David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Sociological Theory 23 (4):339-367 (2005)
The widespread embrace of imperial terminology across the political spectrum during the past three years has not led to an increased level of conceptual or theoretical clarity around the word "empire." There is also disagreement about whether the United States is itself an empire, and if so, what sort of empire it is; the determinants of its geopolitical stance; and the effects of "empire as a way of life" on the "metropole." Using the United States and Germany in the past 200 years as empirical cases, this article proposes a set of historically embedded categories for distinguishing among different types of imperial practice. The central distinction contrasts territorial and nonterritorial types of modern empire, that is, colonialism versus imperialism. Against world-system theory, territorial and nonterritorial approaches have not typically appeared in pure form but have been mixed together both in time and in the repertoire of individual metropolitan states. After developing these categories the second part of the article explores empire's determinants and its effects, again focusing on the German and U.S. cases but with forays into Portuguese and British imperialism. Supporters of overseas empire often couch their arguments in economic or strategic terms, and social theorists have followed suit in accepting these expressed motives as the "taproot of imperialism" (J. A. Hobson). But other factors have played an equally important role in shaping imperial practices, even pushing in directions that are economically and geopolitically counterproductive for the imperial power. Postcolonial theorists have rightly emphasized the cultural and psychic processes at work in empire but have tended to ignore empire's effects on practices of economy and its regulation. Current U.S. imperialism abroad may not be a danger to capitalism per se or to America's overall political power, but it is threatening and remaking the domestic post-Fordist mode of social regulation
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