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B.A. (Benjamin) Herborth, Dr

Assistant Professor
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1) International Relations and the Politics of World Society

 Theoretical innovation in International Relations today emerges most prominently out of interdisciplinary encounters with neighbouring fields such as social and political theory. World society studies, in my understanding, is the attempt to bring to bear theoretical resources from social and political theory in the analysis of concrete phenomena of global politics. Hence, I do not think of a “theory of world society” as a merely abstract conceptual edifice, but rather in terms of a helpful tool in practical research. Basic questions of social and political theory –  e.g., how does (global) politics relate to the economy, law, morality, religion, society respectively and in conjunction? – are very much the daily bread of practical research. In order to understand contemporary transformations of global and international law, for instance, we need to understand the relation between law and security. World society studies marks the space within which it becomes possible to inquire into such relations.


2) New Theories of Security and the Global War on Terror

An additional field of research I have extensively worked in is contemporary security studies. In the context of a joint project entitled “Securitizing the West” within the framework of the Frankfurt Research Cluster on the “Formation of Normative Orders” (with Gunther Hellmann, Gabi Schlag, Christian Weber), I addressed the institutional consequences of the global war on terror from the point of view of securitization theory. Securitization theory posits that the language and practice of security engenders a state of emergency. When the distinct grammar of security is invoked, the image of an existential threat to a referent object, which must be protected, legitimises the use of extraordinary measures. Hence, we ought to look not only at a particular constellations of threats, but also at the underlying “politics of security”, its sociological pre-conditions, and its normative-practical consequences. Along these lines, the project traced the degree to which “the West” has figured as such a referent object in the wake of the global war on terror.

          Empirically, my own contribution to the project focused on the consequences of the war on terror in terms of transformations of the rule of law. A detailed interpretive reading of official documents from the U.S., the EU, and the Council of Europe, in particular the notorious torture memos, justifications for extraordinary renditions, and a reconstruction of popular discourses on torture (surrounding, for instance, the TV series “24”) informed the conclusion that in the wake of the war on terror the hyper-political logic of securitization, which legitimates extraordinary measures such as torture through the invocation of situative emergencies is gradually being replaced by a technocratic logic of risk management, which contributes to routinizing elements of a state of exception beyond the immediate duration of situative emergencies, and thus has profound repercussions on the institutional design and the everyday practice of the rule of law.


3) Reconstructive Methodology and Interpretive Methods in International Relations Political Science

The interpretive methodological framework brought to bear in the project illustrates a third research focus. Reconstructive, interpretive methodology has emerged in recent years as a field of research, which tries to overcome the strict separation between social and political theory on the one hand and substantive, empirical research on the other. Hence, while my interest does include issues of method, i.e. the practicalities of the research process, I focus in particular on methodology as the field where theory and method are to be mediated. While such as a focus on methodology cuts across all my research efforts, I find it increasingly important to lay out specifically the problems and challenges involved in bringing to bear conceptual tools from social and political theory in the study of global politics. In my previous research I have, in particular, employed tools from social-scientific hermeneutics, which focus on the concrete operations of structures of meaning in textual data. I am planning to further develop this as a key site of my research activities in terms of both teaching and publication.

Last modified:25 June 2022 10.54 a.m.