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This post is provided by our guest blogger Peggy Levitt. Peggy Levitt is Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and a Research Fellow at The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University where she co-directs The Transnational Studies Initiative. Together with by Sanjeev Khagram she has published the transnational studies reader, in which they among other things criticize methodological nationalism and present different ways on how to conceptualize transnational phenomena. Her entry is part of a series in which we discuss concepts and phenomena in the field of transnational studies and follows previous discussions we had on transnationalism and methodological nationalism.

Methodological nationalism is the tendency to accept the nation-state and its boundaries as a given in social analysis. Because many social science theories equate society with the boundaries of a particular nation state, researchers often take rootedness and incorporation in the nation as the norm, and social identities and practices enacted across state boundaries as the exception.  But while nation-states are still extremely important, social life does not obey national boundaries.  Social and religious movements, criminal and professional networks, and governance regimes, to name just a few, regularly operate across borders.

In a 2004 article, Nina Glick Schiller and I proposed a notion of society based on the concept of social field and drew a distinction between ways of being and ways of belonging.  Social fields are multi-dimensional and encompass structured interactions of differing forms, depth, and breadth that are differentiated in social theory by terms like “organization,” “institution,” “networks,” and “social movement.”  National social fields are those that remain within national boundaries, while transnational social fields connect actors, through direct and indirect relations, across borders.  Neither domain automatically takes precedence; rather determining the relative importance of nationally restricted and transnational social fields is an empirical question.

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The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
September 2019
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