The Politics of Aspiration
International Studies Quarterly (ISQ) https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqaa052
41 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2020 Last revised: 18 Aug 2020
Date Written: June 28, 2020
Aspiration is an essential component of politics. It articulates goals, affirms identities and values, and structures action at all levels of social life. Yet political scientists have spent little time theorizing aspiration - what it is, how it relates to other concepts, and the kinds of effects it creates. In this paper, we develop the concept theoretically and argue that aspiration creates a distinct “aspirational politics” that differs from our international relations (IR) models of both norm-driven social activism and interest-driven rational choice. We identify three core features of aspiration that undergird its theoretical utility: lofty goals, change over time, and transformation through imagination. In the hands of skilled political actors, aspiration does essential work in both facilitating agreement and mobilizing social action that create change in the world. But aspiration also has a dark side and can be manipulated to dodge accountability, postpone action, and to serve private, rather than public, goals.
Keywords: norms; constructivism; rational choice; international relations theory; ethics
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