Global Studies Quarterly | 2022
Global politics is exceedingly soulful, but the field of international relations (IR) astonishingly soulless. The world order is undergoing tectonic shifts: the “Western” unipolar moment is receding, China is rising, and geographies of “(Afro-)EurAsia” and the “Indo-Pacific” are emerging. To align with such shifts and remap the international geography, global actors are increasingly (re)producing narratives of civilizational “souls.” Putin views Ukraine as part of the “Russian world,” imbued with the “Russian soul.” Xi's “Thought,” instilled in China's schools and constitution, intends to “engineer” the country's soul as a “civilizational state.” Von der Leyen advocates strengthening the European Union's “soul.” Biden and Trump vied for “America's soul.” But what is even a soul? I define a collective soul as a historical–spiritual space, constructed materially and ideationally, and construed as a vital force that permeates, orders, and embodies—or transubstantiates—a body politic, and engraves in it a mythical Ursprung (origin) and telos. Adopting a critical geography approach, I map out several soul-making narratives by unpacking how they “graph” their (internal, regional, or global) “geo” through “space-framing assumptions” and “space-producing practices.” They include (1) “civilizational states,” focused on China and geographies of “Sinosphere” and “Afro-EurAsia”; (2) “civilizational crossroads,” focused on the “Iranosphere”; (3) the US-led “rules-based order,” as the latest iteration of the “liberal civilization” regraphing its soul onto the “Indo-Pacific”; and (4) two European soul-producing narratives: the far-right's “Judeo-Christianism” and the mainstream “European strategic autonomy.” Finally, I discuss the implications of soulcraft—as an indispensable yet unacknowledged component of statecraft—for IR theory.
Global Studies Quarterly