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Process sociology, the English School, and postcolonialism – understanding ‘civilization’ and world politics: a reply to the critics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 September 2017

Andrew Linklater
Affiliation:
Woodrow Wilson Professor, International Politics, Aberystwyth University
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Abstract

This article responds to critics of Violence and Civilization in the Western States-Systems (Cambridge University Press, 2016). It provides a rejoinder to challenges to the attempted synthesis of process sociology and the English School analysis of international society. It rebuts the postcolonial contention that the process-sociological analysis of the impact of the European ‘civilizing process’ on the modern states-system is Eurocentric. The article explains how process sociology contributes to the postcolonial critique of ‘civilization’. It concludes by arguing that their combined strengths of the two perspectives can inform the comparative study of Western and non-Western ‘civilizing processes’ and support the development of a more ‘global IR’.

Type
Forum: Linklater’s Violence and Civilization in the Western States-Systems
Copyright
© British International Studies Association 2017 

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References

1 I have also profited greatly from his immensely detailed comments on earlier drafts of this article.

2 Elias, Norbert, On the Process of Civilization: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2012 [orig. pub. 1939])Google Scholar.

3 Zeynep Gülşah Çapan, ‘Writing IR from the invisible side of the abyssal line’, this forum.

4 L. H. M. Ling, ‘The missing Other: a review of Linklater’s Violence and Civilization in the Western States System’, this forum.

5 Linklater, Andrew, The Problem of Harm in World Politics: Theoretical Investigations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hobson provides a summary of harm conventions in his introduction.

6 Ibid., p. 166.

7 Elias, On the Process of Civilization, p. 17.

8 See Linklater, Andrew, ‘Torture and civilization’, International Relations, 21:1 (2007), pp. 119130 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Linklater, The Problem of Harm, p. 24.

10 Ibid., p. 25.

11 Linklater, Andrew, Violence and Civilization in the Western States-Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 In support of that conjecture, he referred to the Western Allies’ rejection of Stalin’s alleged suggestion that the German General Staff should be liquidated at the end of the Second World War. The clear implication was that societies that belonged to what he described as the ‘simpler civilizations’ of antiquity were, in the main, untroubled by the summary execution of vanquished enemy leaders (see Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 1).

13 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, pp. 1–4.

14 Elias, Norbert, Involvement and Detachment (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2007), p. 175 Google Scholar; Elias, Norbert, Studies on the Germans: Power Struggles and the Development of Habitus in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2013), p. 190 .

15 Elias, On the Process of Civilization, pp. 105–7.

16 Stephen Mennell, ‘Norbert Elias’s contribution to Andrew Linklater’s contribution to International Relations’, this forum.

17 Linklater, The Problem of Harm, introduction.

18 See Linklater, Violence and Civilization, ch. 2.

19 I am grateful to Stephen Mennell for a conversation many years ago in which he used the distinction between ‘progressions’ and ‘progress’ to characterise Elias’s standpoint on the European ‘civilizing process’.

20 Mennell, ‘Norbert Elias’s contribution to Andrew Linklater’s contribution to International Relations’.

21 See Linklater, Andrew and Suganami, Hidemi, The English School of International Relations: A Contemporary Reassessment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 122n9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 Wight, Martin, Systems of States (Leicester: University of Leicester Press, 1977)Google Scholar.

23 Bull, Hedley and Watson, Adam (eds), The Expansion of International Society (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1984), p. 6 Google Scholar.

24 Ibid.

25 For further elaboration, see Linklater, Andrew, ‘The “standard of civilization” in world politics’, Human Figurations: Long-Term Perspectives on the Human Condition , 5:2 (2016)Google Scholar, available at: {http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.11217607.0005.205}.

26 That was the dominant process while power relations were highly uneven, but the lower strata succeeded in extracting major concessions from the ruling elites as more even power balances developed and those elites became more dependent on the members of less powerful groups for the satisfaction of their interests. See Mennell, ‘Norbert Elias’s contribution to Andrew Linklater’s contribution to International Relations’, on ‘power ratios’ and ‘functional democratisation’. Global equivalents will be considered in the discussion of process sociology and postcolonialism.

