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  • Research Training Group World Politics RTG 2225

    © Jakob Braun / Unsplash

Research Program

The Research Training Group (RTG) examines the emergence of world politics as an arena for political action, communication and observation. Situated in a broadly understood, interdisciplinary field of international political sociology, it regards world politics both as a specific form of organizing relations among political actors, and as a framework of political communication, observation and comparison - among states as well as other actors. The RTG investigates the mechanisms and forces, as well as the struggles and resistances, that have led to the establishment of world politics as a specific form of politics that does not sit somehow `above´ nation-states, but in fact emerges concurrently with the modern form of the (nation) state and the normative ordering principle of sovereign equality that, in turn, is enshrined in the evolving law of nations (international law). In this context, the RTG adopts, and critically reflects on, a world society perspective, in order to analyze and explain the dynamics that underlie the processes of modern state formation on the one hand, and the structuration of the global political field in which states are embedded on the other hand. Rather than aiming to develop a model of state-formation by reconstructing particular histories of state-building, the RTG inquires how the emergence of world politics has been (and still is) both a corollary of, and a precondition for, the constitution of modern states.

The starting and common theoretical point of reference for the RTG is an understanding of world politics according to a theory of world society. World politics is a specific form of politics that does not somehow sit `above´ other forms (e.g. environmental, British, Bavarian, local etc.), but is differentiated from these other forms in more functional terms. Nonetheless, the RTG remains open towards other theoretical approaches, as well as for theoretical assumptions being challenged in debates about theory and in the light of the results of empirical research. Thus, the theoretical starting point does not pre-determine the shape and structure of world politics as a field in which manifold political processes take place. The designation of world politics as both a `field´ and an `arena´ is intended to signal this openness, and the fact that the exact characteristics of what is emerging does not only depend on the kinds of structures that have formed, but also on how they are observed.

The Emergence of World Politics

`Emergence´ does not refer to a finished process. It entails the idea that world politics is characterized and formed by varying densities of different kinds of interaction over time, but is also an ongoing experimenting with different forms of organization. It points to processes that are characterized by different kinds and intensities of struggle, mobilization, and contestation.

World politics does not - as is particularly sometimes suggested in narratives referring to the Peace of Westphalia - emerge in a social (and historical) vacuum. To account for its social environment, the RTG conceives world politics as the result of processes of social differentiation. Unlike the approach still prevalent in International Relations and neighboring disciplines, world politics is not conceptualized as something located on a level somehow `above´ local, national, regional etc. politics. Rather, world politics is analyzed as a distinct form next to other forms of politics, mirroring an internal differentiation of the political system. Tangible features of that differentiation include the emergence of political roles dedicated to world-political communication and the emergence of a world public opinion that cannot be understood as the sum of national public spheres. Such an approach remains open for empirically observing different forms of social differentiation within world politics (for example, the segmented order of sovereign states, the core-periphery order of empires, the stratified order of great vs. small powers etc.). While the RTG places the emergence and evolution of world politics in the context of a wider social environment, it remains open to different specifications of this environment. Theories of world society or accounts of global history are the obvious candidates for identifying and analyzing that social environment. It is a central integrative task and objective of the RTG to reflect on the relative merits of different theories of world society and accounts of global history particularly in the light of research on the emergence of world politics. These theories and accounts, as well as the dialogue between them, serve as theoretical-conceptual reference points for the RTG. The RTG is designed in a way that requires doctoral researchers to reflect on their work in the light of these theoretical discussions and to contribute to them, but is also designed so as to facilitate theoretical discussions in close conjunction with postdoctoral researchers and PIs, and thus are not an additional burden for individual projects.

Research Streams

Research in the RTG is primarily organized in two research streams, respectively defined by an angle of inquiry more oriented towards the consolidation and transformation of structures and norms in modes of organizing world politics, and an angle more oriented towards semantics and the construction of meaning more broadly in modes of observing world politics. Both research streams are by no means conceived in exclusive terms. Their distinction is one of analytical nature, and they necessarily refer and relate to each other.

The RTG's first research stream is concerned with changing patterns of interaction among states and other types of actors (most notably international governmental and non-governmental organizations, but also companies, mass media etc.) in modes of organizing world politics. The second research stream complements this perspective with a view on changing modes of observation in world politics. Interaction and the formation of structures that are analyzed in the first research stream do not take place in a social vacuum. World politics exists because there is communication about world politics. This basic `constructivist´ assumption means that semantics, symbols, rituals, narratives etc. are necessary for the `making´ of world politics. Semantics, symbols, rituals or narratives provide descriptions of world politics, such as notions of the international order, mankind, or human rights. These descriptions may then inform observations by actors as they try to make sense of world politics.

While each research stream privileges a distinct perspective, substantive overlaps are expected to be significant and are highly welcome. Both lines of research will be pursued with a strong emphasis on theoretically grounded empirical research, with varying degrees of emphasis on historical and comparative research. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries will be of particular relevance for such an endeavor, as interaction and mutual observation have not only intensified during this time period, but also changed dramatically due to technological innovations in communication and transport as well as in military capacities. It is a major aim of the RTG to trace those changes and to analyze how the structure of world politics has been shaped by those innovations.

Participating Disciplines

In terms of research fields and disciplines, the RTG covers International Relations (IR) as a distinct sub-discipline of political science, and particularly IR´s relatively new sub-field of international political sociology. It approaches this subject by enlisting a range of approaches from IR/political science, sociology, history, and law. To the field of IR it adds an understanding of the historically contingent and relatively recent character of international politics, participating in and thematically expanding the recent turn towards historical sociology more generally and the role of the nineteenth century in forming modern international relations in particular. To sociology it adds an understanding of international relations as a specific form of social relations largely ignored by the discipline thus far. The exchange between world society and global history approaches is of particular interest as both these approaches have not engaged in substantive dialogue yet, although world society approaches obviously depend on a historically deep account of social evolution, and global history still requires more comprehensive theoretical accounts of change. Legal scholars tend to focus on those fields where substantive normative structuring has taken place (e.g. human rights, lex mercatoria) but struggle to get a grip on a global social system that does not seem to rely on the kind of systematic and encompassing normative order that nation-states provide.

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