Refugees in International Relations

By Alexander Betts; Gil Loescher | Go to book overview

4
Refugees, International
Society, and Global Order

Andrew Hurrell


ABSTRACT

This chapter explores what the study of international society (sometimes labelled
an English School approach) can contribute to our understanding of refugees,
and considers how a focus on refugees can help us to identify some of the core
challenges facing international society. Refugees surely provide one of the
clearest examples of the political importance of constitutive norms and practices
and of the ways in which such norms can be embedded in politically consequen-
tial institutions. Moreover it is certainly the case that one of the contributions of
international society thinking is precisely that it places the ‘problem of the
refugee’ in relation to the historically contingent ways in which political life and
forms of political community have been imagined and practised. At the same
time, it is important to avoid an overly teleological account and to understand
the crucial ways in which the changing character of international society has
impacted on the ways in which the problem of the refugee has been manifest. In
terms of the recent evolution in international society, refugees provide a sobering
reminder of the limits of liberal solidarist change within international society. In
part this has to do with the intrinsic tensions within the liberal solidarist concep-
tion of international society and in part with a broader set of forces pressing
international society back towards ‘Westphalia’. The final section considers the
normative agenda and examines the challenges to the English School’s notion of
embedded ethics posed by the phenomenon of refugees.

It is often said that the nature of any society is exposed at its margins. Sometimes, following Foucault (1991), those living at the margins or in the interstices of social life—in prisons, in mental hospitals—expose the macro or deep structures of power and governmentality. For others, such as Diego Gambetta (2009), it is by looking at those who live and operate at the margins of society—mafiosi, prisoners, terrorists—that we can better understand the micro-mechanisms of social life (e.g. how trust develops or the role of codes and signals in social behaviour).

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