions in older disputes now enjoy ex ante definitional status. The importation of social-theoretic alternatives during the 1980s and 1990s should have improved matters, but in the end they’ve only muddled the conceptual waters.
I have a new article in the journal International Organization entitled “Vetting the Advocacy Agenda.” It tries to explain why some issues get noticed by transnational campaigners and others don’t, using weapons advocacy as a focal point of study. Key argument: it matters which organizations take up the issue; the global agenda is as much a function of structural relations within advocacy networks as of relationships between advocacy groups and states. You’ll need an institutional subscription to access the article online, or you can read the proofs version here. Abstract below.
While a number of signiﬁcant campaigns since the early 1990s have resulted in bans of particular weapons, at least as many equivalent systems have gone unscrutinized and uncondemned by transnational campaigners. How can this variation be explained? Focusing on the issue area of arms control advocacy, this article argues that an important inﬂuence on the advocacy agenda within transnational networks is the decision-making process not of norm entrepreneurs nor of states but of highly connected organizations within a given network. The argument is illustrated through a comparison between existing norms against landmines and blinding laser weapons, and the absence of serious current consideration of such norms against depleted uranium and autonomous weapons. Thus, the process of organizational issue selection within nongovernmental organizations and international organizations most central to particular advocacy networks, rather than the existence of transnational networks around an issue per se, should be a closer focus of attention for scholars interested in norm creation in world politics.
I’ll have some findings on that latter written up in book form in the next year or so, Gods willing.(This of course means the larger project is still in progress, so feedback on this short early version quite welcome.)