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- Written by Paul Ghils
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→ actors, cosmopolitanism, globalization
In the theory of International Relations (IR), transnationalism has been one attempt to widen the discipline beyond the conventional debate between realists/Machiavellians, rationalists/Grotians and revolutionarists/Kantians. It includes, among other things:
- the claim that the state is no longer the dominant actor, which challenges the state-centric outlook shared by idealism and realism;
- loyalties and activities that connect humans across nations and national boundaries.
Although transnational ideas had been around since ancient times, transnationalism became a process more recently, due to the advance of technology and mass communications, which speeded up human interactions and the transfer of ideas across national borders.
Before the 1970s, the dominance of the state had undergone 3 distinct challenges:
- The international working-class opposition to the First World War, based on the claim unity was better that division, and that the separateness of states helped to perpetuate capitalism. These claims were undermined by the events of 1914, as in state after state the working class rallied to its national flag and volunteered to fight the Great War.:
- In the 1950s, the demise of the nation-state resulted from four factors: its susceptibility to economic warfare; the rise of international communications and the consequent permeability of national borders; the development of air warfare; the development of nuclear weapons, which threatened the very survival of states and their populations (Sylvest 2010).
- From the early 1950s, the economic integration, especially in Europe, as studied in the neo-functionalist approach, which was to lead to political integration (Haas 1958).
The challenge of the 1970s as well as the “return to the state” triggered by the economic downturn of 2008 have failed to prove the necessary demise of the state, as many countries now support free trade because they feel everybody will benefit in the long run: telecommunications and transportation are more convenient, available and faster than ever for people, goods and services. On the other hand, many groups are resisting globalization, arguing that an unregulated free market destroys jobs, exploits workers, degrades the environment, and even distorts cultures.
The introduction of transdisciplinary concepts, while shedding new light on globalisation and its impact on political, social, or communal identities, was also a response to the changing pattern of power relations, toward what appears increasingly as a form of “complex multilateralism” involving a system of governance made of a plurality of actors: not only states and inter-state bodies recognized by international law, but also networks and communities diversely formalised into civil society organizations, whether on a corporate or a non-profit basis. The “multi-stakeholder” dialogues, “multilayered identities” and “multilayered governance”l law, retreating to a nostalgic identification with the sovereign nation-state, if not with the closed community, an all-embracing “civilisation” or “people sovereignty”. This paradoxical trend has taken a more explicit turn with the transnational militancy in Seattle, Prague and Genoa around 2000, was exacerbated by the terrorist attacks in Spain, France, Britain, Turkey and Asian countries, the second Iraq war that started in 2003, the Islamic State (IS)’s emergence in Syria and Irak, and rebounded with the populist movements and a revival of state sovereignty in the 21rst century. Transnationalism was the central problematique of such seminal works as Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye’s (1971) and Marcel Merle’s (1974), which inspired a new generation of scholars resolutely committed to an interdisciplinary structuring of the IR field of studies, like Risse-Kappen Risse, Wallerstein, Galtung, Rosenau, Held and many more. However, an elating “global transnationalism” has often been taken as offering an opportunity to explore, but also to reduce the complex issues involved, in the same way as a comforting “return to the state” was a return to the state-centric paradigm. By the early 1980s, IR was considered as too monodisciplinary, encouraging its widening beyond the state-centric position into “global studies”, whose perspective not only transcended the state-centric views, but also tolerated a plurality of methods and rules of inquiry which renounced the principle of the “unity of science”. As was clearly and elegantly shown by Stephen Toulmin (2001, 140), “… while making some helpful points about the trouble generated when disciplinarity is pursued in an exclusionary spirit, critiques presented in the name of ‘interdisciplinarity’ must, in turn, acknowledge the debt interdisciplinary ideas owe to the very disciplines on which they are parasitic. Only within a world of disciplines can one be interdisciplinary: it is the vice of each style of thought […] that make possible the virtues of the other.” In practice, thousands of inter/transnational non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have facilitated interactions between individuals and groups across international boundaries. NGOs are private bodies with little or no links with government, made up of individuals or groups acting on their own to promote their interests, to advance causes, and solve global problems. If transnational interactions are sometimes difficult to regulate, transnational ideas and movements are unstoppable at the borders of nations. Feminism is one such idea that has spread around the world promoting movements that struggle for gender equality and social justice, while feminist scholar have altered the study and theory of international relations. Transnational religion also has a powerful influence on global politics. While the practice of religions tends to be associated with peace, humanitarianism and the good of the world, history is a mirror of all kinds of conflicts because and in the name of religion. Christian fundamentalism is often associated with tradition and conservative values, and Islamic fundamentalism has been linked with religious extremism and terrorism. Such fundamentalism also mixes traditionalism with militant nationalism, so much so that secular states and secularism are increasingly under siege. The increasing anarchy that affect the Middle East has been compared by Ernest Haass (2014) to the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, where three decades of sectarian conflicts ravaged the continent in the first half of the seventeenth century. More transnational interactions also mean the intermingling of aspects of cultures around the world, the emerging of a transnational culture. In his book Jihad versus Mc World (1997), Benjamin Barber examines how strong globalism and tribalism are reshaping the world as a fight between two distorted, fundamentalist versions of transnationalism. While “MacWorld” is in the making, some people and endangered cultures are resisting the onslaught of transnational culture, like some indigenous peoples in the Amazon and the rain forests of Africa. The extreme form of resistance to the transnational culture is the creation of reactionary traditionalism, fundamentalism and what Barber calls “the culture of jihad”, this term being understood as a holy war, the most extreme outcome of the march of transnationalism.
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