Posts Tagged ‘Nationalism’


The Nationalized State as an International Actor

March 22, 2018

I’ve really been wanting to get back to blogging but over the last 12 months I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to work through the question of how do public diplomacies fit in to international politics and rather than just start commenting on current events I want to sketch out some of the conclusions of this theoretical work so that I can refer back to it.   One big concern for me has to close the gap between our theoretical and policy discourses (and has been for a very long time) but as Clausewitz would tell you if the theory doesn’t fit the practice you need a new theory.  Most of the themes have been discussed here before but I think that I can now pull them together in a more coherent way.

This argument and what follows is developed at much greater length is some forthcoming work but I want to start off with the question of the state, what we mean by it and how it acts.

Corollaries of the Infrastructural State

Modern international relations is a product of the changes in the nature of the relationship between state and society that emerged during the 19th century.  In thinking about this I started from Michael Mann’s concept of the development of the transition from a despotic to an infrastructural state.  Essentially, the modern state embeds itself into the social order and can extract more resources/capability but at the same time it becomes constrained by these relationships (Mann 1988).  There is a trade-off between embeddedness and autonomy  (Evans 1995).*

If you think about this in a broader context you can see two corollaries which are usually discussed in different literatures.   Firstly,  the state as organization becomes much larger but more functionally differentiated hence less coherent.  At the same time different components of the state organizations build their own relationships with other social actors.  The political science literature has all kinds of concepts for making  sense of this phenomenon; sub-governments, policy domains, issue communities, policy networks, the organizational state etc (McCool 1998).

The second corollary of the infrastructural state is the need to legitimize and naturalize this new order in cultural and ideological terms hence the importance of education, cultural, media infrastructures and small d democratic ideologies in producing a field within which entrepreneurs both from inside and outside the state can operate.  Although we tend to label this as a nation-state but I think that this places too much weight on the ideas of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ and too little on processes of nationalization and of the principle of nationality.  We live in an order where everything is assumed to have a nationality and I think neglect how fundamental this is to the contemporary world.  Even people who strive to escape this are still frequently shaped by their national habitus (Kuipers 2011, 2013, Stroup 2012).

Drawing on Andrew Abbott’s work this line of analysis leads a view of the modern state as an ecology (2005, 2016).

The Nationalized State as an International Actor

If we translate this argument into international terms we largely still talk about IR as if we were dealing with an imagined rational unitary sovereign and ignore 1) the rise of diverse state bureaucracies and their policy networks and 2) the way in which everything within or attached to the nationalized state can be turned into an instrument or vulnerability within statecraft.

Pretty much all histories of statecraft that have been written over the past century document the increasing complexity of the organizations of the modern state and conflicts and irrationalities that follow from this.  Yet this is hardly ever taken as a basis for theorizing.  The best known treatment of this idea in the International Relations literature focuses on one of the most intense international crises ever but bureaucracies do their things all the time and it is the fact that they may do them over long periods that means we need to look at things other than ‘decisions’ (Allison 1971).  The agency of the modern state is bureaucracy and even relatively small states have multiple channels of international action.  This is neither new or unusual.  The First World War produced an expansion in outward facing organizations and the problem of coordination between them was becoming an issue in the 1920s (eg Düwell 1976, Garzarelli 2002)

What is the relationship between a country and its people, business, cuisine, art, science, pop culture beyond its borders?  Who or what counts as belonging to a country.  These relations are not that straightforward, claims to ownership or membership are complex and ambiguous and absolutely endemic to international politics in general and public diplomacies in particular.

The corollary of this is that this nationalized state is also something that is acted on but the effect needs to be seen in terms of its impact on this ecology.

