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Social States: China in International Institutions, 1980-2000

Social States: China in International Institutions, 1980-2000

by Alastair Iain Johnston
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ISBN-13: 2900691134535
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 12/23/2007
Series: Princeton Studies in International History and Politics
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Alastair Iain Johnston is the Governor James Noe and Linda Noe Laine Professor of China in World Affairs at Harvard University.

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Social States

China in International Institutions, 1980â"2000

By Alastair Iain Johnston


Copyright © 2008 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4008-5298-7


Socialization in International Relations Theory

The Status of Socialization in International Relations Theory

Socialization is quite a vibrant area of inquiry in a range of social sciences. It is a core concept in studies in linguistics and the acquisition of language (Schieffelin and Ochs 1986), sociology and social psychology and theories of in-group identity formation and compliance with group norms (Turner 1987; Napier and Gershenfeld 1987; Cialdini 1987; Nisbett and Cohen 1996), political science and the acquisition of basic political orientations among young people or explanations of social movements (Beck and Jennings 1991), international law and the role of shaming and social opprobrium in eliciting treaty compliance (Chayes and Chayes 1996; Young 1992, Susskind 1994; Moravcsik 1995), and anthropology and the diffusion of cultural practices, among other fields and topics. It is gradually becoming a more vibrant area in world politics as well, since socialization would seem to be central to some of the major topics in international relations theory today: preference formation and change; national identity formation; the creation and diffusion of, and compliance with, international norms; the effects of international institutions, among other topics.

It is curious, though, how undertheorized socialization has been in much of IR, despite the fact that most noncoercive diplomatic influence attempts by most actors most of the time are aimed at "changing the minds" of others, at persuading, cajoling, or shaming them to accept, and hopefully internalize, new facts, figures, arguments, norms, and causal understandings about particular issues. That is, the goal of diplomacy is often the socialization of others to accept in an axiomatic way certain novel understandings about world politics. Especially in the second half of the Clinton administration, for example, the engagement of China was seen as a way of teaching Beijing about allegedly predominant norms and rules of international relations (free trade; nonuse of force in the resolution of disputes; nonproliferation; multilateralism, etc.). The engagers spoke of bringing China into the "international community" (defined normatively), an enculturation discourse if ever there was one. So even if, in the end, many attempts to use diplomacy to effect the internalization of new ways of thinking and behaving fail, it still makes sense to try to explain why actors (state and non-state) engage in this kind of activity in the first place. But of course, we do not really know how many of these attempts do fail because we have not really tried to define, isolate, and measure the effects of socialization processes in IR.

This is not to say that predominant IR theories ignore the concept of socialization entirely. Classical realism seems torn between its impulse to essentialize the drive for power in a self-help world on the one hand and its sensitivity to historical contingency on the other. Morgenthau, for example, does not rule out the possibility that actors internalize group norms of behavior such that action takes on a "taken-for-grantedness." Indeed, he laments the disappearance of a time in European interstate relations when individual kings and absolute rulers heeded certain norms of behavior for fear of the social punishments from violation (e.g., shame, shunning, loss of prestige and status) (Morgenthau 1978:251–52). He even leaves open the possibility that definitions of power and interest are culturally contingent, implying at least that there is variation in how actors are socialized to conceptualize legitimate ways of pursuing legitimate interests. But if so, it is not clear how actors are socialized into or out of perceptions of the world as competition for power and influence in an anarchical system. In other words, by accepting the cultural contingency of power and interests, logic would suggest that Morgenthau would have to accept that the realpolitik impulses that characterize world politics are in fact not given, but learned. Yet for classical realists there is no obvious theory of socialization to explain radical variations in interpretations in the meaning of power and interest.

This is true as well for so-called neoclassical realism (Rose 1997). Rejecting the structural realist critique of reductionism, this scholarship has (re)discovered that subjective and intersubjective interpretations of power and interest matter in explaining the behavior of states and thus international outcomes. Yet it also persists in arguing that there are unchanging universal facts about international life that constrain state behavior, namely that international relations are a realpolitik struggle among self-interested, security-seeking, relative power-sensitive states operating in anarchy. I am not clear how you can have it both ways: once you allow for independent causal importance of subjective or intersubjective interpretations of the external world, you open the door to the possibility that there can be vast disjunctures between estimates of this world and the "real" world of material power distribution and realpolitik pursuits of interest. That is, you open the door to the possibility that subjective and intersubjective interpretations of the world can change even as the realities of material power distribution remain constant. If this possibility can exist, then, in principle, the real world has a less independent, predictable effect on actor behavior. As such, the "realities" of anarchy and relative material power imbalances are no longer so determinative. If so, these realities are not likely to be important independent sources of actor preferences or beliefs about the external world. This is clearly not where the neoclassical realists want to end up. Moreover, this conclusion then begs the question of where these preferences and beliefs come from. Neoclassical realism has no answer, or at least none that flows logically from realist theor(ies). Thus, it has no theory of socialization.

