Joseph Conti Discusses International Political Sociology

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING][What first inspired you to start academic workin the field of international political sociology?]

    • 00:17

      JOSEPH CONTI: Well, I started graduate school in the year2000, which was just months after the famous 1999 protestsagainst the WTO in Seattle.[Joseph Conti, PhD, Assistant Professor,University of Wisconsin Madison]And I had spent some time before graduate school workingfor a local peace and justice organization thatwas mobilizing protesters to come to this event.

    • 00:38

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: And I found myself writing articlesfor a newsletter about why people should come and protestthe WTO-- the World Trade Organization.And I got interested, and I found that I didn't quiteunderstand why I was writing the things that I was writing.And I wanted to know more about just what this organization

    • 00:59

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: was, and what it was really doing in international affairs.[What key thinkers have most inspired you,and what continues to influence you?]I think in terms of which thinkersI continue to go back to, sort of capital-T theorists,

    • 01:19

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: the first have to be Max Weber.He's of course a prolific writer and wrote extensivelyon bureaucracy, on law, and is still a canonical figurein thinking about what lie is and how it works.So I rely heavily on or I am inspired by his work

    • 01:39

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: around law, around ideas of legitimacy and authority.I'm also increasingly looking to the worksof Pierre Bourdieu and his writingson the state, which is also his avenue to study law.There are a number of other lesser known-- well,relatively lesser known-- figures that

    • 02:01

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: have left their mark on the study of international courts.So people like Joseph Weiler or Alec Stone Sweet or KarenAlter.Some of those are lawyers, othersare political scientists.But what they share is an interest in international lawand international courts.[What are the key research methods that you employ

    • 02:21

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: and why?]The primary research methods I employ are interviews.I have done a lot of interviews with very elite lawyersand diplomats and ambassadors.But I also use quantitative techniques

    • 02:42

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: when the data is appropriate.So for instance, in my study of the World Trade Organization,I did an analysis of dispute initiationsand the relationship between that and different countrieslevel of experience with the legal system.So as a means to better understand

    • 03:04

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: how expertise as contrasted to things like material powerinfluence the use of the legal system of the World TradeOrganization.[What new research directions do you find most exciting?]Well, I can speak where my work isis going towards studying what I would call the juridification

    • 03:30

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: of International Affairs.And in more plain terms, this is the spreadof international law and international courtsand tribunals.And there has been just a proliferation of these things,particularly since the end of the Cold War.So there are a small group of scholars out there

    • 03:50

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: who are studying this.And I'm particularly interested in howlaw changes, how states interact with each other,and indeed changes what states are.To the degree that they are relying on legal mechanismsto solve their disputes versus diplomacy,versus armed invasions or military conflicts,I think that's a pretty fascinating historical turn

    • 04:12

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: of events.[Where would you like to take your research?]Where I would like to take my researchis to look at the spread of international lawas a kind of globalization, and what that means for states.We live in a world where states are very important still.

    • 04:36

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: But in certain ways, they are less important,or they're not the only important factorsshaping global politics.So there's been not only international courts,but a variety of different international organizations,that play really critical roles in coordinatinginternational markets, in providinginternational security, human rights.

    • 04:58

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: So this is a world historic event.And so my interest there is how do wemake sense of what states are?Are they the same thing that they were 200 years agowhen there weren't all these other internationalorganizations?Or what kinds of changes have occurred?It's an ambiguous space that states are important,

    • 05:21

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: but not quite as important.And how do we make sense of this?How do we best understand political powerunder conditions of globalization?[How are states changing?]There was a period maybe 15 years agowhere there were big books being put out there

    • 05:44

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: that the argument was states are withering.They're going away.So you might recall things like Thomas Friedman's The World IsFlat, and there were some others.The End of the Nation State by Kenichi Ohmae.15 years later or so, it's pretty clearthat that's not happening.But we also don't live in a world

    • 06:04

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: where states just call the shots.Even powerful states, like the United Statesinteract in a complex system of international organizationsof international law, and are forced to accommodatethat in certain ways.So what I find in particular in my work

    • 06:24

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: is that there are politically powerfulinternational organizations, politically powerfulinternational courts, like the WTO,but also the European Court of Justice,the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, wherethese courts are actually able to engage in autonomousdecision making that leads to or results in judicial lawmaking.

