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Semi-cores in imperial relations: The cases of Scotland and Norway



Recently, the field of International Relations has seen increased interest in international hierarchy, and also an upswing in the analytical study of imperial logics of rule. Nonetheless, existing structural models of empire focus on core-periphery dynamics, and so cannot explain polities that display elements of both core and periphery. Therefore, I offer the new concept of ‘semi-cores’. Semi-cores are a specific form of historical political associations whereby certain imperial provinces are different from the others in terms of the close relationships it maintains with the imperial metropolis. Semi-cores are different by virtue of being relatively similar. The conceptualisation of semi-cores is followed by a section illustrating its logic, examining the relatively unfamiliar cases of Scotland and Norway and their position within the Danish and British empires, respectively. Although being separate imperial provinces, these were tightly connected to an imperial core. This concept helps us better understand imperial logics, and in the process shows how cultural factors can be formalised into accounts of structural logics of rule, impacting our understanding of both historical and contemporary hierarchical international affairs.



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The author would like to thank Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Bård Frydenlund, Rasmus Glenthøj, Susan Høivik, Halvard Leira, Iver B. Neumann, Dan Nexon, Bo Stråth, Ann Towns, panel participants at the 2012 ISA Annual Convention, as well as the editors and anonymous reviewers of the RIS for providing very helpful suggestions and comments on earlier versions of this article. Funding was provided by the Norwegian Research Council.



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1 Burbank, Jane and Cooper, Frederick, Empires in World History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), p. 3; Parker, Noel, ‘Introduction’, in Noel Parker (ed.), Empire and International Order (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 1–18; MacDonald, Paul K., ‘Those who forget historiography are doomed to republish it: Empire, imperialism and contemporary debates about American power’, Review of International Studies, 35:1 (2009), pp. 45–67.

2 Cf. McAdam, Doug, Tarrow, Sidney, Tilly, and Charles, Dynamics of Contention (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Nexon, Dan, ‘Zeitgeist? The new idealism in the study of international change’, Review of International Political Economy, 12:4 (2005), pp. 700–719.

3 Frigg, Roman, ‘Fiction and scientific representation’, in Roman Frigg and Matthew Hunter (eds), Beyond Mimesis and Nominalism: Representation in Art and Science (Berlin: Springer, 2010), pp. 97138 (p. 97).

4 Weber, Max, ‘Objectivity in social science and social policy’, quoted in Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 143.

5 Ibid., pp. 142–6.

6 Paul Musgrave and Daniel Nexon, ‘American liberalism and the imperial temptation’, in Parker, Empire; cf. Ikenberry, John, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Ikenberry, John, Liberal Order and Imperial Ambition: American Power and International Order (Polity Press, 2005).

7 Musgrave and Nexon, ‘American liberalism’.

8 But with accommodation through ‘local ownership’.

9 Cases in point: diplomatic history, classical realism, the English School, and dependency theories.

10 Donnelly, Jack, ‘Sovereign inequalities and hierarchy in anarchy’, European Journal of International Relations, 12:2 (2006), pp. 139–170; Wendt, Alexander and Friedheim, Daniel, ‘Hierarchy under anarchy: Informal empire and the East German state’, International Organization, 49:4 (1995), pp. 689–721.

11 Lake, David A., ‘Anarchy, hierarchy, and the variety of international relations’, International Organization, 50:01 (1996), pp. 1–33; Barkawi, Tarak and Laffey, Mark, ‘The imperial peace: Democracy, force and globalization’, European Journal of International Relations, 5:4 (1999), pp. 403434; Lake, David A., ‘The new sovereignty in international relations’, International Studies Review, 5:3 (2003), pp. 303–323; Keene, Edward, ‘A case study of the construction of international hierarchy: British treaty-making against the slave trade in the early nineteenth century’, International Organization, 61:02 (2007), pp. 311–339; Towns, Ann, ‘The status of women as a standard of “civilization”’, European Journal of International Relations, 15:4 (2009), pp. 681–706; de Carvalho, Benjamin and Neumann, Iver B. (eds), Small State Status Seeking; Norway’s Quest for International Standing (London: Routledge, 2014).