27 George Lawson, ‘The untimely historical sociologist’, this forum.

28 See Elias, On the Process of Civilization, p. 425.

29 Linklater, ‘Standard of civilization’.

30 Tim Dunne and Richard Devetak, ‘Civilising statecraft: Andrew Linklater and comparative sociologies of state-systems’, this forum.

31 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, pp. 450–1.

32 See ibid., pp. 379, 394.

33 See ibid., p. 401ff, citing Smith, K. E., The Europeans and Genocide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 Both authors refer to Jensen, Steven L. G., The Making of International Human Rights: The 1960s, Decolonization, and the Reconstruction of Global Values (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I am grateful to them for this reference. Especially interesting is the analysis of ‘negotiated universality’ since the 1960s (Jensen, The Making of International Human Rights, introduction).

35 See John M. Hobson, ‘A critical-sympathetic introduction to Linklater’s odyssey: Bridge over troubled (Eurocentric?) water’, this forum, citing Violence and Civilization, p. 445.

36 Mennell’s argument in ‘Norbert Elias’s contribution to Andrew Linklater’s contribution to International Relations’ about the barriers to greater cosmopolitanism resonates with the discussion of ‘organised irresponsibility’ in the final chapter of Violence and Civilization.

37 Alan Chong, ‘Civilisations and harm: the politics of civilising processes between the West and the non-West’, this forum, citing Violence and Civilization, p. 370.

38 See Linklater, The Problem of Harm, chs 4–5; also Bleiker, R. and Hutchison, E., ‘Forum on emotions and world politics’, International Theory, 6:3 (2014)Google Scholar.

39 Julian Go, ‘“Civilization’ and its subalterns’, this forum.

40 Linklater, Andrew, The Transformation of Political Community: Ethical Foundations of the Post-Westphalian Era (Cambridge: Polity, 1998), pp. 123ff Google Scholar.

41 Nelson, Benjamin, ‘Civilizational analysis and inter-civilizational relations’, Sociological Analysis, 34:2 (1973), pp. 79105 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Hobson, J. M., The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 I am grateful to John Hobson for discussion on this point.

44 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 126, pp. 216ff. Hobson, ‘A critical-sympathetic introduction to Linklater’s odyssey’ refers to Adam Watson’s claim in ‘a rare moment of “postcolonial sensibility”’ that the European consular system was directly influenced by ‘Ottoman diplomatic practices’).

45 Go, ‘“Civilization” and its subalterns’.

46 Ibid.

47 Ling, ‘The missing Other’ gives the example of the Chinese Confucian influences on Matteo Ricci’s moral-religious thought.

48 Hobson contends that it is problematic to separate state-formation and the ‘civilizing process’ from the broader ‘rise of the West’ and so it is essential to emphasise non-European influences on those phenomena. But the emphasis of V&C is on how the rise of territorial states with their monopoly controls of violence and the right of taxation led to radical shifts in global power balances that were directly expressed in the rise of the European overseas empires. V&C stresses the importance of European contrasts with non-European cultures for the ‘civilizing process’ without assuming that crucial dimensions of European state-formation and economic and military development owed nothing to extra-European developments.

49 Lawson refers to the discussion in Linklater, Violence and Civilization, pp. 256–8.

50 Ibid., pp. 251ff.

51 Mennell, ‘Norbert Elias’s contribution to Andrew Linklater’s contribution to International Relations’.

52 Ling, ‘The missing Other’ recognises the importance of changing standards of self-restraint for the argument of V&C but does not consider their place within the ambiguities of civilisation. The upshot is a series of erroneous claims that V&C assumes that the West and morality are ‘coterminous’, that the international ‘status quo benefits everyone in the long run’, and that ‘those in charge … should stay in charge’ (emphasis in original) given the unassailable evidence that ‘the West represents the best’.

53 See Lawson, ‘The untimely historical sociologist’.

54 Ling, ‘The missing Other’.

55 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 455.

56 Elias, On the Process of Civilization, p. 589.

57 Ibid., p. 126.

58 See Mennell, Stephen, ‘Asia and Europe: Comparing civilizing processes’, in Johan Goudsblom, Eric Jones, and Stephen Mennell, The Course of Human History: Economic Growth, Social Process and Civilization (London: M. E. Sharpe, 1996)Google Scholar.

