The United States in the world today how sociologists think about it and why it matters

Grégoire MALLARD
Shirin BAROL
Nina Teresa KIDERLIN

The study of policy alone often means domestic policy, of interest to generalist sociologists interested in how political ideas are turned into domestic legislation, executive action, and/or court litigation. Foreign policy, as the financial, commercial, diplomatic and military relations of a state with foreign states, remains a niche subfield. But foreign relations should be conceived of as the broader set of entanglements between societies, encompassing transnational movements, expert networks, and fields. Then, sociological theories of foreign relations can interest generalist sociologists. In this review, we illustrate how this broad view of foreign relations applies to the study of the United States in the world today (USitWT) by first surveying how sociologists of the world society and world system have focused on transnational relations and the place of the United States in their dynamics, and how they have engaged with the question of power. We then demonstrate how field theorists’ study of transnational fields can allow sociologists to reconceptualize the historical role of the USitWT by highlighting continuities between European colonial governmentalities and current US transnational practices. This field perspective can allow sociologists to understand the USitWT as transnational, postcolonial, or neo-colonial governmentality, depending on the sociological and historical depth and range of its relation with different parts of the world.