12 Lake, ‘Anarchy, hierarchy’.

13 Ivan D. Chase, ‘Social process and hierarchy formation in small groups: A comparative perspective, American Sociological Review, 45:6 (1980), pp. 905–24.

14 Donnelly, ‘Sovereign inequalities’.

15 Jordheim, Helge and Neumann, Iver B., ‘Empire, imperialism and conceptual history’, Journal of International Relations and Development, 14:2 (2011), pp. 153185.

16 Muthu, Sankar, Enlightenment against Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); Chomsky, Noam, Deterring Democracy (London: Vintage, 1992).

17 Ferguson, Niall, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004), p. 8.

18 Eland, Ivan, The Empire Strikes Out: The ‘New Imperialism’ and its Fatal Flaws (Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1992).

19 Hassner, Pierre, ‘The United States: The empire of force or the force of empire?’, EU-ISS Chaillot Papers No. 54 (Paris: Institute for Security Studies, 2002); Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of International Politics (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1979).

20 Lake, ‘Anarchy, hierarchy’; John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, ‘The imperialism of free trade’, Economic History Review, 6:1 (1953), pp. 1–15

21 Lake, , ‘Anarchy, hierarchy’, p. 4.

22 Ibid., p. 2.

23 Ibid., p. 7.

24 Motyl, Alexander J., Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).

25 Nexon, Daniel and Wright, Thomas, ‘What’s at stake in the American empire debate’, American Political Science Review, 101:2 (2007), pp. 253–271.

26 Eisenstadt, Shmuel N., The Political System of Empires (New York: Free Press, 1963); Tilly, Charles, ‘How empires end’, in Karen Barkey and Mark von Hagen (eds), After Empire: Multiethnic Societies and Nation-Building (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997), pp. 1–11; Motyl, Imperial Ends; Alexander Cooley, Logics of Hierarchy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005); Nexon and Wright, ‘What’s at stake’; Nexon, Daniel, The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe (Princeton. NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).

27 Galtung, Johan, ‘A structural theory of imperialism’, Journal of Peace Research, 8:2 (1971), pp. 81–117.

28 Tilly, , ‘How empires end’, p. 3; see also Nexon and Wright, ‘What’s at stake’; Motyl, Imperial Ends.

29 Baumgartner, Thomas, Buckley, Walter F., and Burns, Tom R., ‘Relational control: The human structuring of cooperation and conflict’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 19:3 (1975), pp. 417–440 (pp. 421, 429); Nexon and Wright, ‘What’s at stake’.

30 Barkey, Karen, ‘In different times: Scheduling and social control in the Ottoman Empire, 1550–1650’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 38:3 (1996), pp. 460–483; Nexon, and Wright, , ‘What’s at stake’, p. 265.

31 Nexon, and Wright, , ‘What’s at stake’, p. 254.

32 Nexon, , The Struggle for Power, pp. 118120.

33 Motyl, , Imperial Ends, pp. 1314.

34 Schumpeter, Joseph A., Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process (New York: McGraw Hill, 1939); Stinchcombe, Arthur L., ‘On the virtues of the old institutionalism’, Annual Review of Sociology, 23 (1997), pp. 118 (p. 5).

35 Durkheim, Emile, The Division of Labor in Society (New York: Free Press, 1984), p. 158.

36 Meyer, John W. and Rowan, Brian, ‘Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony’, American Journal of Sociology, 83:2 (1977), pp. 340363; Abernethy, David B., The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415–1980 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), p. 15.

37 Stinchcombe, ‘On the virtues’; Burt, Ronald S., Corporate Profits and Cooptation: Networks of Market Constraints and Directorate Ties in the American Economy (New York: Academic Press, 1983).

