Narratives of the Global. Contesting and Converging Stories of Global Order


Karoline Postel-Vinay

Chercheurs partenaires :  Mario del Pero (Centre d'Histoire de Sciences Po), Jeremy Adelman  et John Ikenberry (Princeton)

A propos

Overall objectives of the project

- Create a cluster of interdisciplinary research teams of faculty and doctoral students from Princeton and Sciences Po dedicated to the exploring of the nature of global integration through the analysis of rival narratives and counter-narratives about the rise and character of modern global order.

- Enhance interdisciplinary research capacities in both institutions by creating bridges between International Relations, History and Regional/Area Studies (including Comparative Politics) around a convergent theme.

- Produce a collaborative template with specific features, such as doctoral seminar series, team-based learning, on-line publications, and academia/policy dialogues that can be useful for other Princeton-Sciences Po initiatives.

- Reassess the heuristic significance of narratives to understand conflict and cooperation, especially in the international arena, that give insight to and help transcend assumptions about globalization and global order.

Scientific argument

The "idea of the global" tends to be taken for granted, especially, and paradoxically, when preoccupation with Western-centrism and the search for non-Western views of the world are shaping much of the recent thinking in international studies. Yet we know that globalization brings together states, communities and individuals with distinctive and often sharply conflicting ways of viewing the world. Most of the Western writing on global order has been little aware of the ethnocentric character of its supposedly universal theoretical categories and its dominant political preoccupations. The response so far in order to de- centralize our main repertoire of the "global" and "provincialize" the West within it, has been twofold: putting forward emerging, i.e. non-Western, powers perspectives, and reintroducing culture in the international by looking at national or regional, again usually non-Western, views of the world.

This project wants to juxtapose the quest for plural perspectives against our need for integrative stories. It seeks to maintain the drive for pluralism, for historicizing and for reflexivity but also to 'bring the global back in' by opening up a range of 'narratives of the global' and examining the nature of the contestation between and among them. The project brings together History, Regional/Area Studies and International Relations and seeks to strike a balance between the historical and the analytical. Its core goal is to examine how different parts of the world have understood the global, the impact of western globalization/globality, and the narratives that are told about how different regions, states and societies 'fit into' the global. Rather than bringing differently situated scholars into a conversation about the merits or demerits of an existing western conversation about global order, we aim to open up a far broader conversation in which authors uncover the production of differently situated accounts, narratives and stories about the global and its associated and related ideas and concepts. This will also involve asking how current frameworks for understanding global order have been shaped by, and constrained within, fundamentals of a social science that were created in the age of the European nation-state and then globalized through the process of imperialism. To what extent does global order require new models for organizing social science research and knowledge-production?

Clusters topics

1. Revisiting the "Global Cold War" narratives

Most Cold War historians have been slow and reluctant in adopting a global perspective. Heavy archival asymmetries - i.e.: the greater availability of US and European primary sources - led many to focus on the European core of the bipolar antagonism. A certain methodological conservatism induced many historians to privilege a state-centric and great power approach that during the Cold War found its primary geopolitical expression in the highly institutionalized European bipolar equilibrium. Asia was either ancillary or complementary to this orthodox, Eurocentric view of the Cold War. But a global turn eventually affected Cold War studies as well. It did so with a vengeance. Emphasis on the Cold War interpreted as a struggle between alternative models of industrial modernity led to investigate how the two superpowers competed to project globally (and apply locally) their visions of the future; agency of lesser actors was discovered and duly emphasized; new, exciting archival discoveries in the most remote corners of the world transformed the field and, in a way, the profession of the Cold War historian itself; the more general historiographical emphasis on the global and the transnational affected also the study of the post-1945 rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Cold War could not be narrated but in global terms. It had to be "de-parochialized" and "de-centered", according to the jargon often used to describe the process under way. This shift has produced remarkable achievements. But the narrative of the global Cold War poses extraordinary problems in terms of methodology and, one could add, perhaps even professional ethics. Decentering the Cold War has often diluted its historical meaning and blurred its ultimate significance; the persistence of huge archival imbalances is now compounded by the limited possibility to critically cross-check and verify many primary sources; the important attention to the role and agency of other actors outside the traditional bipolar duo has sometimes produced an underestimation of Moscow and Washington's centrality (and of the banal fact the Cold War was primarily about the United States and the Soviet Union). This historiographical evolution and its discursive underpinnings are at the center of the scholarly discussion today. Reflecting on the narratives of the global means therefore engaging with this transformation of the field of Cold War studies: with its heuristic potentials, the important results it achieved, but also its limits and contradictions. Mario del Pero will be the principal PI of this cluster.

