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Culture, Identity and International Relations

This article explores the interrelationship between culture, identity and international relations. After critiquing some significant writings on this theme in the post-cold war context, it analyses liberal and Marxian modes of analysing hegemony in contemporary international relations. It sheds light on the impact of macro-social identities such as race and the nation state in shaping the landscapes of international relations. The area of culture and international relations still appears nascent in scholarly writings. This critical gap in the literature can be eventually overcome if scholars of international relations studies creatively interact with scholars from other social sciences where more sustained and systematic efforts have already been made to understand culture and the role of social identities.


Culture, Identity and International Relations

This article explores the interrelationship between culture, identity and international relations. After critiquing some significant writings on this theme in the post-cold war context, it analyses liberal and Marxian modes of analysing hegemony in contemporary international relations. It sheds light on the impact of macro-social identities such as race and the nation state in shaping the landscapes of international relations. The area of culture and international relations still appears nascent in scholarly writings. This critical gap in the literature can be eventually overcome if scholars of international relations studies creatively interact with scholars from other social sciences where more sustained and systematic efforts have already been made to understand culture and

the role of social identities.


nternational relations are primarily studied and interpreted with reference to politico-diplomatic, economic and commercial as also security oriented realities that consistently shape them. Plausibly, the treaties and agreements that states sign, bilaterally as well as multilaterally, the networks of trade and commerce that they weave through the private and public sectors among themselves, and the overall strategic goals they carve out, render obvious tools to pursue epistemic constructs under the umbrella of the diverse schools of thought prevalent in international relations studies (IRS).However, factors involving culture that inevitably shape international relations have yet to find their due space within the body of scholarly writings in IRS. Cultural factors, invariably, have had their impact in evolving the trajectories of international relations [Mazarr 1996]. Such an impact appears obvious while the relationships between macrosocial identities formed around nation, race and ethnic groups are examined. Although cultural streams under different circumstances are vibrant in influencing the nature of social identities, the very

emotive impetus that stimulates their formation is unquantifiable. And yet, cultural traditions involving identities, at times even multiple identities, appear to have dominated and shaped the ethos of the major world civilisations across the centuries.

As we shall note subsequently, the popular as well as scholarly writings in the IRS, especially in its post-cold war phase, concerning culture and international relations have begun to acquire a fresh space of debate in the IRS. In view of this, I would venture to reflect on the theme of culture, identity and international relations. To begin with, I will try and untangle the intertwined association between culture, civilisations and international relations. Subsequently, I will critique some of the dominant writings in the post-cold war world dealing with culture and international relations and proceed to reflect on the liberal and Marxian ways of analysing hegemony in the current context of international relations. Subsequently, I shall proceed to explore the impact of social identities formed on the basis of race and the nation to further underscore the interrelationship between culture, identity and international relations.

Culture, Civilisations and East-West Encounters

Culture as an aspect or cultural theories, in general, seldom assumed prominence in analysing and interpreting international relations because the term culture itself has escaped precise definitional categories. More often culture is a product of man-made parts of the environment that subsumes an ensemble of knowledge systems, beliefs, traditions, languages, arts, literatures coalescing into a collective world view. More often, terms such as civilisation and culture are also deployed interchangeably [Majie 2002]. However, civilisation subsumes cultures though all cultural traditions may not necessarily lead to the formation of a civilisation. The civilisations in the past came into being around rivers, seas and mountains. For instance, civilisations have flourished in the ancient period around rivers like the Nile, Ganges, and Yellow, regions along the Aegean Sea and Mesopotamian civilisation in west Asia registered their conspicuous presence around the sea while a resilient civilisation of Tibet grew around the mountain ranges of the Himalayas. Actually, civilisations in Asia such as that of India and China have had long traditions due to the continuity in sustaining intellectual, spiritual, philosophical, cultural and artistic traditions.

