Culture, Security, and Strategy: Analysis Framework for Understanding Military Development in the Context of 9/11

CARLOS BARRERA

University of Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Título: Cultura, seguridad y estrategia: Marco de análisis para comprender el desarrollo militar en el contexto del 11-S

Abstract: In recent times, in the field of international relations, there has emerged an academic current that has revived the thinking of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to reformulate various fundamental concepts, from the study of everyday practices, symbolic structures, and conflict arenas in which various actors define the course of world politics. This article exposes a brief revision to the theoretical and methodological framework under which an academic study is being carried out on the contemporary military development, understood and explained from the national security culture and military strategic culture.

Keywords: Military strategic, National security culture, Military Development, Practice theory, Subjective methodology.

Resumen: En tiempos recientes, en el ámbito de las relaciones internacionales, ha emergido una corriente académica que ha revivido el pensamiento del sociólogo francés Pierre Bourdieu para replantear diversos conceptos fundamentales, con base en el estudio de las prácticas cotidianas, las estructuras simbólicas y las arenas de conflicto en las que diversos actores definen el rumbo de la política mundial. Este artículo expone una breve revisión de la base teórica y metodológica bajo la cual se está realizando un estudio académico sobre el desarrollo militar contemporáneo, entendido y explicado a partir de la cultura de seguridad nacional y la cultura estratégica militar.

Palabras clave: Cultura estratégica militar, Cultura de seguridad nacional, Desarrollo militar, Teoría de la práctica, Metodología subjetiva.

Recibido: 28 de mayo de 2017

Aceptado: 21 de julio de 2017

Para citar este artículo: Carlos Barrera, “Culture, Security, and Strategy: Analysis Framework for Understanding Military Development in the Context of 9/11”, Revista de Estudios en Seguridad Internacional, Vol. 3, No. 2, (2017), pp. 23-43. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18847/1.6.2

 

Introduction

This article aims to expose a brief revision to the theoretical and methodological framework of the doctoral project entitled: “Culture, Security, and Strategy in the North American Middle Powers: Comparison of the Military Development of Canada and Mexico in the Context of 9/11.”

The paper follows the next structure; firstly, it presents an overview of the research project in which this theoretical and methodological framework is being employed. Secondly, it is exposed a review of the theoretical framework, which attempts to recover elements of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice and some reinterpreted concepts inspired by this approach. Thirdly, the research methodology is described, which tries to put into practice the Vincent Pouliot’s subjective methodological proposal.

 

Research project

The central theme of this research project is the study of the military development undertaken by the middle powers of the North American region in the period from the end of the Cold War to date. It is of interest to examine the way in which the attacks in the United States in 2001 (9/11) affected the motives, modes, and purposes of the development observed especially in the Canadian and Mexican land armies.

It is proposed to use an approach centred on the cultural practices that take place in the national security and military strategic fields to address this topic. In both, a group of agents define a set of threats that put at risk the stability of the State and military strategies to face some of them. Both fields generate a strategic link that delineates military development, first by prioritising the use of military force to deal with certain threats, then by defining the required military capabilities, and finally by applying military force.

Military development begins in deciding the particularities of military force as this sets up the type of military capabilities (doctrine, organisation, training, material, leadership, personnel, facilities, interoperability, and policy) required to put in practice military strategies to face national security issues. This process can describe disruptive changes that aspire to prevent the occurrence of threats (transformation), incremental changes that only aim to mitigate current threats (adaptation), or simply not to make any changes (continuity).

Taking into consideration the elements that define the central theme of this project, the overarching research question arises: What role has culture played in the development of the land armies of the North American Middle Powers before and after 2001? With this question in mind, the general aim of this project is to examine and reflect on the way in which the cultural practices that shape the military development of Canada and Mexico have been sensible to the events of 9/11 in the United States.

The first avenue of inquiry of this study aims to examine in detail the practices carried out by members of the national security community of Canada and Mexico, particularly those involved in what some scholars have called “processes of securitisation.” These processes, from Bourdieu’s perspective, turn out to be a series of power struggles among the members of that community, seeking to impose and legitimise one view over others. These power relations are conflicting in the sense that members respond to different interests and intentions. For Bourdieu, members of such communities are merely participants of a game that takes place in the field of national security, a power field. This domain has its logic and rules to which the professionals are attached to act according to some strategic possibilities, allowing them to perform effective actions and achieve their objectives. In this sense, the aim is to impose and legitimise a subjective vision that defines the existence of objective threats to security through a discursive act, considered as one more practice. This line of research aspires to investigate how such practices, derived from the subjectivities of agents and the structure of the field, were modified by the events in the United States in 2001.

The second line of research points to tackle the practices carried out by members of the military strategic community of Canada and Mexico. The strategic planning process will be analysed, particularly regarding how it faces certain threats using military force. From the theory of practice, this series of processes describe patterns and tendencies concerning the preferences, beliefs, and inclinations of senior military officers regarding an ideal way to apply military force in an efficient way, in determined circumstances, and confronting specific threats. In this context, there are also conflicts in the interrelations between members of military organisations over how to employ military capabilities. In this case, the order, the logic, and the same application of military force turn out to be the object of such struggles. Parallel to the first avenue of inquiry, the practices will be observed in detail, the conditions of the military strategic field will be mapped, and the dispositions of some agents will be reconstructed to look at how were affected the strategic planning processes in Canada and Mexico before and after 2001.

