Political science and order in politicsBy Ahsan Butt May 29, 2012 4:56AM UTC
Via Monkey Cage, check out Paul Staniland’s latest paper (PDF) on wartime political orders (full disclosure: Paul is a friend and on my dissertation committee). The basic point of the paper is that during civil conflicts, “bargains, deals, and tacit understandings between states and insurgents are common.” That is, states and insurgents are not actually always contesting one another, even during times of “war”. The places and times where they do not contest one another are as if not more analytically interesting than the places and times they do.
I think this paper gets at a certain bias within political science and certainly IR. Within the field, we tend to think A LOT about how disorder arises. We tend to think A LOT about how wars and violence are carried out and why leaders, states, and groups do the conflictual things they do.
But this emphasis masks the fact that most political life is pretty orderly. When I say orderly, I mean it is routinized, predictable, essentially non-violent, and prone to stickiness. The fact that violence is so shocking is indicative of the fact that it is so unexpected. “If it bleeds it leads” would not work in a world in which disorder was more common than order.
I think this is interesting because while most debates within IR and security studies are carried out on the question of the causes and consequences of disorder and violence, we could have equally if not more fruitful debates on the causes and consequences of order and regularity. I could imagine the same old realist/liberal/constructivist debates in that sense, with realists privileging force and coercion, liberals arguing for institutions, and constructivists for norms and the constitution of identity. Of course, some scholars do work on cooperation, broadly construed, but I think it’s safe to say they are in a minority.
It’s interesting that in the last few years, our department has advertised faculty positions in “Order, Disorder, and Violence.” I think it’s revealing that almost all the job candidates that have come to present their research do so on the question of disorder and violence (drug cartels in Colombia, the use of rape as a weapon in Africa, insurgent groups etc) rather than the “order” bit. I can think of very few people who stand up before a crowd and say “I’m going to tell you why violence doesn’t occur”. This brings to mind the famous piece by Fearon and Laitin on how and why cooperation occurs across ethnic groups.
Personally, I’m fascinated by the question of order, where it comes from, and how competitive actors come to agreements to live and let live. Shouldn’t we study why football games broke out in between trenches during World War I as much as World War I itself? (Okay, maybe not “as much” but you know what I mean). Isn’t it compelling how gangs in urban environments can agree on territorial demarcation just as successfully as modern nation-states? (Following Kalyvas, it’s instructive that the most violent season in The Wire was season 3, when the Avon/Stringer crew was challenged for territory by the Marlo crew). On an even more micro-scale, isn’t it interesting that if you’re walking in a crowded city in a country where people drive on the right, then people will walk to the right to avoid collisions, and the opposite in countries where people drive on the left? That’s an element of order, isn’t it? A regularized, predictable pattern of interaction between agents?
All this is to say, I can’t wait to teach a grad seminar or upper-level undergrad seminar on order in politics. I’d love to bring in the IR literature on hegemonic stability theory and hierarchy, the literature on cooperation and order during civil wars, and the literature on gangs and urban neighborhoods. I’m not sure how many people study those things in consort with each other but I think (hope?) it would be useful.