2. World Market Integration: IPE and Global History

From the late nineteenth-century onwards, historians and social scientists have fretted about how to make sense of the world market at a time in which most of the social sciences were cued to thinking in terms of nation states. Global integration has, therefore, ben the subject of profound debate from the very beginning, raising issues of development and underdevelopment, inequality, and interdependence. From Hobson's critique of imperialism and capitalism in the 1900s to the refined analytics of International Political Economy, there has been a seam of vibrant discussion around what we call, often without knowing quite what we mean, globalization. And yet, there has been a stubborn divide between how global historians record these processes and how IPE scholars make sense of the world. This team will investigate both the histories of these two fields and the prospects for building bridges across them. Among our guiding questions will be: how do rival narratives reconcile integration of the world economy with widening inequality within it? What have been the principal and competing stories of breakdown in 1929, 1973, and the wobbly (and still precarious) events surrounding 2008? How might we think about the workings of the marketplace and governance over time? The PI for this sub-theme is Jeremy Adelman.

3. American-led global order: untangling the logics of empire and liberal internationalism

Historians and international relations theorists have long debated the character of the American-led post-1945 global order. One prominent narrative, developed extensively by historians, is that the United States, unrivaled in power after World War II, seized the opportunity to reorganize the world, and in doing so, built an empire. To be sure, it was a new type of empire - built not around colonies but client states, transnational capitalism, and a global system of alliances. In this view, the United State continued the Western imperial project as European empires faltered in the 20th century, and in the second half of the 20th century created the last and most extensive empire. But a second narrative sees American global order-building in the 20th century very differently. The notion of empire misses the more distinctive and novel forms of order that it has manifest. Unlike traditional empire, the American order has been both built upon and circumscribed by two great order-building projects of the last century - the Westphalian project and the liberal internationalist project. The spread of the Westphalian nation-state and the rise of new forms of institutionalized cooperation have fundamentally reshaped the terms of American global domination - doing so to such an extent that the term "empire" itself misses the larger logic, character, and trajectory of modern international order. In this view, the United States might be best seen not as the "last empire" but as the first post-imperial global power. In the first narrative, the United States is the heir to European imperialism and empire. It is a narrative in which "the West" rose up to dominate the world. In the second narrative, a claim is made that far more basic for understanding the changing role of empire and imperialism in world politics is the ways in which Europe and the United States differ. Exploring this theme will reveal the underlying assumptions of these rival narratives, chart their points of origin and genealogies, and their influence on policymaking - both in the United States and beyond. How did America's distinctive ideas, interests, geopolitical setting, and historical timing as a rising state impact the shaping and reshaping of international order in the 20th century? In what ways have the great global projects of Westphalian sovereignty and liberal internationalism served to reinforce and/or undermine imperial forms of domination? John Ikenberry will be the main PI for this team.

4. Whose International Community? Negotiating Worldviews and Identities at the United Nations

Whether it is challenged by the extremist voices of radical Islam or the less belligerent ones, but probably stronger ones in the long term, of the so-called emerging (non-Western) powers, the notion of "international community", as epitomized by the United Nations in the last decades, seems increasingly unsustainable. What has been encapsulated by expressions such as "the West and the Rest" or the "post-Western world" raises far more complex questions than some of the now well-identified legitimacy issues that international institutions have had to tackle with since the end of the Cold War. The diversification of agency since the 1980s and more specifically the empowerment of non-state actors has challenged the predominant position of states in international cooperation and regulation and required a structural change, the invention of a new governance, that institutions such as the UN and the World Bank were eventually able to adjust to. The challenge to "the West" - a loosely defined Western-centric order - is of an entirely different nature and calls for novel analytical tools. Questioning the relevance of the post-1945 international architecture, and indeed the legitimacy of Western predominance that lies within, implies to revisit a fundamental meta-narrative for cooperation and regulation with deeply rooted normative assumptions. It also implies to look not only at what that meta-narrative is made of, but what it is not made of, the worldviews and collective identities that have been implicitly excluded from it. The United Nations Organization, with its specific claim to universality, offers a vantage point from which to analyze how the "international community" and the idea of the "global" that sustains it, are being redefined; how various narratives of the global are being contested and negotiated, uncovering, beyond the long shadow of World War Two post-conflict thinking, even more deeply located normative legacies such as the ubiquitous "standard of civilization" of the European made 19th century globalization. 


This collaborative research project involves faculty members and doctoral students from the CERI, the Centre d'histoire at Sciences Po and the Global History Lab, PIIRS at Princeton University.

It benefits from the Sciences Po-Princeton Partnership Grant (2016-2018).