Neorealism uses socialization to describe the homogenization of self-help balancing behavior among security-seeking states interacting under conditions of anarchy (Waltz 1979:127–28). But the use of the term is problematic. First, the process of homogenization is not really socialization in commonsense usage. While Waltz uses an example from crowd psychology to argue that interaction in groups can create a "collective mind" across individual members (1979:75), his discussion of interaction in IR essentially drops the collective mind image and replaces it with a "selection and competition" image. It is emulation and selection that leads to similarities in behavior of actors through interaction: states that do not emulate the self-help balancing behavior of the most successful actors in the system will be selected out of the system such that those remaining (assuming there are no new entrants into the system) will tend to share realpolitik behavioral traits. It is unclear as to whether the theory assumes states will also share epiphenomenal realpolitik foreign policy ideologies, because the theory is unclear as to whether states are conscious agents pursuing balancing outcomes or simply unconscious participants in the creation of unintended systemic balances. That is, it is not clear whether social interaction in anarchy leads to emulation or mimicking.

In any event, it is simply not empirically obvious that this kind of selection even occurs. It is hard to pick exemplars in world politics due to the uncertainty about what constitutes success under the security dilemma. It seems odd to claim that uncertainty about relative power drives states to look for successful balancers, but that apparent uncertainty does not make it difficult to identify who in fact are the appropriate exemplars out there. What lessons should a state draw from the collapse of the Soviet Union? That deterrence and containment work against threatening or rising power? Or that transnational arms control coalitions successfully socialized a group of influentials in the Soviet Union to adopt cooperative security strategies under the rubric of "new thinking," despite US military pressure? Both the United States and the Soviet Union balanced against each other. One failed, one succeeded. How, then, do state actors decide whether or not balancing is a successful strategy in IR worthy of emulation? As Dan Reiter has argued, historical experience in alliances, rather than some search for obvious transhistorical exemplars, is often the criteria states use when deciding when and what type of balancing is appropriate (Reiter 1996).

Neorealism, then, exaggerates the structural pressures toward homogenization. Often different states do not sit in competition with each other over scarce resources; rather, some find "niches" where the requirements for survival are different, hence, their different traits can survive side by side without some selection pressures toward homogenization.

For another, the death rates of states have declined dramatically in the twentieth century. Unsuccessful actors—those that eschew self-help, that fail to balance internally or externally—tend not to disappear anymore (Fazal 2001). New states have emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century in an era when failed or unsuccessful states are not routinely eliminated. These new states presumably retain heterogeneous traits and characteristics, supported in some respects by institutions and rules analogous to those that support socially weak and failed individuals in many domestic societies. That is, it is not obvious that the "fitness" of states has increased over time, given a constant anarchical environment—at least not fitness defined in terms of an ability to balance successfully. Somehow the international system has allowed "unfit" states to develop a range of strategies for surviving without self-help balancing—norms against aggression, arms control agreements, a concept of sovereignty that "equalizes" unequal actors, among others. This being the case, the characteristics of the system structure must, by definition, be much more varied and complex than the simple tending-toward-balances anarchy of a neorealist world. Thus, the social environment in which these new states are socialized must be not only one that rewards or selects states that copy "successful" self-help balancers, but one that may also reward or support "deviant" heterodox behavior. If so, then so much for the homogenizing effects of social interaction—socialization—in anarchy (see Kocs 1994).

Second, most uses of socialization refer to a process of preference formation and/or change. Child socialization involves a child developing tastes, likes, dislikes—social and material—through social interaction first with the family and then broader social groups. Political socialization usually refers to the acquisition by young people of political orientations and preferences from parents or peers. For neorealism, however, socialization appears to have little to do with preferences and interests. Perhaps this stems from the microeconomic language and analogizing that Waltz uses—economics generally models preferences as stable, while different environments (institutions, price, supply, productivity, etc.) constrain the ability of actors to achieve preferred outcomes. In any event, for neorealism, material structure (what passes for a social environment for neorealism) is the key constraint on state behavior. Socialization simply results in a greater awareness by actors of the costs of pursuing preferences that neglect the structural imperative of balancing. That is, socialization means that states acquire a greater sensitivity to signals emanating from the material structure about who succeeds and who fails and why. The interpretation of this information should be relatively unproblematic for rational unitary actors—successful states balance, unsuccessful states do not. But the process by which an actor comes to read these signals correctly does not involve change in the nature of the actor—its identity or preferences or understandings of the nature of the international system. So it is hard to see why it should be called socialization.

