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Historical Sociology, Large-Scale Historical Change and Global Order

The intellectual origins of HS can be traced back to the Enlightenment belief that it was possible to improve the human condition by unmaking and remaking human institutions. During the 18th century, attempts were made to compare societies to find out why some were more successful than others (Gellner, 1988). When social changes began taking place within societies as the result of industrialization, there was a desire to understand how Europe had managed to surge ahead of other world regions. Nobert Elias (1994), for example, traced the “civilizing” manners in western Europe and showed how they were related to the formation of states and the monopolization of power within them. Karl Marx and Max Weber employed a comparative historical analysis in an attempt to understand large-scale historical change and uncover hidden social structures that frustrate or advance human aspirations.

The post–World War II rise of American sociology and the predominance of structural-functionalism led to the overshadowing of HS until at least the 1960s (Calhoun, 2007; Steinmetz, 2010). The 1970s saw a resurgence of HS in U.S. academia as a new generation of scholars challenged the assumptions of linear historical development assumed in the dominant paradigm; the largely uncritical theorizations of structures of power organized around class, gender, and race; and the almost complete neglect of the concept of the state (Anderson, 1974; Bendix, 1977; Moore, 1966; Nettl, 1968; Paige, 1975; Skocpol, 1979; Tilly, 1975, 1978, 1981; Wallerstein, 1974b; Wolf, 1969). This “second wave” of HS was premised on a rejection of the Parsonian (Parsons, 1966, 1977) interpretation of modernity as a quasi-Durkheimian evolutionary process of differentiation whose original roots stem from an endogenous Western (European) process of modernization. By contrast, the second wave of HS vigorously returned to questions about the relationships between social organization, social structure, and power that animated the inquiries of classical social theorists such as Marx and Weber. Historical sociologists spurned linear, value-driven, and teleological understandings of modernization to explain the rise of capitalism and the modern state and other events as the result of transformative historical events such as wars, revolutions, and structures of social inequality (Polanyi, 1957). The general emphasis on what Charles Tilly (1984) called “big structures, long processes, huge comparisons” describe HS’s central core. This interest in large structures and historical social change intersected with theoretical concerns in IR, opening the way for dialogue between the two fields.

Historical Sociology’s Critique of Mainstream International Relations

As mentioned, mainstream IR views historical analysis as superfluous or exogenous to the subject matter of the discipline. To the extent that mainstream IR theorists have concerned themselves with history, they have generally employed an “instrumentalist” approach where history is used not as a means to rethink the present but as a tool to be used only to confirm theories of the present (Rosecrance, 1973, p. 25; Cox, 1986, p. 212; Barnett, 2002, p. 100). In response, John Hobson (2002, p. 5) has called for the employment of a “constitutive” reading of history in which “theorists examine history not simply for its own sake or to tell us more about the past, nor simply as a means to confirm theorising of the present, but rather as a means to rethink theories and problematise the analysis of the present, and thereby to reconfigure the international relations research agenda.”

From the perspective of HS, mainstream IR appears to be caught within two modes of ahistoricism: “chronofetishism” and “tempocentrism” (Hobson, 2002, p. 6). Chronofetishism represents the assumption that the present can be adequately explained only by examining the present (Hobson, 2002, p. 6). According to Hobson (2002, p. 7), this approach gives rise to three illusions. First, there is the “reification illusion,” where the present is effectively “sealed off” from the past, making it appear as a static and autonomous entity, thereby obscuring its historical sociotemporal context. HS addresses the reification illusion by revealing the present as a construct that is embedded within a specific sociotemporal context. Second, there is a “naturalization illusion,” where the present emerges “spontaneously,” thereby obscuring the historical processes of social power, identity/social exclusion, and norms that constitute the present. Finally, there is the “immutability illusion,” where the present is eternalized because it is deemed to be resistant to structural change, thereby obscuring the processes that reconstitute the present as an immanent order of change.