The processes of the formation of civilisations underwent a revolutionary transformation with the onset of industrialisation in the west. Modern industrial civilisations of the west and their continuous encounters with the oriental world in the context of colonialism and imperialism nurtured an asymmetrical relationship of interdependence between the western world and countries from the orient. For instance, the trends unleashed by modernity such as Enlightenment rationality, cultivation of scientific temper and promotion of industrial civilisations touched the oriental world. Most of the countries, ever since, have grappled to maintain their own balance between traditions or indigenous ways of organising societies while adapting themselves to the phenomena of modernisation. Countries including China, Japan, Iran or India have struggled to absorb western modes of

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thinking and live with their age old civilisations.

Indeed, the core of industrial civilisation, like any other civilisation, has been shaped by a distinctly discernible cultural and value orientation. On the one hand, apart from building a public space for freedom and democracy, industrial civilisations of the west that have rested essentially on materialism also generated scientific and well structured knowledge systems that laid claims to universality. And on the other hand, such knowledge systems have come under severe scrutiny from the body of literature that has proliferated in the form of post-structural and post-colonial writings. In view of this, several questions beg answers. Can so-called modernity then be perceived and adapted in multiple ways and forms? Is the process of knowledge building time and culture specific? These fundamental epistemic questions that stem from such encounters will continue to beg for more satisfactory answers in the times ahead. However, it needs to be underscored that east-west encounters have had their indelible impact on human history.

One extraordinarily visible global impact of the east-west encounters has been the organisation of people under nation states. The Westphalia Treaty that ushered in the nation state as a form of social organisation in 1648 has by now spread across the globe. In addition to the developed industrialised countries of the west, post-colonial states in the east have also consciously promoted the state and nationbuilding processes. As a result, most of the transactions in international relations are conducted through the agency of sovereign nation states. Obviously, practically all international as also regional organisations, in effect, operate through sovereign nation states. Thus, if international relations are an ocean, sovereign nation states are the vessels that steer the course. Moreover, several complex patterns of the relationships between states are governed by the actual as well as potential power that states possess, in a given time and place, when the relations are set on the rails. Although nation states operate on the basis of their juridical power, cultural factors invisibly operate in the policymaking processes of all countries.

Cultural Factors in the Cold War

In fact, culture of any epoch does set the tone of international relations. For instance, in the context of the cold war, the ideological rivalries between the socialist camp, led by the former Soviet Union, and the capitalist camp, led by the US, had almost set in motion a cultural paradigm of the so-called bipolar world that governed international relations. The rival ideologies of capitalism and socialism, respectively, aimed at organising their economic, political and social organisations on diametrically opposite footings. While the socialist camp valued the notion of equality and an exploitation-free society, the capitalist camp valued liberty and free enterprise. Thus the terms deployed by the capitalist countries of the west and socialist countries of the east to bolster their credentials and undermine the credibility of their adversaries were pregnant with cultural meanings.

During the context of the cold war there was a tendency among both the ideological camps to visualise international relations and hence world politics through simplistic binary opposites. The rival camps accused each other of being anti-democratic, imperialist, and hegemonic on the basis of socio-cultural values. Evidently, the political culture that enveloped the cold war politics forced all countries in the world to respond to the ideological terms of reference that had dominated the cold war. The group of non-aligned countries through mediation between ideologically adverse camps mitigated the intensity of the then ideological rivalry. In spite of the implicit clashes of cultures and civilisations that were wedded to two opposite ideological standpoints, the politics of the cold war was inevitably interpreted in conventional ways of understanding and analysing power. This meant measuring the power of any country on the basis of tangible industrial, financial, military, geopolitical and several other resources related assets. That the ideological dimension of the cold war had cultural underpinnings escaped sufficient scholarly attention. However, the dimension of culture is finding some space in scholarly studies after the end of the cold war.