In talking about the ‘nation-state’ as an international actor we are addressing a fluid, fragmented and rather ambiguous entity that works at coherence.  Although some of the forms have changed this is not a new set of developments.    These themes of fragmentation and ambiguity are ones that I will return to but in making sense of contemporary international politics they seem like better places to start that with a mythical Louis ‘L’etat? C’est moi’  XIV


*Even back in the 1980s Martin Shaw was discussing this as the warfare-welfare state and questioning whether nuclear weapons and the end of mass armies were eroding this bargain (Shaw 1988).

Abbott A (2005) Linked Ecologies: States and Universities as Environments for Professions, Sociological Theory, 23: 245–274.

Abbott A (2016) Processual Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Allison GT (1971) Essence of decision: explaining the Cuban missile crisis. Boston: Little Brown.

Düwell K (1976) Deutschlands auswärtige Kulturpolitik 1918-1932: Grundlinien und Dokumente. Köln: Böhlau.

Evans P (1995) Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Garzarelli B (2002) Fascismo e propaganda all’estero: Le origini della Direzione generale per la propaganda (1933-1934), Studi Storici, 43: 477–520.

Kuipers G (2011) Her Majesty’s Bicycle: On National Habitus and Sociological Comparison, Figurations: Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation, Special Supplement 34.

Kuipers G (2013) The rise and decline of national habitus: Dutch cycling culture and the shaping of national similarity, European Journal of Social Theory, 16: 17–35.

Mann M (1988) States, War and Capitalism: Studies in Political Sociology. Oxford: Blackwell.

McCool DF (1998) The Subsystem Family of Concepts: A Critique and a Proposal, Political Research Quarterly, 51: 551–70.

Shaw M (1988) Dialectics of War: An Essay in the Social Theory of Total War and Peace. London: Pluto.

Stroup SS (2012) Borders Among Activists: International NGOS in the United States, Britain, and France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


Recovering the Nation, Part 1: The French Theory of Influence

August 26, 2014

In last post I suggested that the importance the France has attached to questions of cultural diplomacy is a function of the way that the nation is discussed but this goes further: the French theory of influence sees France within a world of nations. In this series of posts I’m going to outline my take on the French theory of influence as a matter of inter-national relations before asking the question whether Anglo-Saxon policy and academic thinking has a blind spot towards questions of nationality and nationness what the implication of this are and where it comes from.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the failure of US and UK research to really engage with French (or German) concepts of statecraft is a major gap in our knowledge of public diplomacy. This is important not just because France is an important international actor in its own right but also because it shows up some of the gaps and assumptions within Anglo-Saxon (but also other liberal) modes of thinking about influence particularly the question of the nation.

Michel Foucher’s edited Atlas de l’Influence Française au XXIeme Siècle (Paris: Institut Française, 2013) provides a good place to start. which between the publisher and the institutional affiliations of many of the contributors has to be seen as a relatively authoritative statement. Although Foucher provides an up to date discussion the project that he discusses is pretty much the same one that was sketched out at the end of the 19th century.

The starting point: France before all is a culturally, linguistically and historically defined community that exists in a world of other similar communities, states are therefore merely the political expression of these communities (this is pure Herder). Within this world of diversity it is important to resist the forces of homogenization represented by capitalism/globalization/English/the United States. Indeed it is instructive that part 1 of the Foucher collection the fundamentals of influence opens with a chapter entitled ‘the other language’; the French language is important in its own right but it is also important as the alternative to English.   Hence France is not only engaged in a competition for influence among other countries but is also part of an effort to resist homogenization. Of course such an effort not only preserves French influence but also builds it through the country’s leadership role in this effort.

Running through this approach is a fundamental assumption of nationality that links everything together, the Atlas covers the legal system (and its characteristic modes of thinking), the internationalization of French companies, food, luxury goods, design, education, expertise, development aid, public health, expertise, cultural industries, ideas, the formal instruments: MFA, Institut, Alliance, broadcasting form only a small part of the discussion. It’s all linked together: If you buy a Hermès scarf you are buying into as aspect of France’s influence but at the same time French influence does not float in some deterritorialized realm of globalization but must be considered part of geopolitics because a realm of nations is a geopolitical one.