“Tempocentrism,” on the other hand, extrapolates the “present” backwards through time such that discontinuous ruptures and differences between historical periods and state systems are smoothed over and, consequently, obscured. In this way, history appears to be regulated by the same factors as the present system. For example, neorealism assumes either that history is repetitive such that nothing ever changes because of the timeless presence of anarchy (Waltz, 1979) or that history takes on the form of repetitive great power/hegemonic cycles, each phase of which is essentially identical, with the only difference being which great power is rising or declining (Gilpin, 1981). In this way, Neorealists assume that the superpower contest between Athens and Sparta is equivalent to the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus, they conclude that Thucydides’ history is as meaningful a guide to the behavior of states today as when it was during the classical Greek world (Gilpin, 1981, p. 7), or that balance of power politics almost in its current form has been practiced over the millennia (Waltz, 1986, p. 341). Consequently, neorealists assert that world politics must always have been governed by the timeless and constant logic of anarchy. In this way, the utility of historical sociological inquiry is dismissed (Waltz, 1979, pp. 43–49).

Tempocentrism is also fundamental to the hegemonic stability theory where neorealists examine features of U.S. foreign policy, which are equated with hegemony, and then they extrapolate this conception back in time to “fit” other historical cases. In this way, tempocentrism not only does a disservice to understanding the concept of hegemony in its historical context (i.e., Britain in the 19th century), but also renders problematic our understanding of U.S. hegemony in the 20th century, as well as the question of a future hegemony.

Tempocentrism is also found in the theory of international regimes (Krasner, 1983; Keohane, 1984) where neoliberals assume that states have fixed identities and interests; that they are rational egoists that seek to maximize their long-term utility gains; and that this can best be achieved when states harness themselves to collaborative norms that are embodied within state-constructed international regimes. But neoliberalism fails to recognize that international multilateral economic cooperation is unique to the late modern era, which suggests that it cannot be explained as a simple function of rational state behavior. Accordingly, neoliberalism not only does a disservice to understanding state behavior prior to 1945, but also renders problematic our understanding of contemporary transnational relations between state actors.

For historical sociology, the problem is not to analyze U.S. hegemony or various multilateral institutions but to rethink their specific origins (Ruggie, 1998). Likewise, to show that the free trade regimes of the 19th and 20th centuries were radically different from each other, one needs to rethink the specific and unique social processes that enabled the modern free trade regime to develop (Hobson, 2002, pp. 78–80).

HS reveals five basic tempocentric biases widely held in mainstream international relations, in general, and neorealism in particular. First, Waltz’s fundamental claim is that international politics is repetitive and that the “international” has always been a realm of competition between political units (Waltz, 1979, p. 66). He observes that the domestic aspects or identities of states cannot affect the international realm because all states and all political units (empires, city-states, and nation-states) behave similarly in the international system. He argues that states are the pure product of anarchy, which socializes states into “like units.” However, historical sociologists have convincingly shown that the presence of “unlike” or functionally differentiated units under anarchy has not only occurred in world history but has also taken precedence over the existence of “like units” for most of history (Mann, 1986; Tilly, 1992). This implies the need to find out what accounts for the uniqueness of modern “like units” and why anarchy cannot adequately explain their presence.

Second, the Waltzian claim that international relations can be understood by omitting the impact of the domestic realm is highly problematic. For example, historical sociologists have shown that the domestic and international realms are thoroughly interpenetrated and mutually constituted (Giddens, 1985; Mann, 1986; Runciman, 1989). But if neither the international nor the national entity is “self-constituting,” then the neorealist assumption that IR should be divorced from HS cannot legitimately hold.

Third, historical sociologists have demonstrated that under European heteronomy the feudal units were spatially arranged according to overlapping jurisdictions and overlapping loyalties. By contrast, the spatial relations between modern sovereign states have been strikingly different and entail a radical jurisdictional and spatial separation between independent units. This makes it clear that Waltz committed a “tempocentric” error, since he mistakenly took the Westphalian moment as typical of interstate spatial relations and then extrapolated it back in time to encompass all previous state systems. Waltz’s theory leads to a problematic understanding of premodern international relations in which nonsovereign conceptions of territoriality predominated (Poggi, 1978); where loose boundaries rather than borders “separated” societies (Giddens, 1985); and where fluid conceptions of political space often prevailed (Lattimore, 1962).

