Monday, 20 February 2017

Status insecurity and temporality in world politics

an article by Joshua Freedman (Northwestern University, USA) published in European Journal of International Relations Volume 22 Number 4 (December 2016)


International Relations scholars concerned with explaining status-seeking behaviour in the international system draw heavily from social comparison theory and its observations that individuals judge their worth, and accordingly derive self-esteem, through social comparisons with others. According to this logic, states become status seekers because, like individuals, they have an innate desire for favourable social status comparisons relative to their peers.

Thus, the great power status literature is often framed in the language of accommodation, and adjustment, which presupposes that status insecurities develop from unfavourable social comparisons and can be resolved through relative social improvements. This article challenges these assumptions by noting, as psychology has acknowledged for some time, that individuals use both social and temporal forms of comparison when engaging in self-evaluation.

Where social comparisons cause actors to ask “How do I rank relative to my peers?” temporal comparisons cause actors to evaluate how they have improved or declined over time. This article advances a temporal comparison theory of status-seeking behaviour, suggesting that many of the signalling problems associated with status insecurity emerge from basic differences in how states evaluate their status, and whether they privilege temporal over social comparisons.

The implications are explored through China’s contemporary struggle for status recognition, situating this struggle within the context of China’s civilisational past and ongoing dispute over Taiwan.

Full text (PDF)

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