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Can We Distinguish The \’Global\’

Can we distinguish the \’global\’ from the \’international\’?


In a keynote Conservative party speech after taking over as UK Prime Minister, Theresa May remarked: \"If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.\" She admonished those in positions of power who behave \"as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road\". (May, 2016)

Her words imply an individual who identifies as \’international\’ or a \’citizen of the world\’ cannot relate with those who identify as \’citizens\’ of the \’nation\’. May, in doing so, has inadvertently conflated the notions of the \’international\’ and the wider world i.e. the \’global\’. In this essay, I argue that not only are these two terms distinguishable from each other but that the theoretical, ontological premise of the \’international\’ leaves gaps and shortcomings in evaluating world events – and that the \’global\’ can address this by facilitating a more nuanced understanding of spaces and associated identities.

To illustrate this, I shall look at existing literature to delineate the hermeneutical scope of the \’international\’ and the \’global\’, and then borrow and transpose the framework of Edward Said\’s \’imagined geographies\’ (Said, 1993) and Benedict Anderson\’s \’imagined communities\’ (Anderson, 1984) to flesh out the discursive possibilities of the \’global\’. I shall also briefly outline how the \’global\’ also incorporates national and international contexts.

Whose \’international\’ theory is it anyway?

The differences between the \’international\’ and \’global\’ are evident in how the terms are used in the dynamics of discourse (Foucalt, 1969). The former has been carefully constructed and presented as an entity with primordial states or nations as its core units.

The \’international\’ was coined to denote a law \’between nations\’ (Bentham, 1780), with the human race seen as divided into nations (List, 1841). The English School of international relations theory also look at states as the units of an \’international\’ society with concerns expressed for a \"premature global solidarism\" (Bull, 2002[1979]; page xxii ??)

The idea of the nation is new (Huntington, 1993; Bayly, 2004) with \"no clearly identifiable births\" (Anderson, 1984, 205). Yet international theories have presumed it to be a pre-existing, fixed and natural phenomenon. The historical and sociological aspects are ignored because they distract from the state and its physical space, security and sovereignty. (Rosenberg, 2006; Held et all, 2003; Bull, 2002 [1979])

Moreover, as historian Christopher Bayly expounds, even the international is new and is the result of the \"internationalisation of nationalism\" driven at least in part by multilateral emigration and its impact. (Bayly, 2004, 11 or 239)

The above line indicates another shortcoming of the \’international\’ – a careless tendency to interchangeably use the \’state\’, the \’nation\’ and the hyphenated \’nation-state\’. The \"muddling\" of the terms bestows the \"will\" of the nation on the territorial state. (Agnew, 1994, ?) Agnew, who sees this as the \"territorial trap\" of international relations theory, argues that the cultural connotations associated with the \’nation\’ bolster the notion of the state\’s legitimacy. (ibid)

Theoretical scrutiny of events is restricted to the core geographical space of the state with its contentious boundaries representing the fault lines. The peripheral is not accounted for. This modus operandi can be attributed to the European statesmen who consciously constructed the idea as a means of controlling the narrative of their \’national interest\’ (Morgenthau, 1993) – and to create a zone of difference with the \’other\’ (Said, 1993).

This means international relations theories come with an \"imperial context\" (ibid, 6), a \"state-centric interpretation of history\" (Sassen, 2006, 6), and a \"colonial legacy\" (Inayatullah and Blaney, 2003, 1). This has had a cascading effect on international theory where diverse cultural interactions are ignored. The dominant neorealist thought of Kenneth Waltz (1979) further led to \"relative marginalisation of international society perspectives\" (Hurrell, 2002, ix, in Bull book check quotes).

This way of thinking has in turn permeated to real-world practices. As Huntington pointed out, even decisions taken at organisations like the UN or the International Monetary Fund reflect the interests of the West but are presented as being for the good of the world community in order to give them \"global legitimacy\". (Huntington, 1993, 39)

As shown above, the idea of the \’international\’ is clearly not neutral; and presuming it to be such shall impoverish the possibilities of understanding the world.