Fourth, according to Waltz (1979, pp. 114–116), anarchy and hierarchy are mutually exclusive. However, it has been shown, first, that these categories are ideal types and have never existed in pure form; and second, that they are not mutually exclusive. Particular hierarchies have coexisted at different times with other hierarchies, as well as with decentralized anarchic multistate systems (Wendt & Friedheim, 1996). Analyzing the different historical forms that international relations has taken in the past enables us to critically rethink the particular forms adopted by the modern international system.

Finally, if there have been many international systems throughout history, one should then consider how their boundaries have contracted and expanded over time. It is also important to differentiate the boundaries of international systems (which are territorial) from those of international societies (which are normative). Thus, in breaking with tempocentrism, HS offers us new ways of thinking and theorizing about “intersystemic” and “intersocietal” relations (Mann, 1986).

In sum, by presenting the whole of international history as a static entity that operates according to a constant and timeless logic, tempocentricism ignores the fact that there has not been one international system but many, all of which are quite different. In addition, by constructing state systems as isomorphic throughout history, tempocentricism fails to recognize the uniqueness of the present system and simultaneously obscures some of its most fundamental or constitutive features. Thus, mainstream IR takes for granted precisely those categories of the contemporary era that need to be problematized and explained. Reintroducing historical sociological inquiry, therefore, enables us to bring into focus the landscape of continuity, discontinuity, and contingency that actually constitutes past and present international relations.

Historical Sociology and International Relations: Encounters

The renewed interests of second-wave historical sociologists in questions of political power and the state paved the way for greater engagement between IR and sociology. This was especially true in the case of what might be termed the “second-generation” second-wave scholars such as Charles Tilly, Michael Mann, and Theda Skocpol. This group criticized prevailing society-centered approaches to social historical change and insisted on “bring[ing] the state back in” (Mann, 1984; Skocpol, 1985). The elevation of the theoretical status of the state as an organizational actor meriting a distinct analytical focus in processes of historical change created the bridge, highlighted by Hobson (1998), allowing a more direct and earnest conversation between this “neo-Weberian” brand of HS and international relations. The intimation toward the critical importance of the international realm in domestic social change was made most explicitly in Skocpol’s (1979) work on social revolutions. Skocpol’s state-centered argument was counterintuitive to (largely Marxist) society-centered interpretations of revolutions in that she saw as the key outcome of social revolutions not the supersession, but the strengthening, of the modern bureaucratic state. In conceptualizing the state beyond an autonomous domestic actor, Skocpol highlighted the state’s embeddedness in an international system of states. Skocpol identified international crises and the weakening of the state through defeat in war as one of the key causal conditions of social revolutions, thereby drawing a direct causal chain between events in the international (interstate) realm and radical (domestic) societal change.

Similarly, Tilly (1992) ventured to explain patterns of European state-making in which war-making stood as the central driver of efforts by European rulers to accumulate and concentrate the means of coercion, leading to the rise of the modern state. This approach also rejected linear historical understandings of the rise of the modern nation-state and helped recover bellicose explanations of state-making that had once been championed by historical theorists like Otto Hintze (Page, 1990).

The neo-Weberian theory of state-making offered another opening for dialogue with neorealist IR theory. Tilly’s explanation of state-making through war-making was consistent with neorealist understandings of the interstate realm as one of anarchy. This led some to conclude that state-centric HS has in effect assimilated a neorealist perspective on the state (Yalvaç, 1991). Hobson (1998), however, challenged this critique by showing how, rather than merely providing an historical supplement to neorealism, neo-Weberian HS offered a means of overcoming neorealism’s ahistorical concept of anarchy and its conception of the state as a unitary actor detached from the domestic sociopolitical realm. It does so by offering theoretical means and a method to explore the relationship between the international realm and “state–society complexes.”

HS work in the Marxist tradition, such as Anderson’s (1974) study of the rise of absolutist states in early modern Europe, acknowledged the role of warfare and international relations alongside the disintegration of feudal class relations in the making of the absolutist state.