Finally, for neorealism socialization can go in only one direction—toward the convergence of behavior around realpolitik norms of behavior. This rules out the possibility of system-level socialization in non-realpolitik directions. Yet there are sufficient and substantively interesting deviations from neorealist claims—cases of norm-conforming behavior in the absence of obvious material threats or promises—to suggest that there are domestic and systemic normative structures that socialize actors (Kier 1997; Finnemore 1996b; Price and Tannenwald 1996; Price 1998). Indeed, one could legitimately question whether material structure plus anarchy does any socializing at all, given the empirical frequency of non-balancing behavior (Reiter 1996; Schweller 1994; Schroeder 1994; Johnston 1998b). Moreover, whatever realpolitik socializing that does go on is, arguably, not dependent on structural anarchy, but on prior realpolitik norms, the sources of which may reside at both the system and unit levels (Johnston 1996a, 1998a).

Contractual institutionalism generally does not focus on socialization processes per se in IR. For many contractual institutionalists, true to their microeconomic and game theoretic styles of analysis, the notion that social interaction can change preferences and interests or fundamental security philosophies and ideologies is not a central concern. Modeling is usually done assuming these things are fixed. Social interaction inside institutions is assumed to have little or no effect on the identities or interests of actors (or institutionalists are divided as to whether there are any effects). That is, actors generally emerge from interaction inside institutions with the same attributes, traits, and characteristics with which they entered. These characteristics have no effect on the attributes, traits, or characteristics of the institution itself—an efficient institution in principle should reflect the nature of the cooperation problem, not the nature of the actors themselves—and these characteristics, in turn, have no impact on actor identities. Iteration, the intensity of interaction, the provision of new information about the beliefs of other actors, and so on, do not seem to have any effect on the basic preferences of actors. Being enmeshed in an iterated but potentially finite PD does not make the D,C payoff less desirable, in principle. Whether social interaction is short run or long term, it has no effect on underlying preferences. All it does is change the costs and benefits of pursuing these preferences. The quality or quantity of prior social interaction among players should be irrelevant to the calculus of whether or not to defect (Frank 1988:143).

The undersocialized nature of institutions in contractualist arguments is highlighted by the motivations contractualists do focus on when explaining pro-group behavior. Cooperation is elicited in institutions in basically three major ways.

One is issue linkage. Take, for example, a suasion game, where one player has a dominant cooperation (C) strategy, leaving the other player to defect (D). The Nash equilibrium (C,D) is one that leaves the player with a dominant C strategy somewhat dissatisfied, while giving the player playing D its best payoffs. The dissatisfied player therefore has an incentive to use threats or promises (e.g., tactical issue linkage) to move the outcome to a more advantageous set of payoffs (Martin 1993). Persuasion here is nothing more and nothing less than an effort to change the cost-benefit calculations of the defecting player with exogenous positive or negative incentives so as to secure cooperation. Persuasion does not change that player's underlying desire to defect in a suasion game, nor does it change basic beliefs—or common knowledge—about what kind of game is being played.


Excerpted from Social States by Alastair Iain Johnston. Copyright © 2008 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acronyms vii

Acknowledgments xi

Preface xiii

CHAPTER 1: Socialization in International Relations Theory 1

CHAPTER 2: Mimicking 45

CHAPTER 3: Social Influence 74

CHAPTER 4: Persuasion 155

CHAPTER 5: Conclusions 197

References 213

Index 241

What People are Saying About This

Michael Barnett

Iain Johnston's Social States is a must-read for all students of international relations theory, international institutions, and international security. With his characteristic hardheaded and systematically minded approach to the big debates in international relations, Johnston has produced the single-best statement regarding socialization in contemporary global affairs. And his deep knowledge of China and institutional institutions allows him to address some of the most critical questions regarding the future global order.
Michael Barnett, University of Minnesota

Samuel Kim

This is a timely, compelling, and deeply impressive piece of scholarship by one of the very best world-class international scholars writing on Chinese foreign policy and international relations theory today. The vividness of the writing, combined with coherent organization and dispassionate empirical analysis, are certain to make this an essential work for seasoned China watchers. At the same time, the book's bold and analytically arresting observations will compel policymakers to question their personal assumptions and hidden prejudices.
Samuel Kim, Columbia University


In his latest first-rate work, Iain Johnston argues that, over the past twenty years, China has been socialized—often without side payments and at the expense of its narrow security interests—to be a more cooperative partner in international relations. His argument will be widely read and is sure to provoke the critics— but it is too carefully conceived and documented to dismiss.
Jeffrey W. Legro, University of Virginia


This eagerly awaited book offers the most compelling analysis for China's 'peaceful rise' that I know of. Iain Johnston displays a complete mastery of international relations theory, a profound knowledge of Chinese foreign policy and East Asian regionalism, and impressive control over modern social science methods. For many years to come this will be the landmark study of one of the most important developments in contemporary world politics.
Peter J. Katzenstein, Cornell University

Thomas Risse

This book is most significant for theoretical, empirical, and political reasons. Theoretically, it explores in detail micromechanisms of socialization, moving way beyond the traditional rationalist-constructivist divide. Empirically, the book demonstrates that even China changes through socialization in international institutions. The political conclusions are obvious: Keep socializing China rather than balancing!
Thomas Risse, Freie Universitat Berlin

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