Institutions at Bay? The liberal order and the international institutions (IIs) that underpin it are under attack. For some, it is the policies these institutions pursue – facilitating a globalized economy where there are winners but also clear losers. However, for others, the provocation lies not in what such institutions do, but in what they portend – a diminished and diluted sense of national identity. Indeed, it would seem that identity matters, and identity politics are alive and well. The actions of many institutions have become deeply controversial, and the European Union is no exception. This project thus seeks to understand better how IIs shape identity, and what role this plays in 21st century politics.
My core argument is that the identity effects of international institutions are refracted through the domestic politics of their member states, and that daily lived experiences and articulated beliefs interact to shape such politics. Identity, in other words, is constructed by both what we do and what we say. The main case is contemporary Germany. With its own troubled history of violence justified by national identity, Germany has more recently been hailed as a model of post-national consciousness and a champion of the EU. Yet, this carefully nurtured European identity – one crucially influenced by the EU – is being reshaped by a new identity politics spurred by the arrival of over 1 million refugees in 2015-16. Using data from interviews, participant observation and key policy texts, I construct a process-based political ethnography of identity change in Germany at two different points in time, and the EU’s (changing) role in it. The German case will thus shed crucial light on the extent to which institutions – in this case, the EU – are indeed ‘at bay’ in an era defined by a new and deeply national identity politics.
Social Dynamics of Violence. This project explores the group and social dynamics at work in civil war, but places its study within a broader spectrum of conflict forms. Our analytic hook is socialization, where there is evidence of its powerful effects in interstate wars (sociological studies of military socialization), within criminal networks, and in urban gangs (work by anthropologists). The project’s value added is to extend this theoretical frame to studies of civil war, where socialization and group dynamics are potentially operative at all stages, from pre-conflict indoctrination in schools, to insurgent mobilization, to rebel group recruitment and retention, to post-conflict interventions by the international community.
Going beyond the roster of non-coercive mechanisms developed by constructivists over the past decade, we theorize a broader range of socialization processes, including hazing, the use of sexual violence, and strategies of dehumanization. Empirically, we examine socialization in contexts and countries marked by disorder, possible state collapse and institutional instability. Such a focus moves beyond and thus helps to bound the causal claims advanced by earlier international-relations work that primarily studied socialization in peaceful settings and stabile institutional environments.
Our findings were published as a special issue - under my editorship - of the Journal of Peace Research 54/5 (September 2017).