However, the neo-Weberian work of the 1970s and 1980s probably produced the greatest and most productive exchange between historical sociology and international relations. During this time, a number of IR theorists started to look to HS as a means of enriching their discipline (Ruggie, 1983; Cox, 1986; Ashley, 1986). Literature review shows that this development gathered momentum through the 1980s and 1990s (Halliday, 1987; Jarvis, 1989; Scholte, 1993; Thompson, 1994; Spruyt, 1994, 1998; Rosenberg, 1994; Ferguson & Mansbach, 1996; Frank & Gills, 1996; Hobson, 1997, 1998; Hobden, 1998, 1999; Hall, 1999).

Martin Shaw (1984, 1991, 1994) claims that the year 1945 represents the major historical turning point in global development, for it marked the transition from a state system based on “imperial nation-states” to a system based on a single Western state “conglomerate,” where the component states have pooled their “monopolies of violence.” Shaw argues that international relations among Western states has now given way to internal relations within the conglomerate, thereby fundamentally breaking with chronofetishism (by revealing the present system as open to change) and with tempocentrism (by delineating fundamental breaks or discontinuities between traditional and modern international relations).

The study of revolution and warfare provides another useful means for rethinking international relations. For example, Fred Halliday (1994, 1999) examines the international forces that led to domestic revolution, which then led back to interstate conflict. For Shaw (2002), the democratic revolution is radically different from previous notions of revolution insofar as it represents the end of the linkage between centralized revolutionary parties and the seizure of political power; creates a link with universal standards of democracy and human rights; and establishes a link with the state-building activities of oppressed minorities.

Shaw (1988) argues that modern warfare is fundamentally based on the internal conflicts that emanate within the old patrimonial states. These conflicts appear as ethnic, but are actually political conflicts between patrimonial elites that are seeking to suppress democratic or counterrevolutionary movements, often through genocide within their own countries. As these local conflicts spread across the old patrimonial world, so they draw in the Western state, in turn promoting the coherence of the conglomerate. In this way, Shaw adapts Halliday’s argument and shows how global democratic revolutionary norms impact on the populations of the patrimonial states, which then engage in the struggle for reform domestically. As the patrimonial elites fight back with genocide, so the Western state becomes involved in warfare. Thus, the dialectic of international war and domestic social revolution continues but in a historically new form; this not only changes the mode of warfare but also fundamentally enhances the emerging supranational political structures that emerged after 1945.

But the relationship between HS and IR also seems to have been a fleeting one. Hobson’s (1998, 2006) advocacy of the adoption of HS by IR scholars as an alternative to IR orthodoxy centers mainly on the select neo-Weberian work of Skocpol and Tilly; Giddens’s (1984) theory of structuration; and Mann’s (1986, 1993) conception of the interrelationships between multiple sources of social power and their varied configurations in history.

In the meantime, under the growing influence of poststructuralism and postcolonialism, U.S.-based HS was undergoing its own “cultural turn” and increasingly diverging from the problems that animated second-wave HS (Bonnell & Hunt, 1999). This new generation of historical sociologists critiqued both Marxists and neo-Weberians for their “materialistic” bias favoring political economy and privileging structural forces such as states and classes, while turning to more reflexive understandings of modernity via critical analyses of gender, race, colonialism, and discourse. The questioning of received theoretical paradigms in HS led a number of scholars to proclaim the emergence of a “third wave” of historical sociology (Adams, Clemens, & Orloff, 2005).