But isn’t this just soft power? In his introduction Foucher explicitly differentiates French influence from soft power. Soft power is not a scientific concept of universal applicability but a distinctly American project with an emphasis on power. Soft power is always discussed in relation to hard power and aims at getting the other to accept your objectives and models. France is not in a position to make such an imposition thus ‘influence’ needs to operate through interaction and reciprocity. I’m not sure that I quite buy the claims of ‘influence’ put in these terms is that different but I think that the emphasis that soft power should be seen as a US project is correct. What noticeable about French influence is the way that it is placed in the context of a global order composed of ‘countries’ whereas American (and British discussions) often take on a strongly universalist tone without reference to questions of national difference. France is the home of ‘the rights of man’ and so also has to balance claims of national difference with universal values but in my next post I’ll pick up on some implications.


Nationalisms at Work: British and French views of Public Diplomacy

August 20, 2014

A few months ago I was writing about the development of public diplomacy in the 1970s and I was really struck by the contrast between British and French responses to the deteriorating economic situation of that decade. To simplify, the British had a series of enquiries and started cutting everything that couldn’t be tied to a narrowly defined priority. In France there was an effort to not just keep things the same but to do more even as money got ever tighter. Eventually at the end of the decade there was a comprehensive review of the cultural effort but it still doesn’t cut back. Putting economic performance or institutional differences to one side the French are clearly much more attached to engaging foreign publics than the British are. Why is this?

One observation is that British discussions of public diplomacy are always (and have always been) instrumental: we do this to achieve some other end.  Every 10 or 15 years there’s a call to focus on what the FCO would call ‘commercial work’.  Yet for France there’s always been a view that France’s influence in the world is tied to the projection of its language and culture, for all the more recent discussion of a diplomatie d’influence this remains the case. The French discourse is pretty obviously about the nation in the Herderian sense: language-culture-nation-state may not be identical but are closely related.

This created a puzzle – why don’t we get a similar pattern in the UK? Here Greenfeld and Eastwood (2005) offer a two dimensional typology of nationalism.  Firstly how do you join? If you can choose to join or leave the nation your dealing with civic nationalism, if you’re stuck with the nationality you are born with it’s ethnic. Secondly, if the nation is composite (a collection of individuals) or unitary (imagined as a single entity). Although this should give you four combinations in practice you get three. The most common version of the nation is ethnic and collectivist but France and the UK fall into the rarer categories of civic/collectivist and civic/individualist. The French nation is civic because anyone can join but it is collectivist in that FRANCE exists separately from the individuals who compose it, when General De Gaulle talked about FRANCE he wasn’t talking about a collection of individuals.

A civic/individualist version of the nation – which Greenfeld and Eastwood attribute not just to the UK but also to the US – is much less visible. C/I countries also tend to be bastions of liberalism thus the collective identity tends to dissolve into a universalist political language.   The collective aspect becomes clear in comparison with other countries. Policies have to justified in terms of concrete benefits. Nationalism is expressed in terms of universal claims. Minxin Pei made the point a few years ago that Americans are extremely nationalistic but don’t actually notice it in themselves or understand how it works for other countries.

Seeing British concepts of the nation in these terms explains why Britain is so relaxed about people leaving ie membership is an individual decision.  It also explains a few other things – why the British debate on the EU usually turns into a discussion of economics. It’s also noticeable that the debate on Scottish independence is exactly the same – anyone can be a member of the Scottish nation and you might have an extra pound or two in your pocket (or not) – Scottish nationalism is still civil and individualist.

I’ve got more to say about why public diplomacy research and International Relations more broadly should pay more attention to the implications of nationalism but that’s enough for now

Greenfeld L and Eastwood J (2005) Nationalism in Comparative Perspective, in Janoski T, Alford R, Hicks A and Schwartz MA (eds) The Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Society and Globalization, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 247–265.