Monthly Archives: September 2012

Mann Returns

Social power goes global in 2013!

I forgot to make a note of this yesterday, so I’ll do so now: Kieran Healy of Crooked Timber has flagged the fact that Mann’s conclusion to The Sources of Social Power is going to be published in two parts. Volume 3 will be entitled ‘Global Empires and Revolution, 1890-1945’, which is a bit odd as Volume 2 already covered social change up to the First World War. Volume 4 will be ‘Globalizations, 1945-2011’, which indicates that Mann eventually decided against emphasising global crises in the title.

I wish I had known this about 2 months ago when I wrote a review for Mann’s ‘Power in the 21st Century’, in which Mann discusses (with eminent sociologist John A Hall no less) the evolution of his thought between Volumes 2 and 3. Oh well. My review, to be published by the end of the year, should at least come out ahead of the publication of Volume 3.

In any case, Vols. 3 and 4 may have been a long time coming (19 years) but it seems very likely that they will cement Mann’s position as the most compelling grand theorist in historical sociology alive today. Hopefully international relations theorists will sit up and take notice, not just because of the theoretical sophistication and empirical detail of Mann’s work but also due to the fact that the two new volumes look like they will squarely confront many of the issues on the home turf of IR theory such as war, hegemony and global empire. Unfortunately Mann, Tilly and other historical sociologists have never had the impact their work deserves in IR theory. Indeed much of the engagement on the part of IR scholars has been cursory and shallow. But these are failings within the discipline and their discussion belongs in a different post.

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Thug Politics

Oh dear, over a month since I said that I would be reviving the blog and this is the first post to follow. In my defence, I had a busy August teaching at a Summer School in Oxford.

Anyway, there’s an interesting mini-article by Murad Batal al-Shishani and Dalia Elsheikh over on the BBC website about the rise of the thug as an important political actor in the Middle East.

The term “baltagi” is Turkish in origin. “Baltaci”, which means “axe-man”, was adopted into Arabic during Ottoman rule.

In modern day Egypt, baltagi came to mean “thug”. But after mass anti-government unrest erupted in January and February 2011, it began to be used to describe regime supporters who were used to disperse and attack protesters.

The Assad regime in Syria has of course been utilising the Shabiha militias, made up of criminals, to terrorise supporters of the armed opposition. Similar groups are wielded by the Yemeni regime as well, according to the article.

As a non-specialist, the article suggests to me that the political capacity of the regimes of the MENA region must have significantly declined if they are now dependent on hooligans and gangsters to cling on to power. In his recent book on political order (which I blogged on quite a bit) he makes the case for seeing the emergence of such retinues, which orbit strong-men able to keep doling out the loot, as a feature of political decay. Away from West Asia, bands of thugs have been utilised by various regimes whose hold on power and the conventional levers of government was slipping: from the Shanghai gangsters who massacred of workers and communists at the behest of Chiang Kai Shek at the start of the Chinese Civil War, to the squads of football hooligans who formed into ethnic paramilitary units during the Yugoslav wars after the disintegration of the federal state.

As these two example might indicate, the rise of the thug isn’t a good sign for the MENA region. Arguably, democracy requires an existing political order and the institutionalisation of the principle that political disagreements should not be resolved through force. Democracy seems a distant prospect where the state has privatised and farmed out its monopoly on the use of force.