How important is the issue of ‘identity’ in understanding global politics?

Globalisation, widely agreed as the increasing interconnectedness and interdependency of nation states in a global world, is inevitable. Issues occurring across the globe now seem close thanks to developments in communication technology and air travel. Political social movements spread rapidly and gain momentum. Though these developments may be construed positively or negatively, it is clear that a duality exists between the global and the local spheres with this tension centring on actor identity within global society. For example, many across the globe are learning English in order to fit into global society more easily. This has led to broad dominance of the English language, a phenomenon termed ‘English Mania’ (Walker, 2009). Is these developments signs of homogenisation and loss of local tradition and culture; or an unavoidable shift to a more diverse, integrated and united world?
My following posts will study the complex issue of identity in relation to global politics through considering constructivist and post-positivist positions; continue by examining particular examples of identity in relation to global politics focusing on the issue of sexuality on the global stage. The emerging position of ‘glocalisation’ will be discussed, in order to reconcile the issues of global and local identities.
Constructivism is a popular theory emphasises actor identity in global politics. Its emergence challenged more traditional theories, which had failed to foresee and explain the end of the Cold War (Bolt, 2011). This unwillingness to explain globalisation by the traditional theories remains today and is a reason for them losing ground to the critical. Peterson (1992) explains this clash as a failure of the centre and the margin to communicate leading to resistance between the two camps. The ’third debate’ in international relations relates to the nature of discussing and theorising the nature of social knowledge and marks an end to the assumed epistemological consensus. Central is the need to challenge the foundational principles of generally presupposed Western meta-theoretical perspectives (Peterson, 1992, p.p184-186). A feature of these discourses to overcome is the logic of binaries, of ‘paired opposites’ as this flaw assumes a hierarchy within the separation. One of the most obvious examples of this separation is the constructed gender norms of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ along with their commonly associated characteristics. Constructivism is concerned with how certain ideas dominate the international structure and are replicated by both nation states and non-state actors. According to Wendt (1999, p.p 1), the main tenets of constructivism are firstly, that human societal structures “are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces” and secondly, that “the identities and interests of purposive actors are constructed by these shared ideas rather than given by nature”.
​ The possible lack of direct interaction between states leads to people understanding identity in a particular way. For example, Burma and its constructed identity isolationist and a military junta with scant regard for human right impacts upon its relation with states such as the USA which then sanctions imports (Bolt 2011, para. 3).It is thus clear that consideration of identity, even that of a state as a unit is the starting point in studying global politics. These identities are not set – it is possible to overcome and reconstruct identity: Burma could achieve this through cooperation with international standards, but doesn’t.
Post structuralism is the other primary identity centric theory. Campbell (2010) underlines the importance of power and knowledge, interpretation and representation. This interpretative approach is often marginalised within discussion yet offers many contributions. Bolt (2011) discusses Neumann’s exploration of the importance of the construction of the ‘other’ with regards to identity formation. The example of the Turkish and European history is given, with the view that several ‘others’ have impacted European identity construction – ‘The Turk’ in particular due to the dominance of both identities and the inevitable clash persisting today, seen in the rejection of Turkey’s application to join the EU, based largely due to the huge Muslim population being perceived as at odds with the identity of Central Europe. The example of the Czech Republic seeking NATO membership is an example of seeking identity affirmation, showing the inherent conflict in being trapped between being a former Communist identity yet wanting integration with the West. Campbell (1998) further explains that the Cold War was inevitable due to the stark differences between the two dominating identities of the Soviet Union and the USA. Similarly, the discourse surrounding the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts presents the USA as a bastion of political freedom with the USA attempting to bolster this portrayal (Bolt, 2011).

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Bibliography

Bolt, M. (2011). How important is an actor’s identity in understanding global politics today?. Available: http://www.e-ir.info/2011/09/11/how-important-is-an-actor%E2%80%99s-identity-in-understanding-global-politics-today/. [Accessed 27/09/2013]

Campbell, D (1998). Writing Security: United States foreign policy and the politics of identity. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Campbell, D (2010). Poststructuralism. In: Dunne, T; Kurki, M, and Smith, S, International relations theories: Discipline and diversity. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p213-237

Peterson, V. S. (1992). Transgressing Boundaries: Theories of Knowledge, Gender and International Relations. Journal of International Studies. 21 (2), 183-206.

Walker, J (2009) The world’s English mania. TED2009 [online] available:http://www.ted.com/talks/jay_walker_on_the_world_s_english_mania.html [accessed: 28/09/2013]

Wendt A., (1999). Social theory of international politics . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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