38 Eisenstadt, The Political System, pp. lvi, 300–9.

39 MacDonald, Paul K., Networks of Domination: The Social Foundations of Peripheral Conquest in International Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 6–10, 48–51, 216; Wendt and Friedheim, ‘Hierarchy under anarchy’.

40 Donnelly, ‘Sovereign inequalities’.

41 Lake, ‘Anarchy, hierarchy’; Rokkan, Stein and Urwin, Derek W., ‘Introduction: Centres and peripheries in Western Europe’, in Stein Rokkan and Derek W. Urwin (eds), The Politics of Territorial Identity (London: Sage, 1982), p. 4.

42 Nexon and Wright, ‘What’s at stake’, pp. 255–6.

43 Kristin Haugevik, ‘Empire, specialness: Exploring the intersections between imperial and special relationships’, in Parker, Empire and International Order, pp. 95–112.

44 Wilhelmsen, Julie, ‘How war becomes acceptable: Russian re-phrasing of Chechnya’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Oslo, 2014).

45 Velychenko, Stephen, ‘Empire loyalism and minority nationalism in Great Britain and Imperial Russia, 1707 to 1914: Institutions, law, and nationality in Scotland and Ukraine’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 39 (1997), pp. 413441.

46 Andrey Makarychev, ‘Imperial discourse in a post-imperial Russia: Where will it float to?’, in Parker, Empire and International Order, pp. 113–30.

47 Richards, J. F., ‘The formulation of imperial authority under Akbar and Jahangir’, in J. F. Richards (ed.), Kingship and Authority in South Asia (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 285–332; Siegler, Norman P., ‘Some notes on Rajput loyalties during the Mughal period’, in Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (eds), The Mughal State 1526–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 168–212.

48 See Lintott, Andrew, Imperium Romanum: Politics and Administration (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 31–32.

49 Wallerstein, Immanuel, ‘Semi-peripheral countries and the contemporary world crisis’, Theory and Society, 3:4 (1976), pp. 461–483 (pp. 463–4); Wallerstein, The Modern World-System (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011 [orig. pub. 1974]).

50 Wallerstein, Immanuel, The Capitalist World Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 100.

51 Elazar, Daniel J., Constitutionalizing Globalization: The Postmodern Revival of Confederal Arrangements (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).

52 Forsyth, Murray G., Unions of States: The Theory and Practice of Confederation (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1981); Urwin, Rokkan and, ‘Introduction: Centres and peripheries in Western Europe’, pp. 117. Historical examples include the Swiss Confederation, the United Provinces of the Netherlands, the German Bund, and the American Confederation.

53 See Cooley, , ‘Logics’, p. 27; Lake, , ‘Anarchy, hierarchy’, pp. 1617.

54 Rokkan and Urwin, ‘Introduction: Centres and peripheries in Western Europe’.

55 Daniel Elazar, Exploring Federalism (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press).

56 Ronald L. Watts, Comparing Federal Systems (Montreal: McGill University Press), p. 9.

57 Rokkan and Urwin, ‘Introduction: Centres and peripheries in Western Europe’.

58 Tilly, , ‘How empires end’, p. 3.

59 Galtung, ‘A structural theory’; Motyl, , Imperial Ends, pp. 4, 13; Nexon, and Wright, , ‘What’s at stake’, p. 257.

60 Rokkan and Urwin, ‘Introduction: Centres and peripheries in Western Europe’.

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid.

63 Tarlton, Charles D., ‘Symmetry and asymmetry as elements of federalism: A theoretical speculation’, Journal of Politics, 27:4 (1965), pp. 861–874 (p. 867).