The third and final avenue of inquiry is intended to examine a possible overlap between the fields of national security and military strategic, in which a tension between civilian agents and military agents prevail. In this overlap, it is possible to observe a new field, one with its own logic, norms, structures, and goals. In this new game, the objective results to impose and legitimate a specific security strategy that would involve the use of military force by a particular type of land army. In other words, in this emerging field, the participants act to prioritise the use of military force to mitigate the defined threats. There are also some ulterior practices aimed at deciding the ideal conditions of military organisations regarding military capabilities to applicate effectively military force, according to the nature of the threat and the particularities of the national security strategy and successive military strategy. This last line of research will recover and link the findings of the two previous avenues of inquiry to identify cultural practices, dispositions of the actors, and assumptions in the field that shape the motives, modes, and purposes of the military development undertaken in the land armies of Canada and Mexico from 2001.

The choice of the case studies about Canada and Mexico finds its justification when considering that both nations share geopolitical, security, and defence aspects. In the geopolitical arena, Canada and Mexico have historically been involved in matters relating to the Western Hemisphere and the North American region, such as economic competitiveness; climate, energy, and environment; global and regional cooperation; as well as security and defence aspects. Regarding the security issue, both nations share several implications resulting from their proximity to the United States, a global superpower, such as the influence in their threat perception, the configuration of the defence perimeter, as well as a common security agenda. Moreover, both nations have seen the need to face defence challenges caused by the emergence of transnational threats such as pandemics, terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime, natural disasters, and immigration.

 

Theory

This project finds in Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice a relevant theoretical corpus with the potential to give some tools to examine and analyse the practices that give origin, direction, and purpose to military development, particularly from the domains of national security and military strategy. Bourdieu’s theoretical thought sought to overcome and ignore the false and artificial dichotomies that confronted structural objectivism and constructivist subjectivism, which, from his perspective, limit in a ruinous way the process to know social reality. Under the self-designation of being a structuralist constructivist and/or constructivist structuralist, Bourdieu describes in his work, Outline of a Theory of Practice (1972), the nature of the metatheoretical threshold under which his intellectual work would germinate:

By structuralism or structuralist, I mean that there exist, in the social world itself, and not merely in symbolic systems, language, myth, etc., objective structures which are independent of the consciousness and desires of agents and are capable of guiding or constraining their practices or their representations. By constructivism, I mean that there is a social genesis on the one hand of the patterns of perception, thought and action which are constitutive of what I call the habitus, and on the other hand of social structures, and in particular of what I call fields and groups, especially of what are usually called social groups. (Bourdieu, 1989: 14; 1990: 147).

His initial outline on the theory of practice was developed and supplemented by a series of concepts that would strengthen it and give clarity to its logic of understanding of social reality. In his work, Distinction (1984), Bourdieu presented his conceptual triad of habitus, field and capital, which together and in a necessary interrelation give life to the theory of practice. His epistemological and ontological contributions seek to deepen and finely crumble all that subjective and objective that precedes, contextualises, and results from human practice, conceived as a fundamental link in the processes of construction of reality and construction of its knowledge. From this perspective, some international relations and international history scholars have placed Bourdieu’s approach on the constructivist metatheoretical threshold.

However, it is possible to affirm that his location in this paradigm is partial. His work complements and strengthens it by offering elements to approach the relations of power in the world level understanding the logic prevailing within and among states. Bourdieu’s approach also provides constructivism with elements for a rigorous methodology of empirical research, as well as for refining and synthesising the analysis of the dialectical relationship between objective, structural, and material aspects with subjective, individual, and ideational aspects of world politics.

 

Structuralist constructivism (and vice versa)

The migration of Bourdieu’s thinking begins in the epistemological field rather than in the ontological, under the argument that we live in a reality that has already been built in the past and is being created at all present moments by social dynamics, which must first be interpreted and later be constructed and reconstructed. Bourdieu’s epistemological reflexivity holds the principle that to know reality it is necessary to make the object of scientific analysis the same scientific analysis on social reality or, in other words, to do science of science or to objectify what is objectified through what Bourdieu calls “self-objectification.”

From this reflexive epistemological position of historicist nature, Bourdieu rejects the radical stands of positivism and postmodernism and insists that the social world cannot be studied using methods derived from natural sciences. Bourdieu defends the need to approach the study of the social through an interpretative perspective that allows knowing meanings instead of affirming universal laws. This philosophical definition of Bourdieu has many methodological implications since it urges the researcher to use reason against himself in his analysis processes using cognitive tools. In this way, Bourdieu’s approach focuses his proposal towards a social science not founded on reason, but on reasoning, that is, on reasoning about what reasoned.

As he sums it up, “objectifying the objectified” means that the social researcher must generate an epistemological rupture against common or pre-constructed knowledge, and then make it the object of study. He also encourages the systematisation of this technique through a loop of constant “self-objectification,” and thereby make that reflexivity a reflection. According to this, some scholars have described Bourdieu’s approach as the “science of science,” in which the researcher must maintain an attitude of “epistemological vigilance” to be aware of academic discourses and knowledge, as well as the conditions in which they are produced, avoiding falling into some “scholastic fallacies” or distortions of the subjectivity of the researcher.

Bourdieu advocates the historicisation of scientific reason by emphasising the need for the researcher to be aware of intellectual production, which is progressive and cumulative in nature, as opposed to the positivist determinism tradition and the postmodernist relativistic tradition. In his insistence on the necessity and relevance of this socio-analysis, the practices are fundamental, as well as the identification of the conditions in which its knowledge is given and the position in which the observer is.

Bourdieu’s ontological approach is defined as relational, considering various philosophical disputes, such as the division between subjectivism and objectivism, structure, and agency, or even the levels of analysis. Exponents of constructivism have approached this series of dilemmas that have reigned in the realm of social sciences and international relations as Alexander Wendt and Anthony Giddens, who sought to make clear such a dichotomy and try to overcome it, respectively. However, Bourdieu from the field of sociology had already identified the existence of such a dichotomy, as well as tried to give a convincing proposal some years in advance.

