Setting the World Stage: Social Positioning and International Order Contestation

Why and how do international actors contest the institutions and practices of international politics? I argue that political struggles to define identities and social positions on the world stage drives contestation by states, international organizations, and other transnational actors over fundamental institutions. International actors seek to secure their own identities and social positions, and in doing so are drawn into struggles over the criteria for social standing and the orthodox background knowledge that structures international society. Political conflicts, from diplomatic quarrels to hegemonic wars, may thus be seen as struggles to assert relational position, and to enact particular practices as the proper “way things are done” in world politics.

This approach innovates upon existing theories of international order contestation by addressing the conflation between order and hierarchy in rational institutionalist and power transition theories, analyzing hegemony as primarily a result of ideational domination. The general applicability of a social positioning perspective is illustrated through case studies spanning different regions and issue areas of international relations. The cases include the post-Cold War rivalry between Russia and the US to enact their identities and extract recognition as a great power and hegemon, respectively, which has degraded the international security order. In international political economy, it studies how the Eurozone debt crisis in Greece was defined by clashes between the “ordoliberalism” of creditor states and EU institutions, the International Monetary Fund’s attempts to assert its identity as the preeminent site of international economic expertise, and Greece’s identity-driven imperative to maintain social position inside the European core.

Peer-reviewed publications

“Social Positioning and International Order Contestation in Early Modern Southeast Asia,” International Organization. (2021). doi:10.1017/S0020818321000321

Working papers (please email me for updated versions)

“The Politics of Market Economy Status and the Moral Economy of International Trade” (under review)

“Flying Flags: Sovereignty and the Politics of Airline Liberalization” (R&R)

“Contesting Development: The BRI and China’s New Modernization Theory”

Research interests

  • Identities and ideologies in international politics
  • International order contestation
  • Practices and politics of sovereignty
  • History and international relations
  • Sociological approaches in international relations theory

Policy studies
(with Tyler Meredith) Leaving Some Behind: What Happens When Workers Get Sick. Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy. September 2015. (link)

Commentaries and media
A New Multilateral World Without the U.S.,” Policy Options, September 4, 2017.