How the \’global\’ trumps the \’international\’

In contrast to the state-centric \’international\’ restricted to a fixed space, the \’global\’ is more social and thus more flexible for evolving theories. It looks beyond relationships between the states to include other actors whose dynamics play out at subnational and transnational levels. (Cerny, 2010, 23) The \’global\’ is \"a common consciousness of human society on a world scale\". (Shaw, 2008)

Here, the society is neither the state nor is the territorial state a synonym for the society or a \’container\’ for it (Agnew, 1994). The \’global\’ moves beyond territoriality and allows an opportunity to sift through nuances of what \’society\’ entails. The society in this context is not driven solely by a \’nation-state\’ by a \"transnationally linked group of political actors\" who create \"new power games\" and \"new networks\". (Cerny, 2010, 23) An openness to pluralistic understanding which assimilates local contexts (Cerny, 2010; Acharya, 2014, 649; Katzenstein 2010) is used to better understand international relations.

It is natural to immediately link the \’global\’ to globalisation but for the purpose of this essay, we are shying away from definitions of modern globalisation limited to \"time-space compression\" (Harvey, 1989) or \"all those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society\" (Albrow, 1990, 9). The theories do not specify what is \’global\’ about globalisation anyway (Held et all, 2003; Acharya, 2014, 649).

Another prominent contention about globalisation is that it is not a modern phenomenon. In response, it makes sense to consider how Held and his co-writers have redefined globalisation as a process that is not new. In its different \"historic forms\", they have reassessed globalisation to a reorganisation of space on the basis of social interactions and networks and their respective \"extensity, intensity, velocity and impact\". These then generate \"transcontinental or interregional flows\" of hierarchical and uneven asymmetries, making its global reach explicit and implicitly countering any preconceptions of homogeneity. (Held et all, 2003)

The English School of international relations theories is lacking by its absence of non-state perspectives of the state, the nation and society. Economic implications of a connected world are disregarded (Massey, 1984; Knox and Agnew, 1994; cited by Agnew, 1994). For instance, Hurrell says Bull\’s theory about international relations \"seemed to downplay the dynamic forces at work in global politics\". (Hurrell, (2002, [1979], xiv, xv) Globalisation is mistaken for interdependence which looks more closely to inter-state relations. (Keohane and Milner, 1996; cited by Cerny, 2010)

The \’global\’ allows a chance to correct the assumptions imbued in the \’international\’ and international theories. Global theories that respect a different structure and multiplicities of actors can incorporate \"actual history of cultural contact\" (Inayatullah and Blaney, 2003, 125) and bridge the \"gap between a still chronically static theory and a more transparently mobile reality\" (Jackson and Nexon, 1999).

A \"global international relations\" can allow inclusions of \"non-Western\" narratives that \"eschew cultural exceptionalism\" (Acharya, 2016). In practice, this means the actors are not seen as primordial and their collective experiences – including that of colonialism and globalisation and cultural memories – can be assessed for a different, broader understanding of the world.

The consideration of cultural experiences makes it possible for multiplicities of identities that are not tied to a geographical space. And it is precisely because of these different emergent communities that theories about the world order have to be thought beyond the boundaries of a \’nation-state\’. (Rengger, 1999)

Theories looking at the \’international\’ where there is no consensus on ontology or epistemology as demonstrated above have failed to provide a non-neutral, thorough understanding of the world. Under these circumstances, a simple yet efficient move for a more inclusive i.e. \’global\’ worldview is to borrow from other paradigms including sociology and anthropology (Buzan and Albert, 2010, 315) and experiment with \"analytical eclecticism\" (Sil and Katzenstein, 2010, 47). Following this premise, in the sections below, the existing ideas of \’imagined geographies\’ and \’imagined communities\’ shall be reconfigured to redefine how space and identity can look in a \’global\’ rather than an \’international\’ context.

Space: Reimagining \’imagined geographies\’

In his critique of Orientalism and the skewed representation of the non-West, Edward Said put forth the notion that space is actually \"imagined geographies\" (Said, 2003 [1979]). The perception of space, according to him, was created by Western empires with vested interests in objectifying and segregating the \’other\’. An imagined or perceived space was created to embolden their presumptive claim to territoriality as a \"geographical expression of social power\" (Ruggie, 1993, 151). \"The power of topography\" was used to \"successfully conceal the topography of power\" (Gupta and Ferguson, 1992; cited by Agnew, 1994).

