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Advances and impasses in Fred Halliday's international historical sociology: a critical appraisal



    1. Completed his doctorate in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science and is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex and a Visiting Research Fellow at the European Research Councilfunded ‘Research Project Europe 1815–1914’ at the University of Helsinki.
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    • This is one of a group of articles in this issue originating in a workshop held in November 2010 at the London School of Economics in honour of the life and work of the late Fred Halliday, and further developed through a study group held on 12 May 2011 at Chatham House. I would like to thank Alejandro Colás, Toby Dodge, Clemens Hoffmann, George Lawson, Maryam Panah, Richard Saull and the participants in both meetings for valuable comments.


How did Fred Halliday recast International Relations (IR) theory as international historical sociology? This article explores Halliday's intellectual trajectory across this terrain and suggests that the notion of ‘capitalist modernity’, derived from an amalgamation of neo-Marxian and neo-Weberian historical sociology, functioned as the strategic master-category, which anchored his thought on International Relations throughout his work. This category was successively reconceived and complemented to generate four, partly contradictory, analytical frameworks at a lower level of abstraction: ‘global conjunctural analysis’; a neo-Weberian ‘sociology of the inter-state system’; ‘international society as homogeneity’ and ‘uneven and combined development’. The article identifies the advances and impasses in each intellectual move and exemplifies the limits of Halliday's approach in relation to his analysis of revolutions. It suggests that while Halliday was instrumental in reconnecting IR with historical sociology, providing crucial openings and correctives to mainstream IR theory, his theoretical emphases remained ultimately too syncretistic and additive to shift the debate on firmer ground. While this can be read as a failure, there is also evidence to understand this anti-formalism as a deliberate intellectual choice. The article concludes by suggesting that the very term international historical sociology, predicated on a distinct modernist vocabulary, may itself preclude a full historicization of categories of analysis, restricting its use as a general framework for capturing the historicity and sociality of geopolitical practices across time and space.