Third-wave HS is, in general terms, characterized by theoretical and methodological revisions, but only minor and incremental changes to the research agenda of second-wave historical sociology. Theoretically, there is increasing reflexivity over questions of power, identity and culture. Methodologically, there is greater openness to analysis of cultural identity and conditionality and conjuncture in causal mechanisms, against the second wave’s favoring of “hard” structures and understanding of causality as a set of recurring historical social laws in the form of constant conjunctions of events (Abbott, 1992; Mahoney, Kimball, & Koivu, 2009; Paige, 1999; Steinmetz, 1998). At the same time, the continued embrace of the macro-sociological comparative method has led third-wave HS to almost by default retain an empirical focus on and theoretical concern with distinct (Western) national societies and institutions (or colonial extensions of core Western national societies and institutions) (Adams, 2005; Biernacki, 1995; Clemens, 1997; Dobbin, 1994; Go, 2011; Gorski, 2003; Gould, 1995; Ikegami, 1995; Krippner, 2011; Mahoney, 2010; Orloff, 1993; Prasad, 2006, 2012; Roy, 1997; Steinmetz, 2007). Given the theoretical privileging of endogenous (domestic) social processes lying at the root of social change, the methodological preference for comparative analysis, and the treatment of transnational forces (such as colonialism and empire) as largely national in origin, some suggest that third-wave HS has failed to mount a sustained critique against IR orthodoxy (Bhambra, 2010).

The theoretical and empirical shift away from concerns with war, international organization, and geopolitics also cut the path forged by second-wave historical sociologists, which had enabled the fruitful exchange between HS and IR (cf. Wimmer, 2012). Moreover, third-wave HS for the most part has not demonstrated a propensity to engage with transnational and subnational processes such as urbanization, regionalization, migration, trade, production, and financial flows, which became objects of theoretical innovation in other areas of sociology (Basch, Schiller, & Blanc, 1993; Brenner, 2004; Castells, 1996; Sassen, 1998).

A different trajectory was followed by world-systems theory, the origins of which lie in an explicit effort to overcome not only Parsonian sociology’s theoretical “atemporality,” but the assumption that (national) societies can be studied as distinct units. This led to a radical reframing of social analysis around the concept of a unitary capitalist world-system, which, in Immanuel Wallerstein’s (1974b) view, was the only proper unit of analysis of modern social processes. While subject to a number of critiques from neo-Weberian, Marxist, and liberal scholars (Brenner, 1977; Skocpol, 1977), world-systems theory developed into a distinct HS paradigm organized around a different set of research problems than those preoccupying neo-Weberian and third-wave historical sociology.

Wallerstein’s work quickly began to make a mark (Wallerstein, 1974a, 1974b, 1979, 1983). Wallerstein suggested that world history can be conceptualized most effectively in terms of coexisting world systems that take the form of either “world empires” or “world economies.” In a “world empire,” both the economy and the polity are centralized, so that the political center of the empire can extract economic resources from the periphery and then use these resources to maintain the stability of the centralized structures that define the empire. A “world economy,” by contrast, has a polity that is fragmented into independent political units. These units are located within an integrated economy, defined by a single division of labor, so that trade represents an essential feature of the relations between fragmented political units. For Wallerstein, the origins of the capitalist world economy lie in Europe, whose global expansion since the 16th century integrated non-European societies into the modern world-system.

In the original world-systems framework, a division of labor based on a (worldwide) capitalist mode of production is largely congruent with the political and military power of the political units which are part of the system. These political units are divided into a hierarchy of core, politically powerful and economically wealthy states, which hold in relations of political and economic captivity peripheral societies organized around weak states. In between these societies are semiperipheral societies, which are subservient to the core but aspire to core status while also benefiting from the dependency of the periphery. Inspired by an Annales School view of historical change as taking place over the longue durée, Wallerstein not only accounts for the historical origins of the modern world-system, but also explains changes in power relations that underlie each period of expansion and contraction in the world-system. The modern world-system undergoes cyclical systemic shifts on the basis of long-wave Kondratiev cycles of world economic expansion and contraction. Underpinning each wave of expansion is a hegemon concentrating military, ideological, and economic power in the world-system. A hegemon’s reign is typically accompanied by a period of relative peace, while a downward cycle is associated with the hegemon’s decline and instability in the world-system. Until the 17th century, the world-system expanded under Dutch hegemony. In the course of the 19th century, Great Britain emerged as the modern world-system’s hegemon. Over the course of the 20th century, Britain was replaced by the United States, which is a hegemon now experiencing the long downward cycle of decline (Wallerstein, 1974a).

