In a world of regions, inside/outside dynamics—the identity politics of international society—are effectively reinstated. Accounting for these dynamics from an English School (ES) perspective requires, first, prior clarification of the place and role of the concept of identity in ES theory. Constitutive of society in both inter-state and inter-human domain, of international and world society, respectively, identity arguably is key to social structural ES theorising. This is visible in, second, the (in-)congruence of identities across domains, constellations of international and world society, instilling a state with the desire for belonging. Induced in this way is the ‘movement’ of a state in international society, triggering the identity politics of (regional) international society. This is illustrated, third, by the patterns of inclusion and exclusion currently on display at the Eastern boundary of the contemporary European society of states that transpire as the result of ‘neighbourhood’ states aspiring to join ‘Europe’.
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The EU’s Eastern ‘neighbours’ as defined by their inclusion to the ENP are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Russia, albeit not formally part of the ENP, still forms part of the Eastern ‘neighbourhood’ constellation. The Central Asian states are not part of the ‘neighbourhood’ constellation, yet remain part of the post-Soviet society.
In the ES, multi-dimensionality refers to the analytical division of social reality into dimensions and the parallel coexistence of these dimensions ontologically. In the social structural reading of the ES, the conventional ‘triad’ (international system, international society, and world society) is reduced to the duality of international and world society.
To distinguish forms of society on the basis of the workings (or not) of identity as a binding force does not only obscure the play of identity in both community and society. It also runs danger of essentialising certain identities, assuming the ‘naturalness’ of community by seemingly ‘given’ bonds of ‘affection or tradition’ (Buzan 2004, p. 116; 1993, p. 333).
For the present purposes, it suffices to distinguish the inter-human and the inter-state domain. Social groups as collective actors are subsumed under the inter-human domain since ontologically they are reducible to individuals.
Limited to politically relevant collectivities of human individuals, ‘world’ society is set apart from other groupings, constituted by other (non-politically relevant) identities. Approached from the vantage point of theorising international society, the political relevance of social groups derives from their ability to influence the workings of international society (see Clark 2007).
Buzan (2004) explicitly distances ES theory from causal theorising of the constructivist kind. Without sharing the constructivist ambition for causal theorising, there is no reason for the ES to adopt a similarly problematic conception of identity.
Whereas Dunne (2005) urges clarification of how the systems and the society dimension ‘hang together’, the collapsing of the systems and the society dimension in FIWS? shifts the challenge of theorising multi-dimensionality towards the boundary of international and ‘world’ society.
In this reading, ‘world’ society, similarly to civilisation, is reduced to a culturally defined human collectivity lacking the polity to constitute itself in international society (Buzan 2004, pp. 123–124). Whereas in the classical reading world society and civilisation could be distinguished by the universalism of the former compared to the particularism of the latter, this difference dissolves with the analytical reading of ‘world’ society.
Note that the integrative dynamics instilled by a misfit of patterns of identification across domains also work in reverse, instilling disintegrative dynamics as currently visible in a wave of Euroscepticism sweeping across the EU member states or the decision of the UK to leave the EU.
Identification with ‘Europe’ refers to identification with political Europe, which is indicated by public support for European integration rather than, for example, identification with the notion of Europe as such.
While one may object to the notion of a post-Soviet regional international society, here, it suffices to accept that remaining ‘outside’ the European society does not amount to ‘being nowhere’, to being ‘inside’ a thin, pluralist global international society. More often than not, being ‘outside’ one regional society means being ‘inside’ another regional international society.
Note that this is not a second-image, ‘inside–out’ account of state identity. The pressures emanating from ‘world’ society in the ‘neighbourhood’ are not confined to a particular domestic realm imprinted onto the inter-human domain by the prevailing structure of international society. Instead, they cut across the domestic spheres of multiple ‘neighbourhood’ states.
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I thank Viacheslav Morozov and Yannis Stivachtis for their helpful comments. I acknowledge support by institutional research funding (IUT20-39) of the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research and from the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement No 691818).
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Linsenmaier, T. World society as collective identity: world society, international society, and inclusion/exclusion from Europe. Int Polit 55, 91–107 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-017-0066-4
- English School
- World society
- European Union