Bourdieu shows that the subjectivism that characterises to constructivists has trapped them in the ideas of common sense, which has limited them from being aware of the social world without scholastic biases or fallacies, thus living in a social structure of domination. On the other hand, the objectivism that characterises to structuralists led them to reify scientific models of reality as if they existed in social practice. Faced with this dichotomy between subjectivism and objectivism, which Bourdieu calls ruinous, he developed his conceptual proposals of habitus and field, which together with the notion of capital, gave rise to the theory of practice.

This approach, described as “socialised subjectivity,” avoids falling into determinisms or relativisms. It seeks the middle point in identifying the existence of subjective inclinations and objective positions that keep a dialectical link that affects the possibilities for practice. It is precisely Bourdieu’s theory of practice that gives logic to this relational ontology in which are associated habitus and fields, dispositions and positions, agency and structure, subjectivity, and objectivity, individual and society (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992: 126). This gives rise to a deeper understanding of the concepts and the logic of their articulation, which integrates both Bourdieu’s relational epistemological and reflective ontological visions.

 

Theory of practice

The philosophical point of departure of Bourdieu’s theory of practice is founded on the reflective knowledge of relational reality. His theory is shaped by a series of primary and secondary concepts that, when logically integrated, give an account of the dynamics and processes that are embedded in social reality. Bourdieu’s conceptual triad is constituted by the concepts of habitus, field, and capital, which, to interrelate, give light to secondary concepts, no less important, such as doxa, hysteresis, illusio, nomos, symbolic violence, symbolic power, reflexivity, situs, misrecognition, among others. In the middle of this conceptual framework, it is relevant to mention that it is under the logic of practice that these concepts are articulated.

The logic of practice tries to overcome the debate between the logic of consequences and the logic of appropriateness. Bourdieu does not assume that the practices of the social actors result from the internal expectations of the individual or the external norms dictated by society. This logic is positioned at an intermediate point and argues that the actions of social agents derive from dispositions forged through time (habitus) and positions given in a present moment (field) that involve the individual in certain social realms. Within this logic, Bourdieu defines in various of his works habitus as:

systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representations which can be objectively ‘regulated’ and ‘regular’ without in anyway being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends, or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them, and being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor. (Bourdieu, 1977: 72; 1990: 53).

In this sense, habitus is also conceived “as an acquired system of generative schemes objectively adjusted to the particular conditions in which it is constituted, … [that] engenders all the thoughts, all the perceptions, and all the actions consistent with those conditions and no others” (Bourdieu, 1977: 95). Similarly, habitus is referred to as a “system of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions” (Bourdieu, 1977: 82-83). Throughout Bourdieu’s work, the concept would evolve progressively without losing its essence of being a system or “a structuring structure, which organises practices and the perception of practices” (Bourdieu, 1984: 170).

Habitus can be described as intersubjective and historical in nature. On the one hand, it is intersubjective because it results from a dynamic interrelation between the subjective perspectives and predispositions of the social agents and the position of the social field in which they are at a given moment. On the other hand, it is historical because such subjective perspectives and predispositions are the results of individual and collective trajectories, which generate an individual thought structure constituted by principles and dispositions about the possibilities to materialise effective practices, according to the rules of the game prevailing in the social field. In this sense, Bourdieu describes habitus as “embodied history, internalised as a second nature and so forgotten as history – is the active presence of the whole past of which it is the product” (Bourdieu, 1990: 56); as well as “a principle of invention which, generated by history, is somewhat dragged away from history: since dispositions are durable, they spark all sorts of hysteresis effects (of lag, gap, discrepancy)” (Bourdieu, 1977: 72; 1990: 135).

In particular, the concept of habitus allows examining the nature of practices since their use in an interpretative analysis framework favours the understanding of the subjectivity of social actors, derived from the internalisation of external social structures, and giving origin to personal fundamentals and guidelines for effective practice (Williams, 2007: 25). In this sense, it is possible to emphasise that the habitus is not an innate knowledge, since it derives from the experience gained through a historical trajectory, nor is it a completely conscious or unconscious knowledge. The habitus oscillates between both states, within a semiconscious threshold according to the position that keeps the agent in the social field.

The sources of habitus are diverse. For example, it may be experience gained over time, observation of third-party practices, activities of daily living, lifestyle derived from the social class to which one belongs, the influence of state institutions, and including formal processes of inculcation, such as education and training received throughout life. Both the knowledge acquired formally and informally, generate a series of subjective parameters or dispositions to generate strategies that precede the materialisation of the practice as social action (Bourdieu, 1977: 143-158; 1990: 52-65; 1998: 8-14). In this sense, it is possible to say that the habitus is gradually changing, cumulative, progressive, and even heuristic, since it is in constant updating and adaptation to the conditions prevailing in the social field and the same individual and social trajectory.

This gives light to affirm that both the external structural elements of the social sphere and the system that forms the habitus of each agent are in permanent dynamism and affecting each other. Although some suppose a possible structural determinism in this first concept of Bourdieu, he argues that neither the habitus nor the field determines the action of the agent. The fusion of the resulting arrangement of the habitus and the position occupied by the individual in the social field is what originate practice (Swartz, 1997: 211; Jenkins, 2002: 79-83). This rapprochement to the concept of habitus is meaningless and far from the logic of practice if it is not explained in conjunction with a second equally relevant concept: field.

Field is the second most important concept in Bourdieu’s theory, which is conceived as a part of the universe or social space made up of the stakes that delineate the arena in which the agents compete. Although some scholars argue that this concept is diffuse, inconsistent and incomplete after the death of Bourdieu, it is possible to refer to one of its most complete definitions:

In analytical terms, a field can be defined as a network or a configuration of objective relations between positions. These positions are defined objectively in their existence and in the determinations that they impose on their occupants, agents or institutions, by their current and potential situations (situs) in the [wider] structure of the distribution of different currencies of power (or of capital), possession of which provides access to specific profits that are up for grabs in the field, at the same time, by their objective relations to other positions (domination, subordination, equivalents etc.). In highly differentiated societies, the social cosmos is constituted by the sum of these relatively autonomous social microcosms, spaces of objective relations which have a logic and a necessity that is specific and irreducible to those that govern other fields. (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992: 94-95).