Ascent of Capitalism in the Post-Cold War World

The end of the cold war has brought an end to the acute ideological rivalries between the two contesting camps. At least for the time being, capitalism as a mode of production and a world system does not have a formidable developmental alternative [Harshe 2004]. All the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CAS) that emerged after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991, have chosen to develop themselves on capitalist lines. Also, even if China defines its development strategy as market socialism it has been broadly evolving a variant of capitalism in its development model. Certain features of capitalist forms of development such as private/corporate ownership of the means of production, the growth of wage labour, socialisation of the production process accompanied by private appropriation of profits and liberalisation in trade, investments and finance have become common to most countries. Hence, capitalism, with its regional and national variations, is setting the cultural pace of international relations by navigating them. Capitalism also is an agent of globalisation or it could as well be argued that the ongoing phase of globalisation is yet another phase in the history of the development of world capitalism. To put it simply, the world is getting even greater exposure to a global consumerist culture with the advent of market civilisation under capitalism. Moreover, culture has the capacity to design social and economic structures and shape attitudes and world views. With the end of the cold war, it is also in the domain of culture that the triangular relationship between the state, market and civil society is being constantly shaped.

Cultural Dimensions of International Relations

In fact, the realm of culture has acquired unprecedented importance in interpreting the nature of international relations in scholarly as well as popular writings. Indeed, scholars of eminence such as Francis Fukuyama and Samuel P Huntington have blazed a new trail in IRS by drawing portraits of the possible trajectories of international relations by analysing the impact of cultural aspects. Both the authors have an uncanny capacity to carry the essence of their writings at the popular level. A few pertinent comments on their writings, at this stage, are in order.

Fukuyama’s writings propounded his famous thesis of the end of history when the former Soviet Union was undergoing existential strains and eventually disintegrated in 1991 [Fukuyama 1989, 1992]. Fukuyama’s central argument was that there was no viable alternative to liberal democracy and capitalism. Further, a substantial number of western countries are liberal democracies and the rest of the world, with variations, would be obliged to follow the same path in the years ahead. To put it simply, the ideological clashes that divided the world into two camps, in the cold war phase, had lost their erstwhile significance. This verdict on the future course of the development of mankind appeared attractive in the immediate aftermath of the so-called ascendancy of the west and the disastrous debacle of the socialist camp as well as ideology.

In contrast to Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington came out initially with much more catchy arguments built around the clash of civilisations in Foreign Affairs in 1993 [Huntington 1993]. Huntington further elaborated and developed his argument on the clash civilisations in the form of a controversial book [Huntington 1996]. In his view, it is not ideological conflict but the conflict among diverse civilisations that will shape the destiny of mankind. He perceived that the dominating source of conflict was going to be cultural. While building a rather over simplistic but powerful argument Huntington endeavoured to demonstrate how the conflict dominated by cultural/ civilisational clashes could effortlessly slide into the political space vacated by the politics of the cold war. He was particularly concerned about the inevitable clash between the Islamic and western/Christian civilisations.

In this context, a few arguments in Edward Said’s critique of Huntington deserve critical attention [Said 2003]. Said argued that with the end of the cold war, the defence industry executives in the US and the Pentagon were in search of a new enemy to pursue their vocation and the countries that were using political Islam to attack US imperialism became natural candidates in this search. Indeed, the lack of democratic culture and systems, coupled with gross violation of human rights in these countries facilitated the distinction between the so-called “us and “them”. Moreover, Said asserted that the sources of Huntington are journalistic and he has interpreted history with reckless distortions built round lazy generalisations [Said 2003:71]. In fact, the civilisations that spread across several parts of the world absorbing within their mould multiple cultures, languages and states are seldom static. They are neither monolithic nor homogenous. Islamic civilisation is no exception to this rule.

Having got used to the idea of communicating with ease with a wider and nonprofessional readership, Huntington came out with another popular work, namely, Who Are We? [Huntington 2004], that essentially deals with diverse streams of migration and the winds of change they brought about in the process of constituting America as a nation. The book is insightful in several ways. However, one insight about the transforming notion of America as a nation deserves critical attention. Huntington argues that technological revolution of the 19th century promoted nationalisation of the American elite while the rise of transnationalism of the late 20th century is promoting the process of denationalisation of the American elite. To put it simply, the American elite is in tune with the era of globalisation while the other sections of the population have to hark back to nationalism to make their lives meaningful and materially comfortable. Thus even the most powerful state such as the US at the moment is torn between the forces of transnationalisation and nationalism [Huntington: 265]

