“Social Positioning and International Order Contestation in Early Modern Southeast Asia,” International Organization 36, no. 2 (2022), 305-336. doi:10.1017/S0020818321000321
Identities and ideas can lead to international order contestation through the efforts of international actors to socially position themselves and perform their identities. International actors try to shape the world to suit who they want to be. To substantiate this argument, I examine the contestation of international orders in early modern Southeast Asia. The prevailing view portrays a Confucian international order which formed a consensual and stable hierarchy in East Asia. However, instead of acquiescing to hegemonic leadership, both Siam and Vietnam frequently sought to assert their equality and even superiority to the Chinese dynasties. I argue that both polities engaged in political contention to define their places in relation to other polities and the broader social context in which they interacted. I examine how international order contestation emerged from efforts to define and redefine background knowledge about social positioning, social categorization, and the political ontologies and beliefs about collective purpose on which they are based. I claim that agents seek to interact with others in ways that reify their sense of self, and challenge the background knowledge embedded in performances of other actors that threaten their ability to perform their identity. I also argue against theories that attribute international order contestation to hegemonic decline or the breakdown of a tacit bargain, which assume that orders are held together by a dominant power. One implication is that hegemony and hierarchy are based on dominant ideas, not dominant states.
“Flying Flags: Nationality, Sovereignty, and Airline Liberalization” (forthcoming in Review of International Political Economy)
Nationality is a crucial element of the regime governing international airlines, the industry which is a key means of economic globalization. I argue that economic nationalist motives drive states to harness international economic flows to support sovereignty and national identity. Economic nationalism is conceptualized as a performative phenomenon, describing how states make sovereignty and nations real by enabling and controlling economic practices. Using a mixed-methods approach, I statistically examine an observable implication that dyads which have greater cultural difference tend to have less liberal bilateral air services agreements. I then investigate through analytic narratives how Canada and the EU dealt with the rapid growth and ambitious expansion of the Gulf state airlines, which were themselves economic nationalist projects. Canada restricted traffic rights while the EU has exerted control by enforcing concepts of fair competition and publicizing its scrutiny of foreign ownership and control over EU airlines. A key contribution of this article is to explore how trade policy is driven by symbolic politics, and to raise the possibility that material gains are pursed to support performances of national identity and sovereignty. This has further applications to other sectors with perceived implications for sovereignty.
Working papers (please email me for updated versions)
“Social Stratification and the Politics of Market Economy Status” (under review)
“The Making of Central Bank Digital Currencies: State Sovereignty and the Technological Transformation of Money” (with Eric Helleiner)
Book manuscript (under review)
Identities, Ideas, 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.
- Identities and ideologies in international politics
- International order contestation
- Politics of sovereignty and nationalism
- Sociological approaches in international relations theory
- Historical international relations
(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.