Before breaking down this definition, it is important to mention that the field, understood briefly as the structural conditions of the social space in which agents are distributed, is made up by a particular logic according to its three constitutive dimensions (Bourdieu, 1993: 72-77). First, the field houses historically constructed power relations by various types of capital distributed along the field and embodied by agents. This generates power structures that derive in an unequal distribution of agent positions, thereby creating hierarchies and consequently domination that is possible to reproduce. Second, each field has its objects of struggle. That is to say; it is delineated by the stakes of the game that houses, under the understanding that each field hosts a different game with various participants, structures, and goals. This does not mean that each field is completely independent or autonomous. Fields often overlap and cause agents to jump from one field to another to engage in the search for symbolic capital that gives them greater power and a better position in the field. Third, there is a set of knowledge, ideas, norms, or rules that are taken for granted as they are accepted axiomatically in certain social situations. This knowledge is known as doxa and contributes to the preservation of the status quo of the field and, therefore, preserves the position of the dominant, who holds the position of greater power.

With these elements in mind, it is possible to synthesise the notion of field as a network of relationships between positions that are designated for the social agents taking part in that field. A power structure determines these positions and, therefore, the distribution of the actors in the positions will depend on the capital that they own, according to the specific logic prevailing in each field. Once agents have occupied their positions, power relations or disputes are established from their dispositions gestated by their habitus. This series of disputes within the field, as well as variations in the structures of other related fields, permanently reconfigure it.

In this part of the social space in which conflict arises, Bourdieu recognises it as a process of progressive and permanent search for the differentiation and creation of a distinction between agents (Bourdieu, 1987: 86, 134). This distinction allows preserving the status quo of hierarchy and domination, influencing the configuration of the structure to legitimise it and limiting the performance of other actors, preserving a status and the symbolic power that sustains it, and thereby achieve success in the game housed by the field (Bourdieu, 1990: 123-139). In synthesis, this series of dynamics that lodge the fields imply power, conflict and domination, elements that distinguish the nature of the social world (Bourdieu & Passeron, 2000: 64-68).

Retaking the analogy of the game, Bourdieu refers that it is necessary to “feel the game” or “feel the practice” to obtain success in the field. That is to say, to be able to be sensitive to the reflexes of the adjustment that undergoes the habitus of according to the structural conditions of the field in which it is competing. In the same way, he makes the metaphor that the internal logic of the field is determined by the type of power that is at stake in the agents’ stakes (Bourdieu, 1990: 80-98). This is very relevant for methodological and analytical aspects since some academics affirm that to generate a topography of the field it is indispensable to know its logic and structure, as well as the implicit laws that influence, but do not determine, the strategies and practices of the participants (Bourdieu, 1990: 80-96; Kauppi, 2003: 775-789, 2013: 193-206). Such a process takes as its starting point reflexive practice, the recognition of relationships, as well as the identification of the actors, who are the gateway to know the formal and informal, tangible and intangible structures of field and habitus.

Closely connected with the concepts of habitus and field, capital is the third most important concept of Bourdieu’s theory. Through it, it is possible to evaluate the way in which power is distributed and agglomerates within the field. The notion of this concept may have inspiration in Marxist sociology; however, Bourdieu expands it beyond its materialistic meaning and imports it to favour the understanding of everyday practices. Bourdieu identifies capital as something plural that gives power to those who own it. It can be of different natures according to the logic and structure of the field in which it is contained. For example, his work refers to economic, cultural, and social capital, as well as a symbolic capital that “designates the effects of any form of capital when people do not perceive them as such” (Wacquant, 2006: 7). In this sense, Bourdieu resorts to the extended concept of capital to specify the way in which the social world works, such as he affirms:

The social world is accumulated history, and if it is not to be reduced to a discontinuous series of instantaneous mechanical equilibria between agents who are treated as interchangeable particles, one must reintroduce into it the notion of capital and with it, accumulation and all its effects. (Bourdieu, 1986: 15).

Deepening about the types of capital, the economic can be represented by the material and financial resources that the agents possess, and that define part of the social class to which they belong. Cultural capital derives from the agents’ cognitive and intellectual qualities, such as verbal communication skills, technical abilities, mastery of specialised knowledge, understanding of culture, as well as the educational and labour trajectory. Social capital refers to the nature of the social bonds of the agents, which may be in other fields and can enjoy of greater or lesser volume of capital of other types. Finally, symbolic capital, which can be added to any other kind of capital, it is a kind of manifestation that involve complicity among agents in a relationship of domination. This capital exerts a symbolic force that naturalises and legitimates the hierarchies through the recognition of the distinction between the prestige of a dominating agent and that of a dominated agent. The application of this force generates symbolic violence and tends to perpetuate social hierarchies in favour of the most privileged actors in the field (Bourdieu, 1994: 117, 161; Guzzini, 2013: 81).

It should be noted that the embodiment of capital by agents, gives them access to various fields and influences, to a greater or lesser extent, their chances of success in their participation. Also, the distribution and volume of capital in the field affect the generation of asymmetry, imbalance, and inequality in positions, thus creating hierarchies, forms of domination, and uses of power to reproduce and perpetuate the status quo of logic and structure of the field. Although there is a concordance between the predominant capital type and the nature of the field, Bourdieu recognises the existence of conversions from one sort of capital to another, such as money or currency exchange, in order to allow bearer to obtain benefits of its social investment in a diversity of linked fields in which it has participation (Bourdieu, 1986: 242-244).

