By Gregorio Bettiza

This working paper engages theoretically and empirically with the emerging field of civilizational analysis in international relations (IR). It divides the civilizational turn in IR into four developing lines of research: ‘civilizational dynamics’; ‘inter-civilizational ethics’; ‘deconstructing civilization/s’; and ‘civilizational constructions’. The paper argues that out of these four lines of research, ‘civilizational constructions’ appears to be not only the least developed but also a highly promising one. This line of research moves the ongoing debate beyond the current overwhelming focus on whether civilizations exist and matter, or not, in international relations. A ‘civilizational constructions’ line of research sheds instead much needed light on how emerging forms of civilizational-based thinking are contributing to socially and materially construct civilizations as meaningful entities in world politics by embedding them in new international practices and institutions. The empirical import of a ‘civilizational constructions’ line of research is offered in an analysis of American foreign policy. The case study explores how in the aftermath of 9/11, the “Muslim world” asserted itself not only as a civilizational strategic frame of reference in the consciousness of American policymakers, but also as a civilizational organizing principle of American foreign policy practices and institutions.


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The Social and Material Construction of Civilizations in International Relations (361.85 KB)