Liberal and Marxian Ways of Analysing Hegemony

Apart from these dominant, controversial and widely read writings of Fukuyama and Huntington, the notions of culture and power have been quite effectively interconnected in the scholarly writings of the liberals as well as Marxists of the Gramscian persuasion. Among the liberal scholars, Joseph Nye has tried to evolve the concept of soft power in the global information age [Nye 2004] The central elements that go into the makings of soft power are long drawn out historical developments of a country leading to evolution of a particular mode of thinking backed by distinct cultural traditions, scientific and technological progress, and adaptability to changing circumstances. In this context, a democratic culture, scientific progress and political and social institutions in the US have built the soft power of the US, which has an enormous attracting and imitating force. Diverse information communication technologies (ICT) that are stimulating the phase of globalisation in an information age do contribute substantially in the making of soft power. Soft power is not tangible but it certainly is not a mirage. It is dynamic, pervasive and interdependent on hard power [Majie 2002]. Obviously, while building soft power no country can ignore hard power.

Unlike the liberal school, scholars including Robert Cox (1993), Stephen Gill (1991) and Henk Overbeek (1993) have ventured to analyse the rise of US power by deploying the concept of hegemony as enunciated by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist. Before dealing with their analysis of US power it would be essential to explain, briefly, the Gramscian notion of hegemony. In effect, Gramsci had used the notion of hegemony as an instrument to compare and understand state-civil society ties in different countries including western liberal democracies and czarist Russia. Gramsci underscored the consensual nature of the rapport between states and civil societies that strengthened liberal democracies in the west. However, Russia, under the czarist regimes, was a typical example of a country where the state functioned with brute force without seeking any consent. In a word, hegemony inevitably involves complex mechanisms that incorporate a potent blend of consent and coercion. When such a blend is harmonious, hegemony operates smoothly. When the ruling classes merely rely on coercion they, perhaps, establish a hegemonic order and not hegemony. Hegemony as a notion evolves through a continuous reciprocity of interactions between the dominant and the dominated states in international relations.

Inspired by Gramsci’s conceptualisation of hegemony, the school of Italian Marxism widened the scope of hegemony by applying it to the context of international relations. Basing his analysis on certain stable and durable elements of the US power, Gill (1991) shed a different light on the way US hegemony operated in the early 1990s. According to him, the structural ingredients of American power such as security related complexes, technology, finance and knowledge producing apparatuses have been sound and durable, adding to US strength in world politics and endowing it to conceive a hegemonic role for itself. The US intervention to topple the Taliban led regime in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 and its invasion of Iraq in 2003 merely display outward symptoms of hegemonic goals. Any worthwhile study of the operational part of US hegemony would appear incomplete without reference to the gradual rise of neoliberalism and the neoconservative groups that have advisedUSforeign policy

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establishments, especially under the Republican regimes.

Neoconservatives: Genesis and Growth

With Reagan’s advent to power in the 1980s the neoliberal ideas related to governance and economy acquired preeminence in the US polity. To put it simply, neoliberalism rested on rolling back the role of the state from the public sphere by promoting market forces. Reagan rose to power in the aftermath of the US defeat in Vietnam as well as the events such as ouster of US allies like the Shah of Iran and the military intervention of the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan, in the 1970s. These events started the “new cold war” and Reagan conceived the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and chose to oppose it by turning the world bipolar. In the process, the neoliberals began cutting welfare expenditure and enhanced the share of the budget going to military and security related areas. Thus, on one hand, the US began to reassert its hegemony by regrouping its European allies and Japan, and on the other, it began to cultivate allies in the third world. Ostensibly, the US has formally promoted democratic regimes that are wedded to capitalism. However, expedient and strategic considerations also governed the choices of allies when the US began to rally countries from the third world in its bid to contain the Soviet Union. Hence such networks of allies involved diverse kinds of regimes, including dictatorial ones such as those as represented by Pinochet in Chile, Mobutu in Zaire, Ziaul Haq in Pakistan as well as racist regimes in apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel.