Capital can be understood from the idea that it is part of the “objective structure” of the field. Also, it constitutes the stakes on which agents placed in the field will carry out their struggles. During such a conflict, various types of capital are carried and used by the participants, aiming to accumulate a greater volume of it. In this sense, analytically and methodologically, the role of agents is fundamental to know through their habitus the logic of the field that motivates them to make use of their capital in one way or another, aspects that could be difficult to identify for outside observers to the field (Jackson, 2009: 102-113).

This conceptual triad composes the core of Bourdieu’s theory of practice, since, from the interrelation between the dispositions created by the habitus and the prescriptive positions in the field, is when practice emerges as a constitutive element of the social reality. In Bourdieu’s words:

The relationship between the habitus and the field is foremost one of conditioning: the field structures the habitus which is the product of the incorporation of the immanent demands of the field … but it is also a relationship of knowledge and of constructive cognition: the habitus contributes to the constitution of the field as a world of meaning, endowed with sense and value, worthy of the necessary investment of energy. (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992: 119).

However, it is not only the relationship between habitus and field that is relevant to account for the social world but also the role of capital which is embedded in such interrelation, as Bourdieu describes:

First, capital constitutes the stakes over which participants in the field are in constant struggle. Second, it comprises the resources which these same participants mobilise in pursuit of their aims. Capital is thus the various currencies of power within a given field. (Bourdieu, 1986: 242-4).

In this logic of practice, it is important to emphasise two aspects that derive from this series of interrelationships and that are relevant for the methodology and the processes of analysis: dispositions and positions. On the one hand, dispositions can be summarised as the subjective inclinations that an agent has towards one or another type of practices. On the contrary, positions are conceived as the result of the objective structure that shapes the field. Thus, derived from a dialectical interrelation between both elements, the decision to carry out one or another practice results from the agent’s view according to the position that occupies in the field. Depending on this vision, the agent’s capital, as well as the prevailing logic in the field, the participant enters a process of developing strategies to maintain or improve its position in the field. In this sense, strategies will always seek to generate incremental or disruptive changes in the structure of the field, or, conversely, amid conflict, limit the practice of other actors (Merand & Forget, 2013: 92-113).

 

Subjective + objective = sobjective methodology

Bourdieu’s theory of practice has given important arguments for academics of international relations about the need to overcome the stagnation concerning the methodological and analytical approach centred on the thinking or actions of individuals, or on the logic or elements of the structure (Schatzki, 2001: 1-14). In this sense, this research methodology is limited to following a large part of the methodological and analytical considerations proposed by Bourdieu and by various international relations scholars. Beyond wanting to generate an innovative methodological framework, this project will carry out two case studies, those of Canada and Mexico, that will later be subjected to a comparative analysis. In this sense, it is possible to define this research methodology centred on the practice as sobjective, reflexive, inductive, interpretative, historical, and empirical; criteria that, from the epistemological and ontological perspective of Bourdieu, are pertinent (Pouliot, 2010: 53).

This methodology is described as sobjective to achieve the study of practicality, that is, the generation of reflexive action. The term sobjectivity, coined by Vincent Pouliot, is described as a methodological consideration in which the researcher “begins with the inductive recovery of agents’ realities and practical logics, then objectifies them through the interpretation of intersubjective contexts and thereafter pursues further objectification through historicisation” (Pouliot, 2013: 50). This notion of sobjectivity tries to recover the central idea of constructivism about the objectivation of social reality; however, it incorporates subjective knowledge about the social and international world into the analysis. This methodological approach derives from Bourdieu’s position on the relevance of the phenomenological and physical perspectives to understand the social world, that is, the subjective aspects derived from the agents and those objectives of the structures that constitute our reality (Pouliot, 2007; 2010: 52).

This methodology is also reflexive, understanding that the reflexivity delineated by Bourdieu fulfils a double function in its theoretical approach, one of epistemological character and the other of methodological character. In a methodological sense, this concept is fundamental to the analysis of the social world, since it considers the need to generate a rupture between the social world and the researcher to be able to contemplate its relation to the action, and thus to be able to examine hermeneutically the daily knowledge that conforms the social world. In this hermeneutic contemplation, the researcher establishes its position of epistemological vigilance to be aware of the production of knowledge and the conditions in which it emerges, avoiding scholastic biases and fallacies throughout the research process. In this same sense, reflexivity as a methodological element urges researchers to use the tools of sociological analysis to themselves (Pouliot, 2013: 26-8).

This methodology takes an inductive approach. As Pouliot argues, this approach allows constructivism to start from the foundations and roots of the social world to recover first-hand the agents’ meanings and beliefs about reality, as well as the way reality in which they operate. This avoids, unlike the deductive approach, from a previously developed and deliberately imposed knowledge, which distorts and biases the process of generating an understanding of the social world. From this perspective, the researcher will inquire about the realities that are taken for granted the agents that participate in a certain field, as well as the logic under which it works. In this sense, this inductive approach needs a substantive immersion of the researcher in the social world being studied (Pouliot, 2010: 59-60).

In agreement with the constructivist profile of this methodological framework, it is pertinent to emphasise its interpretative nature. Given that the constructivist epistemology lies in the social construction of knowledge, this methodological consideration focuses on understanding the meanings that form such construction, and thus, it is possible to reach an understanding of the way in which social reality functions. According to Pouliot, the interpretation of social reality from Bourdieu’s perspective must focus on subjective meanings, which are objectivities that form part of an intersubjective context (Pouliot, 2010: 61-2). This, in some way, links with the notion of the sobjectivity and the logical articulation among the subjective, the objective, and the intersubjective. Likewise, this refers to the idea of the hermeneutic circle in which the interpretation of reality is possible through relating its parts regarding a whole and vice versa, as well as a double constructivist hermeneutics in which the understanding is placed at the level of the observer, of the actor, and between them (Giddens, 1987: 20-1; Hacking, 1995; Guzzini, 2000).