59 Hobson, ‘A critical-sympathetic introduction to Linklater’s odyssey’.

60 Bull and Watson (eds), The Expansion of International Society, pp. 6–7.

61 See the discussion in Elias, Norbert, ‘Towards a theory of established-outsider relations’, in Norbert Elias and John Scotson, The Established and the Outsiders (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2008)Google Scholar.

62 For a recent analysis, see Klotz, A., ‘Racial equality’, in Tim Dunne and Christian Reus-Smit (eds), The Globalisation of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)Google Scholar, ch. 19. Hobson raises the question, as does Lawson, of why there is little discussion of non-Western influences on international society since the end of the Second World War (but the question should have been whether or how far changing power balances have altered the relationship between violence and civilization in the recent development of that arrangement). My response is that shifts in global power balances over a longer period eroded assumptions that Europe possessed a monopoly of truth about ‘civilized’ existence. One of the consequences was that the ‘standard of civilization’ more or less disappeared from official Western discourse and not least because of the greater scope for non-Western agency in the post-Second World era – which is not to argue that the underlying ideas simply vanished. I discuss those issues in a book provisionally entitled, The Idea of Civilization in World Politics: States, Empires and International Society, which is nearing completion.

63 Goody, Jack, Renaissances: The One or the Many? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 59 Google Scholar. See the critique of Goody’s perspective in Katie Liston and Stephen Mennell, ‘Ill met in Ghana: Progress and process in Goody and Elias’, Theory, Culture and Society, 26:7–8 (2009), pp. 52–70.

64 Krieken, Robert van, ‘The barbarism of civilization: Cultural genocide and the “stolen generations”’, British Journal of Sociology, 50:2 (1999), p. 300 Google Scholar. The point resonates with the thesis that the violent character of ‘civilization’ is often most dramatically expressed on the ‘periphery’. For further discussion, see Pepperell, Nicole, ‘The unease with civilization: Norbert Elias and the violence of the civilizing process’, Thesis Eleven, 137:1 (2016), pp. 119 Google Scholar.

65 Van Krieken, ‘The barbarism of civilization’, p. 300, emphasis in original. Critics of Bull and Watson’s analysis of the expansion of international society make a similar point. I am grateful to John Hobson for this observation. For further discussion, see Dunne and Reus-Smit (eds), The Globalisation of International Society.

66 Van Krieken, ‘The barbarism of civilization’, p. 300. For reflections on such ‘civilizing offensives’ that were initiated by the French colonial state in Cambodia, see Broadhurst, Roderick, Bouhours, Thierry, and Bouhours, Brigitte, Violence and the Civilizing Process in Cambodia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. chs 3–4.

67 Elias, On the Process of Civilization, p. 15, emphasis in original. See Chong, ‘Civilisations and harm’.

68 See Çapan, ‘Writing IR from the invisible side of the abyssal line’.

69 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 354. As Violence and Civilization emphasised, violence in the periphery can be traced back to the early phases of European state-building, as the discussion of English state-formation and the construction of images of ‘barbarous’ Celts revealed (see Linklater, Violence and Civilization, pp. 235ff).

70 Çapan, ‘Writing IR from the invisible side of the abyssal line’.

71 Makdisi, Ussama, ‘Ottoman Orientalism’, American Historical Review, 107:3 (2002), pp. 768797 Google Scholar; also van der Oye, David Schimmelpenninck, Russian Orientalism: Asia in the European Mind from Peter the Great to the Emigration (London: Yale University Press, 2010)Google Scholar. A more detailed analysis will be provided in a book on civilisation that was mentioned earlier.

72 Dunne and Reus-Smit (eds), The Globalisation of International Society.

73 All quotations are from Mennell, Stephen, Norbert Elias: An Introduction (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 1998), p. 138 Google Scholar.