It would be worthwhile to reflect briefly on the antecedents of the neoconservatives that have been enjoying a powerful presence in the current US administration. Ironically, most of the prominent neoconservatives of today came as migrants to the US and studied in the City University of New York. Most of them were anti-Stalinist and followers of Trotsky [Frachon and Vernet 2004]. They had a pathological dislike for totalitarian regimes. As students and later as professionals they perceived and visualised the US role as the champion and promoter of democracies across the world. For them, fighting any form of totalitarian domination and promoting democratic regimes that respect human rights ought to become a major mission of US domestic and foreign policy.

In their university life in New York, a number of them came under the intellectual influence of the then towering social scientists like Leo Strauss although Strauss himself was not a neoconservative [Frachon and Vernet 2004:64]. Due to the general intellectual ambience they provided for the City University of New York, it came to be known as the Harvard of the poor. Some of the prominent neoconservatives include Irving Kristol, William Kristol, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Zoellick, James Woolsey, Patrick Monyhan, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, Douglas Feith, Allan Bloom, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney. In the Bush administration the neoconservatives have been enjoying paramount importance. They have been influential ideologues in shaping and controlling international regimes such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

It could as well be argued that both the Democratic as well as Republican administrations have projected US power quite conspicuously either by dominating the United Nations or through military alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The prominent role that the US played in the UN military intervention in Somalia and the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia, in the 1990s, offer evidence of the same. The US administration, in general, has opted to intervene in the internal affairs of different states through the socalled “human rights diplomacy” [Majie 2002]. In its pursuit of promoting so-called democratic norms of governance, the US has ventured to critique those regimes that are allegedly violating human rights. The US led attack of NATO countries in Yugoslavia against the Milosevic regime to stall ethnic cleansing in 1999 and the US invasion of Iraq against the Saadam Hussein regime in 2003 fall in this category. What is more, the US has not spared countries like China and India for their policies in Tibet and Kashmir, respectively. Keeping this broad sketch of the role of culture and notions of organising hegemony at the backdrop, I will now turn to the question of identity and international relations.

Identities and international Relations

At the outset, it can be observed that research related to identity has, indeed, flourished in contemporary literature in sociology or psychology. However, scholars in IRS have yet not drawn from the insights, concepts and theories pertaining to social identity from other social sciences. This has been well demonstrated by Horowitz (2002) through a critical analysis of most of the major research journals in the field during the past decade. Thus, studies concerning social identities and their impact on international relations still appear to be a barren field. Generally, social identities are built round sameness and continuity. Identities get crystallised when the distinction between the “self” and “other” gets consciously aggravated. Macro social identities invariably get socially constructed around religion, ethnicity, language, region, race and nationality. To analyse the impact of identity in shaping international relations I will briefly reflect on identities built around race and the nation state.

Race as International Identity

Racial identities have consistently influenced international relations since the onset of imperialism due to the dominant and dependent ties they entailed among the white races of the west and the rest of the world. Imperialism did cause injustice and promoted all forms of racial inequalities. Practically all non-white races were victims of racial discrimination. However, no other race was insulted like the black races. The black races were victims of the institutionalised system of slavery. Since they were subjected to severe forms of injustice and domination, blacks all over the world evolved a distinct psyche. In the African context, the writings of Frantz Fanon, Leopold Sedar Senghor and George Padmore offer ample evidence of this proposition. Fanon had already discussed how the colonial world constructs the “white” and “black” races by building binary opposites through a Manichean world. The Manichean world often rests on synonymy of the cause and effect. Thus, if one is uncivilised then he/she has to be black and if someone is black that person has to be uncivilised. Such rudimentary and simplistic constructs that define attributes of the ruling and ruled races invariably lead to obvious as well as mute forms of violence. Violence built around racial identity has been well explored by Fanon in his celebrated writings like The Wretched of the Earth [Fanon 2001].