Wallerstein’s model offered a radical alternative both to the more geohistorically confined problems of neo-Weberian HS and the ahistoricism of IR orthodoxy and led to a far-reaching and globally oriented research agenda (e.g. Arrighi & Silver, 1999; Chase-Dunn, 1985, 1998; Frank & Gills, 1996; Hopkins & Wallerstein, 1982; Kasaba, 1987, 1991; Kentor, 1998; Smith, 1996).

But Wallerstein’s basic framework has been criticized for containing a number of problems, only a select few of which will be highlighted here. First, the framework never offered a theoretical reconciliation of the relations between domestic and international realms; it posited a structural determinism that kept societies locked in place as a result of world-systemic forces whose nature was inclusively political, ideological, and economic (Evans, 1979).

Second, an especially weak link in the theory was Wallerstein’s reliance on Kondratiev cycles whose validity is questioned by economic historians. Others working in the school, such as Arrighi (1994), saw the succession of hegemons as one stemming from recurring patterns of economic and military bifurcation in the world-system, rather than resulting from an inherent military and economic decline of the hegemon. In this view, the world-system, rather than undergoing a process of disintegration, is moving toward a restoration of its original Asian core, as attested by the (re)emergence of economic powers like Japan and China (Arrighi, 1994, 2007; Frank, 1998).

A third criticism involved Wallerstein’s use of the world-systemic framework to posit universal causal laws that collapsed local and global processes and that allowed world-systems theory “to see all sorts of local events in various times and placed as determined not by the accidents of local conditions but by the dynamics of the world economy of which they were part” (Sewell, 1996, p. 249). According to this critique, the world-systems framework reproduced in a different way a teleological understanding of systemic change while permitting little room for agency and contingency in historical processes.

Fourth, Wallerstein’s framework privileged European modernity as the origin of the modern world-system, ignoring the role of non-European societies in the long historical making of the modern world-system (Abu-Lughod, 1991; Frank, 1998).

Finally, Wallerstein’s retention of nation-states as constituent units of the modern world-system seemed to undermine his original effort to offer an alternative unit of analysis to the nation-state. He merely replaced the endogenous determinism of social forces like state elites and social classes favored by neo-Weberians and Marxists with exogenous forces of economic dependency reinforced chiefly by patterns of “unequal exchange” (Emmanuel, 1972).

The burgeoning field of international political economy (IPE) offers a different potential alternative to IR orthodoxy, as distinguished from a comparatively focused HS whose units of analysis consist mainly of constituted national societies and the structural determinism of Wallerstein’s world-systems theory. The subfield’s origins are located in theoretical engagements within IR, rather than in an effort to import methods and theory from HS into IR (Gilpin, 1987; Katzenstein, 1976; Keohane & Nye, 1977; Krasner, 1976; O’Brian & Williams, 2013; Strange, 1970; Watson, 2005). Indeed, IPE has developed as a largely interdisciplinary endeavor, with the liberal borrowing of theories and insights from traditional IR, comparative politics, neoclassical economics, Marxist and post-Keynesian political economy, and sociological institutionalism and social constructivism as well as HS. What has distinguished IPE from IR orthodoxy is a greater awareness of the role of historical processes in the making of international order, even if, along more orthodox realist understandings, the resulting international regimes functionally follow the utilitarian logic of state interests (Krasner, 1976). While not always abandoning a neorealist unitary state-centrism in theory and “methodological nationalism” (Chernilo, 2011) in approach, the focus on international regimes has compelled IPE scholars to go beyond the traditional view of international order as a system of anarchy and study problems of international economic cooperation and policy coordination and the mutual effects of international events on domestic economic policy and vice versa (Broz, 1997, Gourevitch, 1986, Lake, 1988, Rogowski, 1989).