64 Burgess, Michael, Comparative Federalism: Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 213.

65 Watts, Ronald L., ‘A comparative perspective on asymmetry in federations’, Asymmetry Series, 4 (2005).

66 Rokkan and Urwin, ‘Introduction: Centres and peripheries in Western Europe’; Watts, ‘A comparative perspective’.

67 Nexon and Wright, ‘What’s at stake’.

68 Nexon, , The Struggle for Power, p. 120.

69 See, for example, Devine, T. M. and Rössner, Philipp R., ‘Scots in the Atlantic economy, 1600–1800’, in John M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine (eds), Scotland and the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 30–53.

70 See, for example, Mackillop, A. and Murdoch, Steve, Military Governors and Imperial Frontiers c. 1600–1800: A Study of Scotland and Empires (Leiden: Brill, 2003).

71 Robertson, John (ed.), A Union for Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

72 Suddaby, Roy and Greenwood, Royston, ‘Rhetorical strategies of legitimacy’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 50:1 (2005), pp. 35–67 (p. 37).

73 Correspondingly, and similar to Norwegian debates, there is a Triumphalist version of the history, with Scotland as a central part of the British Empire, and another story depicting Scots as victims of colonialism

74 Devine, T. M., ‘Three hundred years of the Anglo-Scottish union’, in T. M. Devine (ed.), Scotland and the Union 1707–2007 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), pp. 1–19 (p. 13).

75 Velychenko, , ‘Empire, loyalism’, p. 414; Finlay, Richard J., ‘National identity, union, and empire, c. 1850–c. 1970’, in John M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine (eds), Scotland and the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 280–316 (pp. 283–4).

76 Palmer, R.R., Colton, Joel, and Kramer, Lloyd, A History of the Modern World (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), p. 165.

77 Devine, , ‘Three hundred years’, p. 3.

78 Devine, T. M., The Scottish Nation 1700–2007 (London: Penguin, 2006), p. 3.

79 Ibid.

80 Devine, , ‘Three hundred years’, p. 8.

81 Devine, T. M., ‘In bed with an elephant: Almost three hundred years of the Anglo-Scottish union’, Scottish Affairs, 57 (2006), pp. 118 (p. 1).

82 MacKenzie and Devine, ‘Introduction’, pp. 1, 14, 25.

83 Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England: Book the first (Oxford: Clarendon Press, M.DCC.LXV/1765), pp. 98–9.

84 Ibid.

85 Urwin and Rokkan, ‘Introduction: Centres and peripheries in Western Europe’, p. 3.

86 Urwin, Derek W., ‘Territorial structures and political developments in the United Kingdom’, in Rokkan and Urwin (eds), Territorial Identity, pp. 1973 (p. 65).

87 Velychenko, , ‘Empire loyalism’, pp. 418, 421; Devine, , ‘Three hundred years’, p. 4.

88 Devine, , ‘Three hundred years’, pp. 45.

89 Ibid.

90 Velychenko, , ‘Empire loyalism’, p. 415.

91 Devine, , The Scottish Nation, p. 30.

92 Furthermore, if one examines, for example, English school books from the period, the focus was on the story of English state development and expansion. While the Scots saw the Union as the start of a common, imperial effort between equal partners, ‘the English view was that the incorporation of Scotland was the beginning of the “expansion” of England’. Finlay, ‘National identity’, pp. 285–6.

93 Finlay, ‘National identity’, pp. 287–8.

94 Ibid., p. 290; Glenthøj, Rasmus, Skilsmissen: Dansk og Norsk identitet før og efter 1814 (Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag, 2012).

95 Kaufman, Stuart J., Little, Richard, and Wohlforth, William C. (eds) The Balance of Power in World History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 11.

