Theorizing the transnational: a historical materialism approach

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Although transnational relations is a frequently employed phrase in international relations (IR) since the early debates of the 1970s, the literature in fact still shows surprisingly little theorization of the concept. Seeking to theorize 'the transnational' beyond what is currently on offer in mainstream IR discourse, this article argues that the field of transnational relations has in fact much to gain from the insights articulated by the transnationalist perspective elaborated within 'transnational historical materialism', and in particular by the 'Amsterdam Project' in International Political Economy. After presenting a critical review of what are interpreted as liberal, ahistorical and actor-centred perspectives on transnational relations dominating the mainstream, this article elaborates and builds upon this alternative transnationalist perspective by showing how it is grounded in a historical materialism emphasizing the constitutive power of transnational (economic) structures, while at the same time re-claiming the role of class agency. Briefly sketching on this basis the development of transnational relations in the global political economy, the article examines the theoretical implications of such a historical (materialist) analysis for a theory of transnational relations. Rather than viewing transnational relations as moving us beyond international relations altogether, it is concluded that the question is rather how the former gives content to the latter. Critical here, it is argued, is the process of transnational class formation and the role of capitalist class strategy beyond national borders in restructuring global capitalist social relations. © 2004 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-176
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of International Relations and Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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