    • 06:47

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: And more often than not, have that met with complianceby powerful states, as well as the lesser powerful states.So to think about the allocation of political powerin the modern world, states are stillimportant sites of political power,but there are these other sites that we have to sort of bring

    • 07:08

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: into our purview, our way of understandinghow political power is institutionalized.[How would you define international politicalsociology to your students?]Well, there's a number of different traditions.If we think just first about political sociology,there's perhaps the easiest way to understand it

    • 07:30

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: is sort of in a functionalist sense,that political sociology is about the study of politics,as opposed to the study of economicsor other important domains of social life--the family or something like that.Now that's an inadequate, in my view,way of understanding political sociology.In part because there's complex interactions between all

    • 07:54

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: of these things.That the distinction between what is politics and economicsis a result of a set of social practices, wherea set of rules and institutions thatdefine what these boundaries are.So we also want to understand that.So that leads to kind of a Weberianwhere we're thinking-- approach, where

    • 08:15

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: we're thinking about politics as a set of rules and institutionsthat create certain kinds of opportunitiesto contest and assert power.Which suggests an additional dimension,which is that political sociology is aboutthe social bases of power.This has a more Marxian spin to it,

    • 08:37

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: where it's about class struggle, about social movements.Perhaps in a more contemporary sense,professional and social movements,and how they vie for control over certain domainsof decision making.So I think when you put that all together, wesee political sociology being about the social basesof power, and how it becomes institutionalized

    • 08:60

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: in rules and institutions like the state.And the state has probably been the most important siteof institutionalized political power.Now, to talk about international political sociology,sort of recast those same sort of tensions or dynamicson an international stage.And we would look at well, what are the social bases

    • 09:23

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: of power on a global level?And how is that institutionalizedin organizations like the World Trade Organizationor the United Nations?And then how is power contested there?So again, social movements and class struggle thatcan be a part of the picture.[What is the value in learning about international politicalsociology?

    • 09:44

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: How can students benefit from having an understanding of it?]So I think the value is that we live in an increasinglyinterconnected world, where national societies nolonger really exists.We have societies, but it's not clearthat they end at national borders.

    • 10:04

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: So how do we make sense of our worldrequires us to think beyond the nation,to think about the international and the global.And I think that is the value to understandhow states are embedded in networksof political relationships.And this shapes and constrains how they act.

    • 10:26

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: We see this in current politics, you know,Donald Trump wants to pull us outof all these various agreements.Brexit.The question in all of these things-- Brexit, whatDonald Trump wants to do-- is well,how do you actually do it?Which is to say, we are deeply embedded in a whole system

    • 10:47

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: of trade agreements.And it's not clear-- I mean, you can justmake the decision to do it.But then what are they going to be the cascading effects?So you have to have an understandingof international political sociologyto begin to answer those types of questions.[What would you identify as the key challenges of a coursein this field for a student, and what strategies would youadvice they use to counter these challenges?]

    • 11:11

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: How to go about studying international politicalsociology.And I just suggested that it's really important to howpeople live their lives.So perhaps contradicting myself, also,many people experience global governance institutions,like the WTO or any of the others,

    • 11:32

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: as being esoteric, as being distant and far removed.And the implication of that is that they're notwell understood.Students in my classes are confrontedwith a long list of acronyms of all these organizations.And so there's a kind of complexity and distance to itthat requires some focused attention.