Most internal accounts of the origins of IPE point to the disintegration of the Bretton Woods system as one of the foundational empirical problems of the subfield (Strange, 1998). The effort to explain the shift from stability to instability in international economic relations led IPE scholars to turn to history, both as a source of causal explanation and as a repertoire of analogous historical episodes that can offer grounds for comparison, such as the 19th-century British-dominated free trade regime (Frieden, 2006). Analysis of trade policies and patterns led IPE scholars to examine the role of domestic actors and institutions such as governments, transnational corporations, and organized labor, and international instruments and organizations such as bilateral trade agreements and international trade organizations. IPE’s original focus on trade has expanded to other, less tangible transnational flows such as finance, intellectual property, environmental regulation, and the analysis of more complex international economic arrangements such as customs and monetary unions and common markets (O’Brian & Williams, 2013). While normative perspectives from IR have seeped into theoretical debates in IPE, the subfield has been more open to the use of historical analysis than neorealist orthodoxy in IR.

Some claim that, in relation to theory and history, perspectives in IPE follow a “transatlantic divide,” with British IPE scholars favoring more historicist and nonpositivist approaches, in contrast to American IPE which retains closer links to IR orthodoxy, a state-centric perspective, and positivist methodologies (Cohen, 2007; Watson, 2005). Some also critique dominant perspectives in IPE for using history merely to illustrate the operation of transhistorical economic laws (such as Ricardian comparative advantage), along the lines of Hobson’s “tempocentrism,” rather than engaging in critical historicizations of global economic relations (Watson, 2005, pp. 34–36).

The instrumentalist approach to history and a transhistorical approach to causality among some IPE perspectives are what distinguish subdisciplinary approaches in IPE with both second- and third-wave scholarship in historical sociology. A shared concern in HS, including the world-systems perspective, is an intellectual endeavor to examine the historical origins of modern political and economic institutions, with the underlying belief that such institutions are not the product of nature but of contingent and potentially malleable processes of historical development (Calhoun, 1996). For third-wave HS, this has also meant challenging the existence of transhistorical causal laws that remain true without regard to time, place, and social context.

International Relations, Large-Scale Historical Change, and Global Order

Historical sociologists are not the only scholars to adopt a macro-historical perspective. Already in the first half of the 20th century, Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler focused on the study of civilizations as a way of understanding global developments. For example, examining the evolution of various civilizations, Spengler (1918), predicted the disintegration of Western civilization. His predictions about the inevitable decline of the West inspired Third World intellectuals to proclaim the fall of Western imperialism. Toynbee, who exercised considerable influence over the classical English School thought, examined how different civilizations came into existence and then disintegrated (Toynbee, 1947), as well as the contact between civilizations in time and space (Toynbee, 1957). Central to Toynbee’s work was the study of the encounter between the “West” and the “rest” of the world (Toynbee, 1953). Unlike Spengler, Toynbee took a positive view about the future of Western civilization. And well before the turn to structural realism and neoliberalism in the 1970s, classical IR scholars like E. H. Carr, Hans Morgenthau, and Raymond Aron were deeply influenced by historical methodologies in their attempts to explain the dynamics of change and continuity in international affairs.

William McNeil (1963, 1991) established a framework that places the history of Europe in a global setting. He suggests that world history can be examined in the context of four centers of civilization originating in Greece, India, China, and the Middle East. Although these civilizations were quite distinct, there was a degree of direct and indirect contact. Consequently, any development within one of these centers of civilization would be borrowed and adapted by the others. At the same time, friction between civilizations was minimized because territory occupied by nomads separated these civilizations and served to insulate them from one another.

Many world historians sought to move away from the Eurocentric character of contemporary history. Like the historical sociologists, they became interested in why European civilization eventually came to overwhelm the others. For example, Adda Bozeman, who worked closely with classical English School scholars, examined the role and impact of various cultures in international history and focused particularly on the effects of European expansion on global order (Bozeman, 1960). She viewed the post–World War II international system as reflecting a multicultural global order and questioned the efficacy of international law in a multicultural world (Bozeman, 1971).

Focusing on developments in all the competing civilizations during the Middle Ages, Lewis (1988) examined how various civilizations had to adapt as a consequence of nomadic assaults and Christian crusades, and he demonstrated how these adaptations led to the dominance of western Europe. Working in the same direction and exploring the complex relationship between the Chinese civilization and the neighboring nomadic empires over a 2,000-year period, Barfield (1989) has shown that the successive nomadic empires in Eurasia played a vital role in world history.

