Monday, 10 December 2018

Best Books on Culture and Identity

Social Science is a vast field of investigation.

And often a student will come across terms such as, culture, identity and norms. These three terms are complex and definitely interwine with each other.

In the fast changing era of world politics, the meaning and implications of culture, identity and norms becomes crucial to understand.

In the quest to simplify the task of a reader, I present a list of the best books that are basic yet extremely helpful in building a firm foundation for arguments to form on any question related to culture, identity and norms.

The Future of Law in a Multicultural World


Adda Bruemmer Bozeman

Assuming that political systems are based on a particular's biases and perceptions, the author challenges the laws of Islamic Middle East, Asia, Africa and China, and argues on their meaning and relevance in the global context. The author states that variety of cultures will never let one vision to develop. The world will continue to be multicultural despite the unifying power of technology and other rhetoric systems of the West. This book is a mandatory read for understating why Western ideals and laws of internationalism are futile when it comes to achieving world unity.

Cultural Forces in World Politics


Ali A. Mazrui

Very engaging and argumentative, the author debates culture and its role in the existing world. He laments that much of the focus is on political strategy and arms which is misleading when trying to understand what controls power. The author aims to highlight the power of culture in not just human attitude but in world politics. Most importantly, the book makes you question whether America or Europe are really the major players or are there other forces as well?

The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity


Steven Pinker

An extremely optimist view on human behavior, the author paints a positive image and argues that human beings have become less violent, wars have declined, and modern day international laws and organizations have changed the Hobbesian notion of nasty man and state. The kind of harsh violence that history narrates, is not affecting our lives nowadays and there is a strong realization that human race needs to grow and prosper, and peaceful coexistence is beneficial. The author bases his arguments on 5 main triggers of peace, namely, rise of modern state, technological progress, feminism, cosmopolitanism and application of reason, knowledge and rationality.

Anthropological Theory Today


Henrietta L. Moore

The book touches upon several thriving topics like liberalism, gender, military and violence. The author wants researchers to revert back to theory in order to make "interventions in a debate". A must read for anthropologists or anyone who is trying to gain an insight into sociocultural anthropology.

Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bein Phu, The Vietnam Decisions of 1965


YF Khong

The author believes that American Presidents have a habit of using analogies for justifying their policy choices and decisions. He narrates instances wherein foreign policy advisors to the President have intervened in the difficult situation like the conflict in Vietnam. Putting into perspective the Analogical Explanation Framework, the author plays with human psychology and politics.

The Oxford Handbook of Contextual Political Analysis


Robert E. Goodin and Charles Tilly

The book tries to promote systematic knowledge. Before embarking on an explanation of a political process, it is crucial to take note of the context as only then true understanding can come. The book is an edited volume with chapters from eminent writes who lay focus on the variety of factors that affects an analyst of political processes. And, therefore, the book says everything "depends"!

Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis


Rosaldo Renato

The author dismisses the idea of culture as painted by the classical period. He argues against the monumentalist representation of culture and also the romantic tradition of culture as a self-contained unit. Rosaldo  states that boundaries of ethnography have marginalized social analysis and do not represent truth. Human beings as a result never are able to act objectively. Greater diversity is required approaching social analysis alongside inclusion of classical social sciences and legal studies.

The Interpretation of Cultures


Clifford Geertz

One of the most read and loved book on culture. The author stresses that anthropologist is not a recorder of reality but rather interprets it and filters social reality through their own lens. Written in an essay form, the author never intended to combine his essays written in different times into a book. He wrote on human mind, religion, culture and social sciences. Culture has been regarded as a "web of significance". Human beings are surrounded by religion, cultural practices and it is the task of an anthropologist to unearth the symbolic meanings of them in detail. However, the author laments that it is not possible to make an objective analysis. Anthropologist only makes an interpretation of an interpretation. Cultural analysis is just about creating another analysis or hypotheses. Each story has a back story.

Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present


Richard G. Fox

This book combines the works of several writers who have emphasized on what anthropology should and shouldn't be like. The book argues that anthropology has become field of disarray and leading to a dead-end. New forms of reflexive, polyphonic and dialogic writing is required in order to regain the coherence of the discipline. The book argues that focus must shift to the observations of the non-Western societies. It argues that notion of objective reality is farce because all facts are socially constructed and so is interpretation.

Social Theory of International Politics


Alexander Wendt

Taking a strong constructivist view on world politics, the author argues that international realities are not what is shaping politics and relations but social relations are. Share ideas and norms affect state behavior far more than power. The book is a must read for those who want an alternative view of realism and liberalism. Constructivism is also a theory of international relations, and Wendt aptly explains it by focussing on culture, norms and identity in international relations. Some may even regard the author's work as a philosophical analysis or a theory of idealism. But in reality Wendt wants us to view states as social constructions and they take identities in relation to the Other.

The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics


Peter Katzenstein

The book reassess the theoretical framework of realism and argues that the existing analytical tools have been inadequate. Using the sociological, cultural and psychological model of analysis, the book takes into perspective identity and norms and how they shape international politics. Moreover, the authors argue that social factors have the power to alter the expected actions of state who are power hungry.

National Interests in International Society


Martha Finnemore

Finnemore emphasizes on norms of state behaviour which states learn from international organizations. She particularly argues that dominant theories of international relations overlook the power of structures and international organizations which have begun to define state interests. They are normative structures that trigger policy decisions. She has a constructivist approach and questions the origin of any state interest. In the process, she doesn't undermine "high politics" but rather questions it to add more value to their explanations.

The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change


Thomas Risse, Stephen C. Ropp and Kathryn Sikkink

This book celebrates international organizations and their power to change behaviour. The authors trace the ways in which states have interacted to pressurize governments that have been oppressive. The book argues that factors like persuasion, sanctions, institutions and coalition have a massive effect on politics. Cases, such as, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe have been taken to describe the impact of human right activists and groups as well as multilateral agreements have had on oppressive and illiberal regimes. The book presents its readers instances of where power of norms and ideas have made a difference in people's lives.

Mercenaries: The History of a Norm in International Relations


Sarah Percy

The book questions whether mercenaries are influenced by norms or not? The author dwells on why states stopped using mercenaries from private contractors and instead incorporated them into their armies under a formal agreement. How did the citizen army rise in late 18th century onwards when there was an absence of any international norm for mercenaries. She argues that the absence of a norm led to an anti-mercenaries norm which never allowed development of an effective international norm dealing with mercenaries.

Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition


Charles Taylor

How can multiculturalism sustain? The book discusses issues like individualism and communalism to arrive at the concept of equality, dignity and politics of difference. The author supports communalism over individualism whenever the survival of a culture is at stake. He claims that "due recognition is not a just a courtesy we owe to people. It is a vital human need". Taylor brings out a solution to cultural pluralism and the tensions caused. He says dialogue will shape multiculturalism. This book is a beautiful blend of politics and philosophy.

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