Archive for February, 2015

ISA 2015

February 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Had a good conference this ISA. Here are some highlights:

Lucas Freire had a great presentation on the ancient near east international order and its institutions. HE navigates the tensions between anachronism and particularism marvelously. That international order aimed at preserving the major polities (great kings) from destruction, and a maintenance of the two tier system of great kings and vassals. The system has two sets of rules, the first of normative aspiration and the second to keep the peace. The king wanted to look heroic to a domestic audience, but also wanted to preserve the system.  He also argues that the volume of silver gifts in this system was to such an extent that it counted as international trade. Though I am skeptical about this, I also know it is interesting that chinese scholars do not regard the tribute to china to be of major economic significance.

David Wilkinson presented his projected which coded international orders by polarity. It was a bit underwhelming and I think for all the work he has put into it, he could have done something beyond polarity. Might be worth looking into further. He argues that a central civilization in Eurasia had emerged.

Meera Sabratnam presented an interesting perspective on how standpoint theory could be combined with historical sociology. She proposes contrapuntal historiography (Said) as an alternative.

Early Modern:

Was on a great early modernity and IR panel with David Kang. Interesting periodization of medieval from 6-12th century and Early modern from 15th-18th with different scholars adopting different measures. Everyone agreed that the period of early modernity is a useful concept but that the periodization of modernity is terrible which puts things in an awkward light. Early Modern marks a period where we can still find similarities of processes around the world. The breaking point of the 12th century seems to be based on the revival of the roman empire in Europe and the start of a legal revolution in Europe so that behind every throne was an italian lawyer. First university of law is founded in this period.

Another way of looking at the European international order is according to the logic that motivates war and state politics. From the 14th to 18th century, European international order is basically the relations of family disputes. War is a family feud. This changes in the 18th century from raison de famille to real politik. Argument that the European state only emerges in 18th century, no seeds in the early modern. In the European early modern it is only the Italians who are not playing the dynastic game.

Our study of the early modern is inhibited by our search for the seeds of the sovereign state. In fact the seeds of the sovereign (another paper by Andrew Latham actually traces the seeds of sovereignty to the 12th century).

What distinguishes the early modern period are two factors: The expansion of many systems that are linking up; and ecological turbulence. There is some similarity of patterns in which famines lead to religious millenarianism.

Nexon: Tilly regrets using the word formation, he wanted to talk about state transformation. There is a possibility of having transposable analytical concepts. Things like actors, organized violence, taxation, rent seeking, economic exchange …

Kang: The British borrow their form of state from 8th century china (reminds me of the Prussian military getting their military reforms from jesuits). Great Quote: The biggest critique to his work was the charge of orientalism or essentialism. Thus historical IR is stuck between 2 poles, Eurocentrism and essentialism. We need to find a way to navigate this.

IR is parasitic on history (Vultures). Secondary sources seem to be enough if you read very thoroughly and use primary sources as a supplement if possible. Kang thinks that historians take for granted background stuff and IR brings a focus on power and economic which historians assume as a background.

Andrew Latham: Brown’s tyranny of a construct demolished feudalism as an essential description of the medieval era. Latham seeks to do the same to heteronomy, the idea of multiple overlapping sovereigns. The medieval era had multiple political forms, but all were built on the logic of supreme authority.  Corporate sovereignty acted as a constitutive concept. There were Kingdoms, principalities, communes, and leagues, and all were built on corporate sovereignty. The dual sovereign of the emperor and the pope ended when the pope said the emperor was just another kingdom.


Blaney’s frustrations that what is produced in China is not beyond the horizons of western knowledge indicate a desperation to find difference. Indian IR, Chinese IR, etc… but these scholars see themselves as doing universal IR.

A lot of problematic discussion on what it means to find “true difference”.

David Chan put forth a very interesting statement on how critical theory becoming respectable in IR has had the effect to silence alternatives. It is no longer emancipatory and this is problematic. Though the standard of critical theory seems to move with the goalposts, is it simply what isn’t in the discipline?

Sibagro as always had a lot of interesting things to say, mainly on the story of felix eboue’ who decided to fight for the republic in WW2.

Sanjay Seth makes an important definitional argument that you cannot be postcolonial if you do not accept that politics is about what meaning people give to the world.

Randy Persaud argues that you don’t need postcolonialims or critical theory, just by using positivism in a different way one can provide an alternate insight into reality. He uses numbers on the kill ration and finds that the white to non-white fatality rate in astronomical.

I think it was Bilgin who argued that there are two types of Eurocentrism, one is intellectual, and one can identify this in the text, the other is a subconscious the permeates the academy, and that is more diifficult to root out.

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