Under the same constructivist realm, this methodology is also catalogued as historical under the understanding that the meanings that make up social reality change over time. Since the subjective and the objective are dynamic, the search for an understanding of meanings requires a longitudinal “thick description” of the practices, as well as the contexts that harbour them (Geertz, 1973: 9). As some scholars argue, constructivism is essentially historicist, given that the historicity of reality gives evidence of the contexts that have shaped social world. For this research, the evolution of the reasons, ways, and purposes of certain practices carried out by agents, as well as their interrelation with the field in which they have taken part, will be traced. In the same way, this will favour the decision-making processes, as well as reconstruct explanatory and neutralising narratives that account for the trajectories and patterns that describe the dynamism of agent’s dispositions, positions in fields, and their interrelationships (Pouliot, 2010: 62-5).

Finally, the hallmark of Bourdieu’s methodology is its empirical character, rarely considered in the context of international relations. Taking into consideration that from their anthropological and ethnographic approach, practices are the raw material and the primary input for sociological study, it is imperative to access data sources, information carriers, and the environments that harbour them, all of them directly, if possible (Pouliot, 2013: 48). The rigorously of the Boudreau’s empirical research and analysis lead to constructivism to a new level, at the level of being directly involved with the elements that constitute and contextualise the research topic. This urges us to put aside the a priori assumptions or suppositions that, on some occasions, derive from scholastic biases and fallacies, as described by Bourdieu. In this way, the empirical analysis centred on the practice delineates the methodological strategy of this research, which contemplates the way of putting into practice the theory of practice (Adler & Pouliot, 2011).

 

Research strategy

This research aims to develop a couple of case studies focused on the practices of the members of the national security and military strategic communities of Canada and Mexico in the context of the end of the Cold War to date. In addition to the development of these cases, a comparative analysis is proposed, taking into consideration that both countries share a series of historical circumstances, to which they have responded in a specific way. Bourdieu’s approach emphasises two aspects that are fundamental for the configuration of a strategy congruent with the theory of practice. These elements are, on the one hand, the three stages of research that the researcher will have to face; and on the other hand, two moments that determine the success of the practice of sociology, particularly when working with this theoretical framework (Pouliot, 2013: 46).

Based on methodological considerations, the operationalisation of Bourdieu’s theoretical thinking needs a specific strategy. This strategy contemplates three critical aspects that the researcher will have to deal with throughout the research process. The particularities of this strategy make sense to the use of methods and techniques for the collection of data and information. It also stresses the need to access the actors and contexts directly, however, since in some cases it will be complicated, it considers alternative ways to access them indirectly. In this sense, the three stages suggested by the literature are access to practices, reconstruction of logical dispositions, as well as the construction of positional logic (Pouliot, 2013: 46-47).

First, have access to the practices. This front encourages the researcher to collect data and information directly in the fields in question and first-hand of the participating agents. The main aim is to generate a map of the local space in which individuals execute their practices. In other words, the purpose of entering the “natural habitat” of professionals, both to observe the context, as well as to have a direct deal with practitioners. In this respect, Pouliot suggests, in order of priority, access to the raw material through participant observation. Since this is sometimes complicated, he proposes to access indirectly through semi-structured interviews or focus groups to practitioners, investigating their daily practices, the practices of other professionals, as well as the contexts surrounding their practices. Finally, as a last resort or complement to the previous methods, the textual analysis offers indirect access to practices and contexts. In this study, it recommends considering documentation that functions as a window to agents and spaces, as well as to value speech as a practice in itself (Pouliot, 2013: 48-50).

Second, reconstruct the dispositional logic. This stage is related to the generation of an image referring to the practical knowledge that the agents have and that enables them to execute their practices. Its primary aim is to recover the meanings and beliefs that practitioners have about their reality, that is, to give meaning to the practices observed in the first stage. This knowledge may be, in some cases, part of common sense or knowledge taken for granted by agents, and therefore an essential part of their habitus. In this sense, this stage aims to inquire about the subjectivities that make up the habitus and that result in the gestation of the actors’ dispositions. It is recommended to start collecting data and information directly through participant observation at the scene. In this case, it is a second option to use the analysis of textual sources as an extension of ethnography. In this case, an analysis with a special sensitivity is sought to capture the essence of the practices, that is, the knowledge that is embedded in the actors, and that, without it, would not be able to materialise such acts. Finally, or as a complement, the application of semi-structured interviews allows the reconstruction of the practices through their points of view. However, for this, the willingness and openness of the practitioner to talk about issues that might be sensitive or difficult to communicate is essential. Both for the revision of texts and for the interviews, it is suggested to inquire about the biographies of the participants or their colleagues, which will give the possibility of identifying professional trajectories, socio-economic mobility, or educational background (Pouliot, 2013: 50-52).

Third, construct the positional logic. According to Pouliot, the construction of an image referring to the positional logic of the practices contemplates three activities regarding the field: interpretation of the rules of the game, mapping of the distribution and volume of the resources, as well as to track the battles historically. First, the interpretation of the rules of the game leads us to examine the intersubjective dimension of the structure through rebuilding the prevailing doxa in the field. This will necessitate the interpretation of the practices through textual sources and through social artefacts that tacitly refer to the rules of the game. Discourse analysis and text analysis prove to be pertinent techniques; however, it is important to consider the breadth of intertextuality and define the limits of analysis. Second, mapping resources require a type of “topography” of the field in which agents operate. For this activity, the correspondence analysis, and even statistical methods, allow qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the variety of resources and some patterns on their volume and distribution. Also, the analysis of social networks allows to inquire about the social links of the actors, about expressions that account for the type of relationship in the same or different field, and even of the peculiarities of the capitals they own. Third, the historical tracing of battles is possible through the historiography of the predominant doxa in the field, distinguishing in it, its change through time, as well as milestones that describe confrontations, ruptures, or other types of alteration (Pouliot, 2013: 52-54).