The modern empires seeking expansion themselves played a role in creating a \"fully global world\" (Said, 1993, 6). With increasing migration, ease of travel, transnational media and communications networks, spatial practices have changed and prompted \"deterritorialisation\" (Scholte, 2000). This porous version of territory allows, for example, Qatari investors to own some of the prime London landmarks like the Shard, the Harrods department stores, the Olympic village, the US embassy building and lead a consortium that bought the owner of the city\’s financial district. (Independent) The spatial scope is fluid, with Agnew citing the examples of Hong Kong, Kuwait and Singapore to suggest a move towards \"\’node and network\’ forms of political-economic organisation\" (Agnew, 1994, 65).

Space however is not just a physical notion in a \’global\’ world. It can be \’imagined\’; the internet is one of the examples of \"complex virtual spaces in a postmodern world\" (Taylor, 2006; Kofman and Youngs, 2008; cited by Cerny, 2010). Following this logic, a space and geography can be reimagined where the onus of creating the perception is not just with the West or a state but is accessible to all \’global\’ actors. This notion of a virtual space for individuals in a \’global\’ society complements Said\’s account of a \"generalised condition of homelessness\" (Said, 1979, 18) and corrects the \"false sense of geographic coherence and actorhood\" (Katzenstein, 2005) in analyses of culture.

This reimagined space also has room for non-state actors like multinational corporations who confront states with \"new geographies of power\" (Sassen, 2006, 222). Tech firm Apple for instance has three times more cash on hand than the US government. Also, along with other tech companies, Apple and the US\’s Federal Bureau of Investigation were at a standoff in early 2016 over data encryption and access to information on the iPhone of a gunman. (CNBC, 2016) This demonstrates not just the different roles of different actors, but also how issues like terror and information are not restricted to the state.

The state also does not have monopoly over demographics; social network Facebook as of April 2016 has more monthly active users than the most populous country China. (World Economic Forum, 2016). But rather than the \"end of the nation-state\" (Ohmae, 1995), it indicates more asymmetrical and uneven relations between and within states and transnational actors of society. (Sassen, 2006, 224)

Identity: Reimagining \’imagined communities\’

Benedict Anderson, to explain nationalism, positioned the nation as an \"imagined political community\", \"both inherently limited and sovereign\" and created by \"print capitalism\". (Anderson, 1993) The community is \"imagined\" because it comprises unacquainted members who perceive themselves as part of it; and \"limited\" because of finite boundaries. However, by linking its origin to language, Anderson made it possible for members to be \"invited into\" this community. (Anderson, 1984, 145)

A limitation of Anderson\’s community concept is its policy of exclusion – rather than inclusion – where \"sovereignty\" is linked to emergence of religious differences (Marx, 2003, ?) Anderson also has not differentiated the nation with other forms of communities. However, by not making that distinction, there is now room to expand the concept and its social scope. Anderson himself has called the notion of nationalism as a \"modular\" \"cultural artefact\" which has \"emotional legitimacy\" and can be transplanted within different social contexts. (Anderson, 1984, 6) With Andersen himself not having discounted its place in a \’global\’ world, the principles of imagined communities can be infused into a multitude of identities. The \"deep horizontal comradeship\" (Anderson, 1984, 7) in the face of inequalities particularly can resonate with cosmopolitan global identities. A suitable example is an online community made of members of different nationalities who like the same TV show.

Representations within the \’global\’ can tackle the absence of identities in mainstream international relations approaches (Mathias et all, 2001, ?). \"Identities, borders [i.e. space], orders\" have to be seen as \"increasingly free-floating\" that can straddle disciplines and hence move beyond rigid theories. (Mathias et all, 2001, ?)