74 Hedley Bull, ‘The revolt against the West’, in Bull and Watson (eds), The Expansion of International Society.

75 For further discussion on involvement and detachment, see Elias, Involvement and Detachment.

76 Regrettably, Ling deleted a section from an earlier version of her article that shed interesting light on this dimension of established/outsider dynamics in International Relations (but that version stated that her reflections on a specific conversation that took place at a recent international conference were posted on Facebook). The section described what was in process-sociological terms an invitation from a member of an established group to internalise feelings of inferiority (see the comments on the working method of process sociology earlier). The reported exchange resonates with a central theme in the approach, which is that the analysis of specific practices can illuminate large-scale social processes. Not only does process sociology provide insights into the connections between established-outsider relations at different levels; it operates critically in an image of ‘the sociologist as a hunter of myths’ that underpin and maintain such power relations. See Elias, Norbert, What is Sociology? (Dublin: University College Dublin Press)Google Scholar, ch. 2. In that way, process sociology can contribute to the ‘postcolonial critique of Western civilization’ by analysing the established-outsider dynamics that Ling highlights in ‘The missing Other’. On that basis, I invite postcolonial scholars to regard process sociology not as a foe but as an ally.

77 See fn. 51.

76 For further discussion, see Kilminster, Richard, ‘The dawn of detachment: Norbert Elias and sociology’s two tracks’, History of the Human Sciences, 27:3 (2014), pp. 96115 Google Scholar and the same author’s ‘Norbert Elias’s post-philosophical sociology: From “critique” to relative detachment’, in Gabriel, Norman and Mennell, Stephen (eds), Norbert Elias and Figurational Research: Processual Thinking in Sociology (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)Google Scholar. Also relevant is Shannon Brincat, ‘The harm principle and recognition theory: On the complementarity between Linklater, Honneth and the project of emancipation’, Critical Horizons, 14:2 (2013), pp. 225–56.

79 See Mennell, ‘Norbert Elias’s contribution to Andrew Linklater’s contribution to International Relations’. For that reason, the analysis of violence and civilisation aims to promote the ‘sociological’ as opposed to the ‘normative’ and ‘praxeological’ dimensions of critical theory as set out in Andrew Linklater, ‘The question of the next stage in International Relations theory: a critical-theoretical point of view’, Millennium, 21:1 (1992), pp. 77–98. As this paragraph indicates, they are three interwoven domains of critical inquiry.

80 See Lawson, ‘The untimely historical sociologist’.

81 See Chong, ‘Civilisations and harm’.

82 The question of race in Kant’s writings is discussed in Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 278.

83 Hobson’s reference to the ‘Kant/Herder debate’ lends support – although I do not think this is his intention – to my focus on how intra-European discourses and debates determined the overall development of the ‘civilizing process’, an approach that clearly troubles the postcolonial critics. For further details, see Go, ‘“Civilization’ and its subalterns’ and George Lawson, ‘The untimely historical sociologist’.

84 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, pp. 278ff.

85 Those shifts in orientation led to greater self-restraint on the part of several European colonial powers (as discussed in Linklater, Violence and Civilization, pp. 264ff), and to greater openness to non-Western influences.

86 Quilley, Stephen and Loyal, Steve, ‘Eliasian sociology as a “central theory” for the human sciences’, Current Sociology, 53:5 (2005), pp. 807828 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

87 Kilminster, Richard, ‘Introduction to Elias’, Theory, Culture and Society, 4:2–3 (1987), p. 215 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

88 See the discussion in Mennell, ‘Asia and Europe: Comparing civilizing processes’ and the references in Mennell, ‘Norbert Elias’s contribution to Andrew Linklater’s contribution to International Relations’.

89 See Broadhurst et al., Violence and the Civilizing Process in Cambodia, pp. 332–3 for reflections on the potentially ‘universal purchase’ of Elias’s explanation of the European ‘civilizing process’. For a different standpoint, see Ikegami, E., Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)Google Scholar.

90 See Elias, Norbert, The Court Society (Dublin: University College Dublin Press. 2006)Google Scholar, ch. 1.

91 Elias used this term in connection with European court societies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. See Elias, Norbert, ‘The fate of German Baroque poetry: Between the traditions of court and social class’, in Mozart and other Essays on Courtly Art (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2010), pp. 45 Google Scholar. See also Linklater, Andrew, ‘International society and the “civilizing process”’, Ritsumaiken International Affairs, 9 (2011), pp. 126 Google Scholar.

92 Wight, Systems of States, ch. 1; also Linklater The Problem of Harm, ch. 6.

93 See Buzan, Barry and Little, Richard, International Systems in World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

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