Symbols and world politics:Towards a long-term perspective on historical trends and contemporary challenges

Type Article
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Early online date12 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sep 2019
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The role of symbols in world politics remains on the margins of the study of international relations. There has been no systematic discussion of how to promote theoretically informed empirical analyses of their role in earlier epochs and in the current era. This article defends a long-term perspective on symbols that emphasises their relationship with the overall historical trend towards societies of greater magnitude and destructive power. It advances a preliminary classification of analytically distinguishable core symbols in order to support future inquiries into symbols in state-organised societies and symbols that have been central to attempts to create wider solidarities. A long-term perspective on symbolic realms is important in order to understand the relationship between ‘national’ and ‘cosmopolitan symbols’ in the current era. Current challenges in the symbolic sphere illustrate more general trends in human societies, namely, problems in constructing wider symbolic frameworks that permit closer cooperation between groups in the context of increasing levels of interconnectedness


  • historical sociology, long-term processes, political symbols, state power, universal orientations