    • 11:55

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: And the way to do that I think isto start with something small, to pick a single organizationto look at, or a single set of relations, a migration pattern,or an international problem.And what happens is these things are like an onion,to use a bad metaphor.You start and you find that to understand

    • 12:15

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: the WTO's legal system, I need to understandits political system.And in order to understand that, Ineed to understand the dynamics of how tradewas managed before the WTO.And I also need to understand well,the WTO is not the only trade arrangement.There's actually a whole host of other trade agreements,and how do they work together?And so it's sort of like you get bigger and bigger and bigger,

    • 12:36

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: and then you can start adding on and expanding your viewand getting broader.And so for me, I started with the WTO,and now my research is about a whole hostof international courts.And so I've learned a tremendous amount of the varietiesof international courts, and how they operate

    • 12:58

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: in their different jurisdictions,and the different types of organizationsthat then circle around them.So the point being, start somewhere focused,and work outward.[Why has there been an expansion of international courtsin recent years?]First, so we've only had international courts

    • 13:20

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: for a little over 100 years.The first international tribunal was created by the Hague PeaceConferences, and that created the Permanent Courtof Arbitration.And then slowly prior to World War II,there was the League of Nations court.And then World War II is a watershed momentfor two reasons.

    • 13:40

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: The first is the development of atomic weapons, whichit took a little time for the US and the Sovietsto figure this out.But what they figured out was that they couldn't actuallyever use atomic weapons.The destructive capacity made major warbetween nuclear powers almost unthinkable.

    • 14:02

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: And that means that states need other ways of disputing.You can't rely on threats of military powerto solve your problems, because the risk isthe wheels will fall off and we we'llengage in self-annihilation.OK, so that's the first thing.The second thing is the developmentof certain kinds of politics around atomic weapons.

    • 14:27

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: Both atomic weapons and the fact that in 1946,there had been two major hugely destructive warswithin a generation.And this caused people to think different.So there's this amazing utopian momentthat begins in the late '30s as it becomes clear that Germany

    • 14:47

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: is on an aggressive path again.And then really ratchets it up by the end of the 1940s.And this utopian moment was about world peace through law.Some people argued for the creation of a world federalistgovernment.It is this period where it was an incubation for whatbecame the European Union.

    • 15:08

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: It's the idea behind the United Nations.And for a time, there were votes in the US Congressabout building a world federal government, supported by peoplelike JFK and Richard Nixon.So there is this moment where the idea that we'regoing to build an international legal systemis not a crazy idea anymore.

    • 15:32

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: So that's the first moment.The second moment then is at the end of the Cold War, where USdominance-- so that was the other thing that happenedin World War II is the rise of the UShegemony in the world, US dominance.And one particular aspect of thatwas how the US championed the rule of law

    • 15:53

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: as a sort of ideological counterpoint to the Soviets.So we made deep investments.The US made deep investments in the rule of law.And then at the end of the Cold War, thatview that we can have rule-bound international relationswon the day.

    • 16:14

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: That also coincided with a turn in particularlyinternational relations scholarship,that begin to argue that international courtsin particular can help states bargain more effectively.And so there's this moment-- there'sa political opening that is filledwith certain ideas about the rule of law and arguments

    • 16:38

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: by prominent international relations scholarsthat international courts are actually--they're not hindrances to the interests of states,but actually foster them.And so there is a spread-- a remarkable proliferationof international courts at the end of the Cold War.[What has been the impact of international lawon international politics and vice versa?]

    • 17:02

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: The impact of international law on international politics.My general argument would be that international law is nowthe language of international politics.That this is how states talk to each otherincreasingly, through the language of lawand legal obligations established in treaties,established through the jurisprudence

    • 17:23

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: of international courts.Now, that's not perfect.There are still high profile moments of defiance.There's a recent case involving China and the South China Seaand a permanent court of arbitrationwhere China essentially says-- where the court rulesagainst China's claims of sovereignty

    • 17:43

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: over the South China Sea.And China essentially says, go jump in a lake.But what is interesting about thatis how the court-- which I would point outis based on state consent-- and thenwe see countries like the Philippines and even Vietnamreminding China that they are not fulfilling

    • 18:06

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: their legal obligations.It becomes an issue at the ASEAN meetings.So the effect of international courtsin international politics is to providea language of legitimacy of who is in the right here.And that seems like wishy-washy or flimsy, but it's not.