World historians have also been interested in the development of merchant empires arising from long-distance trade, and they have attempted to account for the ultimate domination of the Europeans in this area (Tracy, 1990, 1991). McNeil (1979, 1984), on the other hand, has explored the impact of disease and military technology on world history. In the post–Cold War era and subsequent to Samuel Huntington’s infamous “clash of civilizations” thesis (1996), the role played by civilization(s) in world politics is again receiving considerable attention (Katzenstein, 2010; Hall & Jackson, 2007; O’Hagan, 2002; Salter, 2002).

The English School (ES) offers one of the approaches to the study of IR that is most consistent with an HS interest in explaining contemporary social and political order by accounting for their historical origins (Dunne, 1998; Linklater & Suganami, 2006; Navari & Green, 2014; Buzan, 2014). The English School’s societal approach seeks to study international relations and world history in terms of the social structures of international orders (Buzan, 2014, p. 43). The presence of several historians in the British Committee and the inclination of Hedley Bull and Adam Watson toward a historical perspective ensured that this orientation would be prominent in the English School’s effort to develop the concept of international society. ES distinguishes between the existence of an international system of states, in which independent, territorially based political organizations take into account the actions of peers in their decision making, and an international society that establishes particular norms and standards of interstate interaction, such as mutual respect of sovereignty, diplomatic exchange, acknowledgment of international law, and commitments to uphold international agreements. For most ES scholars, international society is an element that is always present in international relations, but whose depth, character, and influence all fluctuate with historical contingency (Buzan, 2014, p. 44).

Examining different historical international societies, the ES worked in two ways: first, it employed a comparative historical approach, contrasting state systems existing in different times and places (Wight, 1977); and second, the ES employed an evolutionary approach showing how state systems have evolved over time (Watson, 1992, 1987, 1990). Thus, ES scholars set out to compare historical evidence and see what state systems existing at different points have in common and how they differ. They have also sought to examine how a particular state system was replaced by another. In this respect, not only have they broken away from the chronofetischism and tempocentrism of mainstream IR, but they have also developed a theory of change and continuity in the actors, norms, and the definition of interests in international relations (Vincent, 1983).

Bull and Watson endeavored to develop a framework that built on the sharp distinction between an international system and an international society (Bull, 1977, pp. 10–13), and saw the one evolve from the other. Drawing on the expertise of their colleagues, Bull and Watson (1984) conducted a study that explored how the contemporary global international society came about as a result of the expansion of the European international society that emerged in early modern Europe. This expansion narrative is mainly about how colonization and decolonization remade the world to “fit” the political image of Europe. In doing so, this narrative has not only focused on the role and impact of European power and imposition, but also on the process of the successful spread and internalization of Western ideas, rules, and norms by extra-European states. Most importantly, the European expansion narrative highlighted what happens when international society expands beyond the territories associated with a particular culture and raised the question of what happens when international society contains many cultural traditions (Butterfield & Wight, 1966). As a result, recent ES work examines the development of international society at the subglobal level (Buzan & Gonzalez-Pelaez, 2009; Buzan & Zhang, 2014; Stivachtis, 2014) and explores the extent to which the development of subregional international societies supports or undermines the existence and function of the global international society (Stivachtis, 2015).

More recent ES literature (Keene, 2002; Keal, 2003) makes links to postcolonial concerns, but most classical writers had little interest in the role of imperialism as such. They were concerned more with how non-European states were admitted into the expanding European international society; the role of the “standard of civilization” in this process; and the consequences of decolonization (Gong, 1984; Stivachtis, 1998). More recently, efforts have been undertaken to compare and contrast the historical expansion of Europe with the enlargement of the European Union (Diez & Whitman, 2002; Stivachtis, 2008). In addition, the ES work on the standard of “civilization” has sparked a new interest in investigating the effects of new standards on global order (Millennium, 2014; Stivachtis, 2008; Bowden, 2004, 2009; Bowden & Seebrooke, 2006; Donnelly, 1998; Fidler, 2001, 2002; Mozafarri, 2000, 2001).

ES scholars Barry Buzan, Charles Jones, and Richard Little (1993