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Launceston Seminar | Professor Phil Cerny on anarchy in world politics


A seminar by Phil Cerny, Professor Emeritus of Politics and Global Affairs at the University of Manchester, UK

Start Date

7 Aug 2018 1:00 pm

End Date

7 Aug 2018 2:00 pm


L142, Arts Building, Newnham Campus

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The new anarchy: Globalisation and fragmentation in world politics.

In this seminar, visiting scholar Phil Cerny, Professor Emeritus of Politics and Global Affairs at the University of Manchester, UK challenges prevailing views of anarchy in world politics.

He argues that modern international relations theory consistently underestimates the problem of anarchy in world politics. Globalisation, he says, is all too often perceived to be a structurally homogenising process, merely leading to ‘diversity within convergence’ and requiring new forms of intergovernmental cooperation or ‘global governance’.

Professor Cerny argues states are no longer (if they ever were) at the wheel of control. They are whipsawed between quasi-globalised financial elites at one end of the spectrum and reinvented tribal groups like Islamic State at the other.

The EU, for example, is in continual structural quasi-crisis, trying to deal centrally with plural  tensions between the local and the transnational. In the United States and in the rest of the developed and developing worlds, economic growth may well be slowing down as the Third Industrial Revolution runs out of steam while inequality increases, presenting another stark structural contradiction that states have facilitated. Most worrying is the evidence that this is a global phenomenon, with Chinese growth slowing too, while ‘developing’ regions are no longer catching up and indeed are in growing crisis.

Political agency is no longer defined by interest groups seeking out the levers of state power, because these levers are seen to be largely impotent or politically suspect. In addition, recent scholarship has suggested that up to 80% of the world’s population lives in areas of limited or failed statehood.

The kind of strong, secure borders that are supposed to characterise the sovereign nation-state is increasingly recognised as being impossibly porous. This recognition has shaped the battleground of the campaign for British ‘exit’ from the European Union (EU), the proliferation and threat of further border walls, all offering a utopian conception of the state as a hermetically sealed container of unified community.

Finally, austerity and the erosion of the rights of labour are undermining the mid-twentieth century social contract on which the welfare state and liberal democracy have been based. Political leaders in unstable states are either engaged in attempting to restore authoritarian repression, as in Russia, China, Egypt, Turkey, even in the United States, or are ensnared in the breakdown of the political system, as in Brazil, Venezuela and a range of African countries. The number of what are called ‘failed states’ is increasing.

Alternatives to the nation-state are sorely needed, and conceptualising an alternative global constitutionalism, that is non-dominating and universal, is an historic challenge. Much of modern political thought and international political theory is premised on a move from anarchy to order, where the latter is understood in terms of statism. We need to rethink this move, foregrounding the new pluralism of the global order and consider constitutionalising order in anarchy.

Phil Cerny is Professor Emeritus of Politics and Global Affairs at the University of Manchester, UK and Rutgers University, USA. He received his PhD from the University of Manchester. His most recent book is Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Neopluralism (Oxford University Press, 2010). He received the Distinguished Scholar Award of the IPE Section of the International Studies Association in 2011, and until recently, chaired the
Research Committee No. 36 (Political Power) of the International Political Science Association.

This event is presented by the Institute for the Study of Social Change (ISC) and the School of Social Sciences.


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