In addition to these three stages that delimit the methodological research strategy, it is important to emphasise what Bourdieu calls the two main “moments” of the practice of sociological disciplines. Bourdieu argues that “a science of the social world that cannot be reduced either to a social phenomenology or to a social physics,” so it is imperative for social researchers who take this theoretical perspective, to address both sides of the coin, from which both moments derive (Bourdieu, 1990: 25). On the one hand, the objectivist moment, according to Bourdieu, is responsible for “an analysis of relative positions and of the objective relations between these positions” (Bourdieu, 1989: 16). This field-centred analysis is intended to represent a configuration of the agents’ position, as well as the quantity and quality of their relationships, which are structured by rules and certain volumes and distribution of capital (Pouliot, 2013: 48-49). On the other hand, the subjectivist moment, from the perspective of Bourdieu, is oriented to “the construction of the visions of the world which themselves contribute to the construction of this world” (Bourdieu, 1989: 18). This moment centred on the habitus is oriented to generate a map of the inclinations acquired by the agent after having experienced the participation in other positions, with other participants, in other games, in other fields (Pouliot, 2013: 48-49). Both moments, as a whole, address Pouliot’s notion of sobjectivity, which generates a knowledge of “distant experience” and a knowledge of “near experience” of intersubjective social reality constituted by the subjective phenomenological world and the objective physical world. In this sense, it is evident that practice is of sobjective character, resulting from the merging of the subjective disposition of the habitus with the objective positions of the field (Pouliot, 2010: 52-53; 2013: 47-48, 50).

 

Methods and sources

This last section describes the research process, which is nothing more than the sequence under which the methodological considerations are articulated, the stages of the strategy with their respective methods and techniques, as well as the moments of sociological practice. This process is oriented to put into practice the theory of practice of Bourdieu through the development of two case studies, which will be compared later. In this logic, the process consists of three phases, which agglomerate mixed methods of research used to collect data and information of a quantitative and qualitative nature. So, it will mention some of the sources that are considered relevant to start the research process. It is worth mentioning that the moments of sociological practice are arranged transversely throughout the three phases of the research process. Likewise, it is clarified that the stages of the strategy will not be bound to a single process phase, but these will work as bridges between the phases, using in a complementary way the methods considered for each one of the stages. It should be emphasised that the collection of data and information, as well as their interpretation, will be segmented according to the two case studies (Canada and Mexico), the fields of analysis (national security, military strategic, and the overlap) and the historical periods that are relevant for this research (from 1985 to 2001 and from 2001 to 2017).

Firstly, the empirical phase aims to materialise the access to practices and their environments, particularly in the areas of national security and military strategic in Canada and Mexico. This direct or indirect access will allow the collection of data and information through three methods that will be used in a complementary way, according to the circumstances under which the field study is developed. First, it is intended to conduct participant observation at sites where members of national security communities and military strategic communities operate, such as national parliaments and assemblies, government departments and institutions, military barracks, and campuses, as well as universities and offices of civil organisations involved. Second, semi-structured interviews will be conducted with members of such communities, such as politicians, military, academics, journalists, businessmen, industrialists, and other members of civil society. Third, a textual analysis of documents that deal with aspects of practices and their contexts, such as meetings agendas, minutes of meetings, meetings reports, institutional agendas, official communications, official resolutions, government bulletins, personal journals, newspapers, transcripts, work reports, annual reports, personal biographies, diplomatic and institutional cables, as well as recordings and photographs, some of them housed in national and institutional historical archives, and some others held by the media or even participants.

To link the empirical phase and the subsequent phase, the first part of the activities corresponding to the reconstruction of the habitus-derived dispositional logic and the construction of field-derived positional logic will also be carried out in this phase. On the one hand, data regarding the agents’ subjectivity will be collected using the same methods that will be used during access to the practices. In this sense, the application of these methods will be double, both to obtain data about practices and their contexts, as well as details about the knowledge, skills, beliefs, and meanings that make up the dispositions that precede the practice of the agents. On the other hand, the collection of data regarding the fields’ objectivity will be carried out through the execution of analytical methods in various modalities. For example, institutional texts will be consulted in order to analyse the discursive logic and the narratives embedded in them, social artefacts that house the rules of the game (codes, symbols, objects, committees, resources, among others) in order to capture the form and texture of the prevailing doxa in the game. Correspondence, as well as institutional and personal social networks, statistical indicators related to aspects of national security and military strategy, as well as institutional collections and historical records that have left traces of doxa predominant in the field, will be consulted.

Secondly, the interpretation phase aims to process qualitative and quantitative data and information obtained throughout the empirical phase. This phase is intended to begin in the opposite direction of the empirical phase. It will start with the interpretative analysis referring to the dispositional reconstruction and the positional construction, having as a final goal the interpretation of the practices and their contexts. This logic is only a matter of order since it is clear that the construction and reconstruction of dispositions (habitus and capital volume), positions (field and capital distribution) and practices (habitus + field + capital) will be made not necessarily in a linear or sequential way. In this sense, it is possible to define this second phase as a continuation of the first but focused only on the reflexive assessment and hermeneutical analysis of data and information. These two activities will have as the primary purpose to “weave” in a congruent way and under the logic of practicality, the subjective, objective and subjective aspects that give an account of the intersubjectivity of the social reality under study.

