By Gregorio Bettiza
This article sets out to map, broaden and develop – theoretically and empirically – the field of civilizational analysis in international relations (IR). In particular, it teases out a more explicit ‘civilizational politics’ line of research, which builds upon latent and underdeveloped themes in the civilizational turn in IR. ‘Civilizational politics’ offers an important avenue for theoretically- inclined, empirically-minded, scholars to explore how social and political actors have come to understand, change and construct world politics as if plural civilizations existed and their relations mattered. The article outlines the theoretical foundations and conceptual toolkit for doing ‘civilizational politics’ research largely anchored to a modernist constructivist approach to IR. ‘Civilizational politics’ research is structured here around two key steps. The first step is to recover and interpret subjective and intersubjective meanings through participants’ discourse. The article proposes an understanding of civilizations as ‘imagined communities’ that, at this historical juncture, are increasingly being narrated by political and intellectual elites as: essentialized or non-essentialized entities; and as clashing/conflicting or dialoguing/engaging with each other. The second step outlines three causal pathways that explain how narrated civilizational imaginaries affect world politics and turn civilizations into social facts: by guiding and structuring social action; by shaping and becoming embedded in formal institutions and patterned practices; and by bestowing recognition and socially empowering those actors who claim to speak, or are believed to be speaking for, civilizations. The empirical import of this line of research is demonstrated by re-reading, through the explicit lens of ‘civilizational politics’, Turan Kayaoğlu’s article “Constructing the Dialogue of Civilizations in World Politics: a Case of Global Islamic Activism”.