In contrast, Senghor reacted to imperioracist powers by unleashing the concept of negritude and launching the negritude movement in the inter-war period. The notion of negritude was a device to rebuild the pre-colonial identity of the blacks, on the one hand, and highlight the qualities of the black races, on the other. The movement ventured to demonstrate that the black races and people had a glorious past with flourishing civilisations.1 It also underscored the spiritual and humane aspects of the black races as against the materialist and individualist modes of existence of the industrialised western societies. Furthermore, George Padmore in his famous work Pan-Africanism or Communism vehemently pleaded with all the black races to promote pan-African movements because he suspected that the communist movement that was supposed to be international was also dominated, primarily, by the white races [Padmore 1972].

In addition to the above set of writings, Kate Manzo’s (1992) insights on racial identity, built through a Foucouldian perspective, offer a fairly imaginative interpretation of race as an international identity and its impact on the diverse regions of the world. Manzo has constructed the interrelationship between black and white races through the example of the Republic of South Africa as it functioned under racism and the apartheid system (1948-94). Manzo ventures to unveil the nature of global power relations. He treats different networks of power as subjects whose struggles and even conflicts evolve around identities. The capacity of aggravating the distinctions between the “self” and “other” in any form of identity politics contributes to the strengthening and consolidation of identities. Thus, over the long-term historical span of a 100 years, the racial identities of blacks and whites have been socially constructed. The constitution of such identities has been characterised by their changing meanings, which sprang up from changing social practices.

In the context of colonialism, whites were viewed as civilised Christians while blacks were dubbed as barbaric. The two identities clashed profoundly within the context of the Republic of South Africa under successive apartheid regimes. The white minority rule had disenfranchised the entire black population that constituted an overwhelming majority in South Africa. They had also cornered 87 per cent of the land, higher echelons of bureaucracy and the military and maintained a continuous surveillance of the agitating black populations. The apartheid system, with sanction from the Dutch Reformed Church, had produced knowledge systems that underlined the genetic inferiority of the black races vis-a-vis the whites. As the white minority found it hard to contain the emancipatory struggles, launched through the movements like the African National Congress (ANC), of the black and other deprived races, the state in South Africa became more repressive. It not merely enhanced military expenditure but associated the military with the decision-making processes in different bodies. The state also sought and obtained military support from western powers like France, Germany, Italy and even the US [Harshe 1991]. As against this, anti-apartheid agitations were being supported by the left and liberal groupings in the west, the former Soviet Union and east European countries as well as wide range of third world countries. Since the militarised state under the apartheid regime functioned without any form of consent of the majority, it was inherently weak. In the realm of society, the networks of power shaped by racial identities had permeated deep enough to build a viable agitation with proper international support against the apartheid system. In 1994, the apartheid system was formally replaced in South Africa by a non-racial rainbow coalition formed under the ANC. However, the case study of apartheid South Africa incontestably demonstrated the significance of race as an international identity and its role in shaping global power relations. Like race, the nation state too has been shaping the contours of international relations in its diverse phases.

Nuances in the Changing Identity of the Nation State

It is certainly not easy to come to grips with complex nuances that the term nation state reflects in diverse parts of the world. In practice, it is easier to define and identify than the state. The state involves legitimate or illegitimate physical force, a well defined territory with a population residing within its bounds, sovereignty and government. The state is a juridical concept and comes into existence when other states offer de jure recognition to it. However, the nation is a psycho-cultural reality. Various combinations of ethnicnational and civic-territorial elements are interwoven into the collective memory of the people to construct a nation, socially. If the ethnic-national realities portray biographies of the nation, the civicterritorial elements go into making the notions of citizenship. The notion of citizenship, in its turn, allows for the categorising of populations into citizens, refugees, migrants, immigrants or tourists within the defined borders of the state. In the history of nation states, there have been times where the establishment of the state preceded the nation and, at times, the nation too has preceded the establishment of the state. While several states in sub-Saharan Africa exemplify the former, a number of west European states exemplify the latter. Paradoxically, Pakistan and its evolution have posed a unique problem in the history of the formation of nation states in the contemporary world. Leaders like Jinnah conceived it as a separate nation of Muslims under the two-nation theory and hence the subcontinent was divided and Pakistan came into being in 1947. This theory virtually cracked up with the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. Currently, Pakistan is construed as a state in the process of building a nation. If an attempt is made to go further into the set of complexities of the formation of nation states, it could as well be argued that the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union had functioned as multinational states. Indeed, even India may fall in this category.