This is the result of a world that is not just made up of nation-centric nodes but has intertwining multiplicities of networks. As John Agnew emphasises, there has been a \"remarkable flowering of alternative political identities\" in terms of region, religion, ethnicity, gender, ecology, human rights and transnational activism (Agnew, 1994, ?). And unlike the \’international\’ which ignores the historical sociology, these identities imbibe \"shared memories\" (Anderson, 1984, 204; Said, 1994, 48) of the past. This sociological framework is what creates common identities irrespective of physical geographies.

Identities and citizenships are not tied to the nation. With a \"lengthening\" albeit extant distance between the state and the individual, the citizenship is an \"incomplete specified contract\" where new forms of \"cultural, economic and political\" citizenships can be incorporated. (Sassen, 2006, 319, 287) This understanding is reflected in solidarity with contemporary transnational concerns such as the global refugee crisis, pollution and the spread of epidemics.

These identities travel and resonate. Localised events perceived to be within a particular territorial space and community finds resonance in a drastically different space and community because of a few common members. For example, members of the hacktivist Anonymous group based in Tunisia were collaborating with other members from the community for the revolution in 2011 even before it was launched. This also explains why activists in war-torn Aleppo in Syria tweet in English – so that their local, regional or national issues become part of the global agenda.

Expanding upon Anderson\’s \"imagined community\", this enables the conception of \"imagined worlds\" (Appadurai, 1993, 7) where the \’global\’ and the \’local\’ forces \"feed and reinforce\" each other (Appadurai, 1993, 17). Unlike the \’international\’, domestic factors are accounted for, and the imagination of space and identity can also be practised by non-state actors. The latter shall fix the Western, non-neutral issues with an \’international\’ theory approach.


The reticence in incorporating the \’global\’ in international relations theory is the perception it neglects the crucial \’nation-state\’ (Hirst and Thompson 1999). Like UK Prime Minister May expressed in her speech, one is assumed to be at the cost of the other. (Cite, cite, cite)

On the contrary, the state which is at the centre of the \’international\’ does not disappear within a \’global\’ context. It is instead absorbed into transnational networks with different nodes of politics and power (Cerny, 2010, 23). A global diaspora community, for example, is an altered \"denationalised\" combination of typically state-centric elements like territory, authority and membership (Sassen, 2006, 2).

This multi-layered perspective is missing from mainstream discourses about the \’international\’. Huntington, in his sensational \"The Clash of Civilisations\" essay (1993), saw the fault lines between civilisations as the \"battle lines of the future\". But he did not account for multiplicities of potentially conflated cultural self-identities or assess the impact of historical factors like colonialism.

The term \"citizen of the world\" is itself derived from history. It was first used in the fourth century BC when Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic called himself a \"kosmou polites\" – the etymological root of the \"cosmopolitan\". But there is distrust among political leaders who see civilisations as culturally homogenous static entities; however civilizations are internally pluralist (Katzenstein, 2010; Appiah, 2006). As philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah puts it, cosmopolitanism is \"universality plus difference” (Appiah, 2006), and respect for both the \"local\" and the \"global\" (Appiah, 2016, lecture).

In an article countering PM May\’s remarks which came in the wake of an advisory referendum that favoured the withdrawal of UK from the European Union, Appiah reiterated essential points about multiple loyalties, identities and existences. \"Narrower identities\" and \"transnational institutions\" can simultaneously co-exist with their respective wider and \"national\" counterparts (Appiah, BBC, 2016). The failure of an international or transnational institution, according to him, is a violation and not a norm of cosmopolitanism. Such relevant complexities is absent from the conventional \’international\’ theoretic perspective, but can be encompassed in a theoretical framework rooted in the multidimensional \’global\’.

To summarise, the \’international\’ and the \’global\’ are different in how the two terms have been conceived, used and interpreted in discourses. The former provides a Western-focused, state-centric outlook which tends to disregard historical sociology, and limits its purview to physical territorial spaces. The \’global\’, on the other hand, is more flexible and welcomes reimagined perspectives on society, actors, space and identity without neglecting the state. That gives the \’global\’ a lot of space to renegotiate new, improved theories to understand the world. To this effect, further empirical investigations on the effect of non-state actors on order and power in a global society is encouraged.