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Differentiation: a sociological approach to international relations theory

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This article sets out an analytical framework of differentiation derived from sociology and anthropology and argues that it can and should be applied to international relations (IR) theory. Differentiation is about how to distinguish and analyse the components that make up any social whole: are all the components essentially the same, or are they distinguishable by status or function? We argue that this approach provides a framing for IR theory that is more general and integrative than narrower theories derived from economics or political science. We show why this set of ideas has so far not been given much consideration within IR, and how and why the one encounter between IR and sociology that might have changed this - Waltz's transposition of anarchy and functional differentiation from Durkheim - failed to do so. We set out in some detail how differentiation theory bears on the subject matter of IR arguing that this set of ideas offers new ways of looking not only at the understanding of structure in IR, but also at structural change and world history. We argue that differentiation holds out to IR a major possibility for theoretical development. What is handed on from anthropology and sociology is mainly designed for smaller and simpler subject matters than that of IR. In adapting differentiation theory to its more complex, layered subject matter, IR can develop it into something new and more powerful for social theory as a whole.

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