96 Velychenko, , ‘Empire loyalism’, p. 418.

97 Smout, T. C., A History of the Scottish People 1560–1830 (London: Fontana, 1998), p. 147.

98 Ibid., p. 204.

99 Devine, , ‘Three hundred Years’, p. 13.

100 Ibid.

101 Devine, , The Scottish Nation, pp. 2123.

102 Smout, , A History, p. 202.

103 Chambers, Robert, History of the Rebellion of 1745–6 (7th edn, London: W&R Chambers, 1869), pp. 484–485.

104 Smout, , A History, pp. 206212.

105 Cf. MacDonald, , Networks of Domination, pp. 6364.

106 Ståle Dyrvik and Ole Feldbæk, Mellom Brødre 1780-1830, volume 7 in Aschehougs Norgeshistorie (Oslo: Aschehoug, 2005), p. 12.

107 Bregnsbo, Michael and Jensen, Kurt Villads, Det danske imperium. Storhed og fald (Copenhagen: Aschehoug, 2004), pp. 93–94.

108 In official documents, Canute (c. 985–1035) referred to himself as Keiser, named by the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.

109 Actually, titling the ruler as ‘king of kings’ is fairly common in empires: šar šarrāni in Akkadian; shāhānshāh in Persian; malik al-amlāk in Arabic.

110 Bregnsbo and Jensen, Det Danske Imperium.

111 Rian, Øystein, Embetsstanden i dansketida (Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 2003), p. 16.

112 Glenthøj, , Skilsmissen, pp. 6061.

113 Ibid., pp. 385–7.

114 Storsveen, , Norsk patriotisme, pp. 2223.

115 Glenthøj, , Skilsmissen, p. 390.

116 ‘Forordning om infødsret for embedsmænd’, 15 Jan. 1776.

117 Bregnsbo, and Jensen, , Det Danske Imperium, p. 165.

118 Glenthøj, , Skilsmissen, p. 85.

119 Neumann, Iver B., Norge – en kritikk. Begrepsmakt i Europa-debatten (Oslo: Pax, 2001), p. 56.

120 Glenthøj, , Skilsmissen, p. 89.

121 Neumann, Iver B., ‘This little piggy stayed at home: Why Norway is not a member of the EU’, in Lene Hansen and Ole Wæver (eds), European Integration and National Identity: The Challenge of the Nordic States (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 88–129.

122 Feldbæk, Dyrvik and, Mellom Brødre, p. 20.

123 Jensen, Johan S., ‘Danmark–Norges etablering og tidlige ekspansjon i India’, Internasjonal Politikk, 67:01 (2009), pp. 7–27; see also entry for ‘Peter Anker’ in Norsk biografisk leksikon (Oslo: SNL).

124 Neumann, ‘This little piggy’.

125 Hagen, Rune, ‘At the edge of civilisation: John Cunningham, Lensmann of Finnmark, 1619–51’, in A. Mackillop and Steve Murdoch (eds), Military Governors and Imperial Frontiers c. 1600–1800. A Study of Scotland and Empires (Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 29–51; Gustafsson, Harald, Political Interaction in the Old Regime: Central Power and Local Society in the Eighteenth-Century Nordic States (Bromley: Chartwell-Bratt, 1994), p. 93.

126 Aubert, Vilhelm, Continuity and Development in Law and Society (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1989), p. 168.

127 Sejersted, Francis, Demokrati og rettsstat (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984), p. 38.

128 See Seip, Jens Arup, Fra embedsmannsstat til ettpartistat og andre essays (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1963).

129 Musgrave and Nexon, American Liberalism.

130 Ikenberry, After Victory; Liberal Order and Imperial Ambition.

131 Neumann, , Norge-En Kritikk, pp. 5657.

132 Cf. Nexon, , The Struggle for Power, p. 128.

* The author would like to thank Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Bård Frydenlund, Rasmus Glenthøj, Susan Høivik, Halvard Leira, Iver B. Neumann, Dan Nexon, Bo Stråth, Ann Towns, panel participants at the 2012 ISA Annual Convention, as well as the editors and anonymous reviewers of the RIS for providing very helpful suggestions and comments on earlier versions of this article. Funding was provided by the Norwegian Research Council.

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