If the notion of the nation state is analysed against the backdrop of the post-cold war developments in Europe, several complexities could be perceived in the very being of the nation state. While analysing such developments Pierre Hassner (1997), in one of his seminal essays, had posed a question whether the nation state is obsolete or obstinate? Such questions sprang up against two self-contradictory developments that are affecting the status of the nation states within contemporary Europe.

On the one hand, transnational and nonterritorial forces related to trade, finance, migration and terrorist/mafia activities that are operating under globalisation have been stimulating the broadening and deepening of the processes of European integration through organisations like the European Union (EU). The process of integration visualised by leaders like Monnet and theorised by scholars such as Haas in the 1960s is well under way. It is also democratic in terms of the domestic political systems of the member countries as well as in the decision-making process of the EU as a regional organisation. In fact, it is the cosmopolitan character of the EU

Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006

that is inspiring transnational debates about the future of a common European currency such as the euro as well as common European citizenship and defence and security policy. The unprecedented developments in ICT, coupled with an attempt to integrate the European elite through diverse forms of economic, financial, educational, technological and cultural cooperation have certainly transformed the mindset of the young generation in EU countries. At the same time, countries like France are still keen on guarding French citizenship within the EU. Is western Europe then witnessing a tussle between the democrats, who aspire to build a borderless Europe, and republicans who are protecting citizenship within a single country as Hassner (1997) has pointed out? In a word, the developments in western Europe offer evidence of the existential strain the nation state has been undergoing.

In contrast to the developments in western Europe, in eastern Europe ethno-national forces are on the rise. The link that was being established during the phase of modernity between the territory, state and nation is being reworked out in east Europe. Moreover, after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, the countries of western Europe proceeded to initiate, consolidate and justify the modern nation state. However, the nation state was not embraced and nurtured with similar passions in eastern Europe. Most of the states and nationalities of these regions were located on the tri-junction of three major empires: the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman and the Russian/Soviet empire. Their territories were also absorbed by such empires which, in their turn, provided them with common currency, security and political stability. Since the early 1990s, however, developments including the break up of former Yugoslavia and the fall of the Soviet Union, have unleashed forces of ethno-nationalism in the entire region that are determined to carve out sovereign territorial space for their independent existence. If the history of the formation of the nation state is sketched onto the landscapes of Europe, it would reveal that different peoples and spaces are living in different time zones. Furthermore, if any attempt is made to grapple with the formation of nation states in the so-called third world, the interrelationship between the state and nation would surely display kaleidoscopic complexities that keep defying acceptable definitions of the concept of the state as well as the nation and, hence, the nation state itself.


It may not be easy to figure out the invisible impact of non-quantifiable cultural factors that, in effect, affect and constantly shape the very landscapes of international relations. In certain ways, cold war politics revolved around two forms of political culture, stimulated by two diverse ideologies. Also, culture manifested in its pervasive sense can be a major cementing force in the process of organising and building the hegemony of any powerful state such as the US. Even though scholars in IRS have adopted a slightly complacent attitude towards realities like the formation of social identities that essentially stem from a cultural background, a beginning has already been made to assess the impact of social identities as well as diverse cultural factors in shaping international relations. Since the area of culture and international relations appears nascent in the scholarly writings of IRS, it will take some time before scholars are able to place it in the overall scholarly literature within the discipline by giving it a critical attention. Evidently, the analysis of identities built around race and the nation state, in this paper, has merely illustrated a tip of the iceberg. Eventually, this critical gap in the literature can be overcome if scholars of IRS creatively interact with scholars from other social science disciplines, where more sustained and systematic efforts have already been made to understand culture and the role of social identities.




[This article is a revised version of a talk I gave as keynote address in an international seminar on ‘Culture, Identities and International Relations’ organised by the Centre of Russian and East and Central European Studies to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in March 2006.]

1 Leopold Sedar Senghor was a poet, statesman and among the most influential writers in the Francophone Africa. For a critical overview of Senghor’s ideas see Watts (2002).


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