Given the constructivist approach of this project, the heart of the research process lies precisely in the interpretive, reflective and historicist activity. To put into practice the theory of practice, it is necessary to selecting and collecting raw material from the social world and extrapolating the data and information that portray the practices. That is to say, overlapping the “topography” of the field, as well as the “radiography” generated about the habitus. In this “knitting” is intended to produce a series of partial images of reality, which will respond to the time and space under examination. It is important to make clear the risks and challenges that this phase can present. For example, because of the complexity of the social world, it will be a challenge to distinguish between overlapping fields, the way in which they interact and affect each other, and the trajectories of agents across the diversity of those fields. Thus, with these two first phases of the research process, the conclusion of the case studies of Canada and Mexico is proposed.

Thirdly, the comparative phase aims to systematically compare the findings of each of the case studies in the two temporalities addressed. For this, a quantitative and qualitative comparative analysis will be carried out, emphasising causal and constitutive aspects of the common and distinctive aspects of both cases. The comparative perspective of this project takes as resources the partial images generated in the previous phases to find particularities that broaden and deepen the understanding of the regional dynamics of North America in matters of national security and military strategic before and after 9/11. Under this logic, the comparison considers, among others, aspects such as the middle power nature of the two states, their relationship with a superpower such as the United States, their hemispheric and regional commitments, as well as the security and defence challenges they face. In short, this final phase seeks to link the partial images obtained in the case studies, as well as expand and deepen its content to generate an explanatory understanding of this fragment of social reality. It should be noted that this comparative dynamic has no intention to test any hypothesis, theory, or law, is only part of the process of expanding and deepening the explanatory understanding of cultures embedded in the domains of national security and military strategic, and that give shape to the contemporary military development in Canada and Mexico.

Since this project is centred on the practices of members of security and military communities, the comparison between cases will break down the practical logic recorded. In other words, it will be discussed particularities of decision-making processes, interrelation between State and government policies in security and military matters, particular characteristics of the objective structure of the field and the distribution of its capital, the subjective particularities of the habitus and the volume of capital incorporated to the agents involved, and finally, the confluence of dispositions and positions in the form of practices. In this sense, it is possible to affirm that the core of this comparative phase is to identify the hysteresis effect in both cases, i.e., to examine in both cases, through their practices, the possible delay or incompatibility between the dispositions of the habitus, the regularities of the structure of the field, as well as the rules of the national security and military strategic games in the fields of power of Canada, Mexico, and North America following the attacks of 9/11.

 

Conclusion

This project finds inspiration in the Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice and the Vincent Pouliot’s subjective methodology to examine the national security and military strategic fields that shape military development. These approaches help to place at the centre of the analysis the cultural practices of members of the Canadian and Mexican national security and military strategic communities, taking into consideration subjective aspects of their members, as well as objective aspects of the structures in which they operate. The application of Bourdieu’s theory of practice in the study of security and strategy, whilst pertinent, represents a great challenge.

The structure of this project contemplates examining military development from a perspective that differs, to a greater or lesser extent, from the theoretical and methodological currents that have predominated in disciplines such as international relations and international history, as well as in some of its subdisciplines. The so-called “practice turn” of social sciences and “cultural turn” of humanities inspire the definition of these avenues of inquiry. From these have emerged the interest in examining the cultural practices that take place in the fields in which agents’ acts and interactions shape the motives, modes, and purposes of contemporary military development. In other words, the practices of cultural nature carried out by the members of the national security and military strategic communities of Canada and Mexico in the period from 1985 to 2001 and from 2001 to 2017 will be examined under the Bourdieu’s theoretical lens and the Pouliot’s methodological strategy.

The relevance of this research project lies in its theoretical and methodological contribution. This academic project proposes to analyse the military development from a different perspective to the academic mainstream through the Bourdieu’s thinking and the Pouliot’s strategy. It is aimed to establish bridges linking the disciplines of international relations and international history, as well as the subdisciplines of security studies and strategic studies through the theory of practice. Also, the development of this empirical research based on comparative case studies aims to support the emerging literature with these focuses. Finally, this project intends to contribute providing a reflection on the impact of 9/11 events out of the US-centric perspective.

It is possible to affirm that the heart of Bourdieu’s proposal lies in the dialectic nature of the process that gives life to the social world. This process that interrelates to the habitus, field, and capital responds at all times to the logic of practicality, which supports the theorising of both representational and non-representational aspects of human action (Bourdieu, 1990; Pouliot, 2010: 13). Likewise, the philosophical, anthropological, and sociological edges of Bourdieu’s work converge in his call to make use of reflexivity to examine such a process with such logic and urges to the social researcher to be aware of the factors that will invariably generate a distortion in his subjectivity about the objectivity of social reality.

Migrating Bourdieu’s thinking to the field of international relations, and its subdisciplines of security and strategic studies, is challenging as it shows significant differences with dominant theories. According to some international relations scholars, Bourdieu’s approach contributes significantly to current theory. For example, some of them have developed the notion of subjective methodology, alluding to the fact that not only must social reality be objectified, as constructivism does, but also subjective knowledge about intersubjective relationships that make up the social world (Pouliot, 2010: 52).

This approach also gives us options for overcoming and freeing ourselves from dichotomous philosophical debates that have somehow skewed and limited our understanding of the way in which the two sides of the coin are interrelated and mutually constituted. It also helps to avoid the reification of culture and offers a taxonomy of culture to analyse the interaction between agents and structures in the production of strategies by decision-makers. It also provides a rigorous analytical and methodological perspective with an empirical basis that has not been observed to date in the domains of international relations (Neumann & Heikka, 2005; Rasmussen, 2005; Jackson, 2009; Csernatoni, 2012).

 

Note about the author:

Carlos Barrera is a postgraduate research student in the PhD programme in War Studies at the Scottish Centre for War Studies of the University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK. He is a visiting researcher at the Centre for International Studies at El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico, and at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, Canada.

 

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