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Signposting Four Pitfalls - A Reflection on Historical Sociology and IR

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In 2004 I published an argument to the effect that “taking Tilly seriously” could help International Relations (IR) scholars understand some of the processes and mechanisms involved in state-building (Leander, 2004: the chapter is pasted in at the end of this statement). This short statement is a reflection on why, if I were to write that piece today, it would be written differently. I would still argue that we should all engage the Historical Sociology of State-Building (HSS) in a serious way (go beyond the folklore as I termed it in 2004) but my inclination today would be to be far more explicit about to the pitfalls of not going beyond the folklore as well as about the importance of studies of practices (in anthropology, ethnography, geography, regional/area studies or even IR, sic!) in signposting these pitfalls. This change in tone has less to do with any particular idea or argument in historical sociology, and even less with the work of any particular historical sociologist (seen the focus of this workshop Tilly will figure as the recurring reference point) than it does with the way the HSS is read, feeds into and shapes IR discussions (section 1). The way HSS has been integrated into IR has led scholars deeper into the pitfalls which hamper their understanding of contemporary state-building. More specifically it has perpetuated a misconstrued understanding of the inside/outside, it has obscured the nature and role of the private/public, and that it has devalued contextually specific articulations of politics and governance (sections 2-4). This “misunderstanding” is not only a scholastic matter as it translates into policies that are ineffective, inadequate not to say positively harmful (section 5). As the statement concludes, the implication is that IR scholars who decide to walk the terrain chartered by HSS would do well to observe the warning signposts set up by observers of political practices around these pitfalls.

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Anna Leander

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