This article presents social construction as a research framework, rather than an explanatory theory in constructivism, to outline different research strategies. Varieties of constructivism thus far conceived in International Relations prefer cleavages where scholars are regarded as thin/thick, conventional/critical, or mainstream/radical. In contrast, I introduce a new landscape of social construction to show unique mechanisms for socially constructing international politics. The new landscape varies on two dimensions. The first, source of socialization, asks whether scholars treat social context as fixed in discrete, observable forms or as fluid in indiscrete, shifting arrangements. The second dimension, focus of analysis, asks whether scholars primarily study social structures, social subjects, or some interaction of the two. The dimensions make visible a multitude of research strategies with implications for the stability of social processes and the potential for causal analysis. Moreover, within this landscape, the article focuses on four processes of social construction – aggregating, assembling, internalizing, and performing – as seen inductively through examining prominent constructivist projects. Disaggregating the many processes avoids the misuse of social construction as a catchall mechanism. Finally, the article applies the select processes to the social construction of international norms to better grasp the relative payoffs of constructivist IR scholarship for research and teaching.
Typical scholarship on international organizations (IOs) focuses on the effects that IOs have on international relations. As Ian Hurd clarifies, such effects inform an IO’s ontology as actor, forum, or resource. This paper thinks with and beyond such contributions by more closely aligning outcome to process for a relational reconceptualization of IOs. In addition to analyzing what they explain about international politics, sociological approaches to IOs should also treat IOs as entities to be explained. I argue that IOs are assemblages of diverse actors projecting coherence in order to authorize particular identities, knowledges, and actions. Power flows through the construction process of IOs as their roles of actor, forum, or resource are constitutive with their socially mediated processes of assembly. Introducing the vocabulary of assemblage opens up space for understanding IOs as contingent settlements of varied organizational politics and competing tensions. The negotiation of these settlements deserves as much attention as the effects on international politics they make possible.
I have three ongoing research projects on public and private entanglements in global power.
From contractors fighting international wars, to corporations regulating global markets, to governments collaborating with nongovernmental entities to influence foreign elections, overlapping relations of public and private hybridity abound in the major stories of global sovereign power. I call this phenomenon “hybrid sovereignty” and study its forms and dynamics using cases such as Blackwater, the International Chamber of Commerce, and Amnesty International.
ENGLISH EAST INDIA COMPANY AS GREAT POWER
At 250 years, the English East India Company's tenure lasted much longer than most states today. During this time, the Company amassed vast resources and conducted sovereign governance. This project uses newly available longitudinal data to present the sustained legacy of the English East India Company for modern global power.
GLOBAL CORPORATE POWER AND POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY
While large multinational corporations are one of the more powerful global actors, investigations into corporate power remain underdeveloped. This new project collects original data from 1900 - 2017 on global corporate power and develops a new theory of corporate political responsibility.
I lead an undergraduate research group at Purdue on Big Tech and Political Responsibility. The first project is producing an original dataset of all Facebook scandals from 2004 till present.
Current Purdue undergraduates in the research group:
I am trained in comparative historical, archival, big data, and interpretive methods. I collect primary data from national archives in the United States, England, and France and organizational archives in the Netherlands and France. My research and travel have been generously funded by: The Andrew Mellon Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS); The Buffett Institute for Global Studies, the Department of Political Science, Legal Studies Graduate Program, and Critical Theory Graduate Cluster, all at Northwestern University; as well as the International Studies Association, International Studies Association-Northeast, British International Studies Association, and the Aberystwyth-Lancaster Graduate Colloquium.