    • 18:29

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: It has dramatically impacted the WTO.The noncompliance by the United Statesover issues of agricultural subsidieshas deeply undermined US leadership at the WTO.The Doha rounds of negotiations have fallen apart in partbecause the US has refused to fulfill

    • 18:51

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: its international obligations in the eyes of notonly the appellate body of the World Trade Organization,but a number of other countries.So that sort of discursive power or the ability of the WTOto say, well, you're either acting legitimately or not.It has important impacts on how states relate to each other.[Can you provide any examples of key research

    • 19:12

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: in the field that has had a direct impact on policyor practice outside of academia?What changed as a result?]I'm going to point to a single piece thathas had a big impact on policy.But it's the case that there's a close relationshipbetween scholarship around the WTO and practitioners.

    • 19:36

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: There's a large overlap.A lot of the scholarship you read in law journalsis written by people who are doingthe work at the same time.So there's that close interface.And I also think it's the case that particularly

    • 19:59

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: international relations scholarshipat the end of the Cold War dramaticallyimpacted how the international courts were designed,how they were conceived.What is it that these are going to do?So I think there have been those sorts of exchanges.I think it's also true that sociologists

    • 20:20

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: tend to be more marginal to policy debates.This is space-- what we're callinginternational political sociologyshares a sort of conceptual spacewith international relations, with international law,with certain kinds of economics.

    • 20:41

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: And when we think about the relative influenceof those disciplines on policy, sociologists are often downthe chain of notches.[Are there any major academic debates in the internationalpolitical sociology field?]I would say the first one is, what

    • 21:02

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: is the role of the state in global governance?One of the oldest findings in the study of globalizationis a mismatch between the markets or the global economyand economic processes and the political institutionsthat we have to govern them, which

    • 21:22

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: are primarily nation-based.And so there's this mismatch.And in that context, it's the questionof how does the state govern?Can it govern?I mentioned earlier the question of where some people arguedthat the state is going way.And others of course resisted that.And now we're in this in-between moment where there's

    • 21:43

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: a recognition that the state is here to stay and is important,but it's not the only important actor out there.So these debates are about what'sthe role of the state in global governanceversus international organizationsversus transnational corporations?And how do we best make sense of that?And I think that those debates are provoked

    • 22:04

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: by the massive changes that we've seensince the end of the Cold War.The globalization of markets, the end of the Cold War,and the rise of global social problems, human rights,the environment, and the awarenessthat there are gaps in how these things are governed.

    • 22:27

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: How do we protect labor rights in a contextwhere global supply chains are spread around the world?How do we build up global labor rights,rather than undermining them?And it's not clear that states are actuallythe most important actors in answering that question.So then how do we make sense of what the state is?

    • 22:50

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: [What do you think the future holds for the fieldof international political sociology?]What does the future hold for the fieldof international political sociology?I would say it's an expanding field,that it is increasingly difficult to not takeinto account the global, the transnational.

    • 23:14

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: So I think there's going to be increasing attention paidto these questions about political poweron the global level.The questions about the state, the questionsabout global social movements.And that it's going to be increasingly interdisciplinary.That sociologists are going to be forced into conversations

    • 23:35

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: with political scientists, with economists, and lawyers.And I think that's a positive thing,that the disciplinary boundaries are largely--I would say that the disciplinary boundaries areless meaningful than ever, in terms of thinkingabout social problems, in terms of trying to understand what's

    • 24:01

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: going on in the world.So I think this will be increasingly attractingnew students in undergraduates as well as graduates,and that we'll see an increasing internationalizationof the field, in a sense that sociologists in generalwill need to pay more and more attentionto these global dynamics, these global questions of power.

    • 24:25

      JOSEPH CONTI [continued]: [MUSIC PLAYING]

Joseph Conti Discusses International Political Sociology

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Dr. Joseph Conti defines the field of international political sociology. He explains why he is passionate about the political sociology as well as describing the historical evolution of the field.

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Joseph Conti Discusses International Political Sociology

Dr. Joseph Conti defines the field of international political sociology. He explains why he is passionate about the political sociology as well as describing the historical evolution of the field.

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