Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

World society as collective identity: world society, international society, and inclusion/exclusion from Europe


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’.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Here, both ‘Europe’ (see Walker 2000) and ‘East’ (see Kuus 2007) refer to imaginaries or mental geographies. As such, they denote a condition rather than a place, an ideational rather than to a geographic location.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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.

  4. 4.

    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).

  5. 5.

    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.

  6. 6.

    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).

  7. 7.

    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.

  8. 8.

    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.

  9. 9.

    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.

  10. 10.

    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.

  11. 11.

    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.

  12. 12.

    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.

  13. 13.

    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.


  1. Aalto, P. 2007. Russia’s quest for international society and the prospects for regional-level international societies. International Relations 21 (4): 459–478.

  2. Bull, H. 1977. The anarchical society: A study of order in world politics. New York: Columbia University Press.

  3. Bull, H. 1984. The revolt against the west. In The expansion of international society, ed. H. Bull, and A. Watson, 217–228. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  4. Bull, H., and A. Watson (eds.). 1984. The expansion of international society. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  5. Buzan, B. 1993. From international system to international society: Structural realism and regime theory meet the English school. International Organization 47 (3): 327–352.

  6. Buzan, B. 2004. From international to world society? English school theory and the structure of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  7. Buzan, B. 2010. Culture and international society. International Affairs 86 (1): 1–26.

  8. Buzan, B. 2015. The english school: A neglected approach to international security. Security Dialogue 46 (2): 126–143.

  9. Clark, I. 2007. International legitimacy and world society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  10. Diez, T., I. Manners, and R. Whitman. 2011. The changing nature of international institutions in Europe: The challenge of the European Union. European Integration 33 (2): 117–138.

  11. Dragevna, R., and K. Wolczuk (eds.). 2013. Eurasian economic integration: law, policy and politics. Cheltenham and Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing.

  12. Dunne, T. 2005. System, state and society: How does it all hang together? Millennium 34 (1): 157–170.

  13. Feklyunina, V. 2015. Soft power and identity: Russia and Ukraine and the ‘Russian world(s)’. European Journal of International Relations 22 (4): 773–795.

  14. Hansen, L., and O. Wæver. 2003. European Integration and the national identity: The challenge of the Nordic states. London and New York: Routledge.

  15. James, A. 1993. System or society. Review of International Studies 19 (3): 269–288.

  16. Kaczmarska, K. 2015. Russia’s droit de regard: Pluralist norms and the sphere of influence. Global Discourse 5 (3): 434–448.

  17. Keene, E. 2002. Beyond the anarchical society: Grotius, colonialism and order in world politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  18. Kuus, M. 2007. Something old, something new: Eastness in European Union enlargement. Journal of International Relations and Development 10 (2): 150–167.

  19. Laclau, E. 1996. Emancipation(s). London and New York: Verso.

  20. Laffan, B. 1996. the politics of identity and political order in Europe. Journal of Common Market Studies 31 (1): 81–102.

  21. Linsenmaier, T. 2015. The interplay between regional international societies. Global Discourse 5 (3): 452–466.

  22. Little, R. 2009. History, theory and methodological pluralism in the English school. In Theorising international society: English school methods, ed. C. Navari, 78–103. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

  23. Mayall, J. 1990. Nationalism and international society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  24. Mälksoo, M. 2009. The politics of becoming European: A study of Polish and Baltic post-cold war security imaginaries. London: Routledge.

  25. Neumann, I.B. 1996. Russia and the idea of Europe: A study in identity and international relations. London: Routledge.

  26. Neumann, I.B. 2011. Entry into international society reconceptualised: The case of Russia. Review of International Studies 37 (2): 463–484.

  27. O’Hagan, J. 2005. The question of culture. In International society and its critics, ed. A.J. Bellamy, 209–226. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  28. Open Neighbourhood. 2016. Annual survey report: Regional overview—eastern partnership countries. Birmingham: ECORYS.

  29. Pella Jr., J.A. 2015. Africa and the expansion of international society: Surrendering the Savannah. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

  30. Riemer, A.K., and Y.A. Stivachtis. 2002. European Union’s enlargement, the English school and the expansion of regional international societies. In Understanding EU’s Mediterranean enlargement: The English school and the expansion of regional international societies, ed. A.K. Riemer, and Y.A. Stivachtis, 19–40. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

  31. Ringmar, E. 2014. Recognition and the origins of international society. Global Discourse 4 (4): 446–458.

  32. Schouenborg, L. 2012. Exploring Westphalia’s blind spots: Exceptionalism meets the English school. Geopolitics 17 (1): 130–152.

  33. Stivachtis, Y.A. 1998. The enlargement of international society: Culture versus anarchy and Greece’s entry into international society. London: Macmillan.

  34. Stivachtis, Y.A. 2008. Civilization and international society: The case of European Union expansion. Contemporary Politics 14 (1): 71–89.

  35. Stivachtis, Y.A. (ed.) 2015. Interrogating regional international societies, questioning global international society [Special Issue]. Global Discourse 5 (3).

  36. Suzuki, S. 2009. Civilisation and empire: China and Japan’s encounter with European international society. London: Routledge.

  37. Vincent, J.R. 1986. Human rights and international relations: Issues and responses. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  38. Walker, R.B.J. 1993. Inside/outside: International relations as political theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  39. Walker, R.B.J. 2000. Europe is not where it is supposed to be. In International relations and the politics of European integration, ed. M. Kelstrup, and M. Williams, 14–32. London: Routledge.

  40. Watson, A. 1992. The evolution of international society. London: Routledge.

  41. Wendt, A. 1999. Social theory of international politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  42. White, S., J. McAllister, and V. Feklyunina. 2010. Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia: East or west? British Journal of International Relations 12 (3): 344–367.

  43. Wight, Martin. 1977. Systems of states. Leicester: Leicester University Press.

  44. Zaiotti, R. 2007. Of friends and fences: Europe’s neighbourhood policy and the ‘gated community syndrome’. Journal of European Integration 29 (2): 143–162.

  45. Zehfuss, M. 2001. Constructivism and identity: A dangerous liaison. European Journal of International Relations 7 (3): 315–348.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Thomas Linsenmaier.

Additional information

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).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation


  • English School
  • World society
  • Identity
  • Multi-dimensionality
  • European Union
  • (Dis)integration