Pirates, rebels and mercenaries

This book is a story about the importance of stories in International Relations. It brings insights from Literary Studies and Narratology into IR and political science by developing a new discourse analytical method of narrative analysis. Focusing on the three narrative elements of setting, characterization and emplotment, the book argues that narratives are of fundamental importance for human cognition and identity construction. Narratives help us understand the social and political world in which we live. The book emphasizes the idea of intertextual narratability which holds that for narratives to become dominant they have to link themselves to previously existing stories. Empirically the book looks at narratives about pirates, rebels and private military and security companies (PMSCs). The book illustrates in the case of pirates and rebels that the romantic images embedded in cultural narratives influence our understanding of modern piracy in places like Somalia or rebels in Libya. Dominant romantic narratives marginalize other, less flattering, stories about these actors, in which they are constituted as terrorists and made responsible for human rights violations. In contrast, in the case of PMSCs in Iraq the absence of such romantic cultural narratives makes it difficult for such actors to successfully narrate themselves as romantic heroes to the public.

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Once upon a time …
Alexander Spencer

The introduction outlines the overall argument of the book that narratives in international politics cannot be freely changed or manipulated by narrators, but that narratives have to conform or at least connect to previously existing ones. The acceptance of narratives is contingent on the intertextuality of the narratives being told and those embedded amongst the audience. The introduction briefly embeds narrative analysis in a wider field of discursive approaches in IR, and then elaborates on the role of the media and cultural artefacts in the articulation of stories in international politics. Finally, the introduction outlines the structure of what is to follow in the remaining empirical chapters on German narratives of pirates in Somalia, British narratives of rebels in Libya and US narratives of private military and security companies in Iraq.

in Romantic narratives in international politics
Alexander Spencer

Chapter one outlines in detail a method of narrative analysis which is to be employed in the following three empirical chapters on pirates, rebels and PMSCs. It begins by reflecting on the concept of narrative in Literary Studies and Narratology and outlines some of the key elements which distinguish a narrative from other forms of representation. This includes the notion of a setting in which the story unfolds, the characterization of actors in the story and the idea of temporal and most importantly causal emplotment which elaborates on how events, settings, and characters are connected to each other. The chapter then imbeds the narrative elements of setting, characterization and emplotment into key constructivist theoretical foundations including the social construction of reality (setting), the constitution of identity (characterization) and the co-constitution of agents and structure (emplotment). The final part of the chapter turns to the genre of romance and, from the existing literature on romanticism, indicates some of the narrative elements of a typically romantic story, including an exotic and emotional setting, a brave, heroic yet human character and an adventure emploted as a struggle for an ideal in an asymmetrical conflict against a more powerful and unjust order.

in Romantic narratives in international politics
Alexander Spencer

Chapter two analyses German narratives of the pirate in Somalia. It sets off by tracing the romantic stories about pirates from the early eighteenth century and the golden age of piracy to current history writing on piracy. The chapter goes on to show that these early romantic elements persist into Byron’s The Corsair, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the film Pirates of the Caribbean. The following section goes on to show that this dominant western popular image of the romantic pirate, visible also in public opinion, persists in the media reporting on contemporary piracy in the German news media. Employing the method of narrative analysis the chapter re-tells a romantic story of the pirate in Somalia set in an exotic location, and revolving around brave pirates who are forced into piracy not out of their free will but due to circumstances beyond their control such as illegal fishing or the dumping of toxic waste by more powerful western companies. The next part turns to alternative stories which try and tell a highly negative story which link piracy and terrorism. Part four then illustrates the marginalization of this story despite the potential truthfulness and the persistence of the romantic story.

in Romantic narratives in international politics
Alexander Spencer

Chapter three examines British narratives of the rebel in Libya during the conflict in 2011. It begins by outlining the interconnectedness of rebellion, revolution and romance. Referring to cultural narratives found in the works by poets such Byron and Shelley it shows how much of romanticism is rebellious and revolutionary and how rebels and revolutions are frequently romantic. The chapter emphasises the ambiguous nature of the rebel story by turning to the portrayal of the orientalist and romantic Arab in pop-cultural representations including the film Lawrence of Arabia and focusing on the narrative element of setting, characterization and emplotment. Part three of the chapter then engages with the media narrative of the rebel in the Libyan conflict found in British newspapers and the political elite. Employing the method of narrative analysis it shows a predominantly romantic story of the rebel in Libya in which one encounters an emotional setting, unprofessional, brave and young rebels emplotted to be fighting for the ideal of freedom and democracy in an asymmetrical conflict against an brutal and unjust Gaddafi. The final part of the chapter examines marginalised narratives which depict human rights violations by rebels and a linkage between rebels and al Qaeda terrorists.

in Romantic narratives in international politics
Alexander Spencer

Chapter four investigates US narratives about PMSCs in Iraq. In contrast to the previous chapters on rebels and pirates this chapter will indicate the cultural absence of romantic stories about PMSCs. The first part retraced the historic development of the anti-mercenary narrative from Machiavelli via the American Declaration of Independence to representation of mercenaries in international law texts. The persistence of this anti-mercenary narrative is then shown in literary texts on mercenaries by examining Sir Walter Scott’s novel A Legend of Montrose and Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Dogs of War. The second part turns to the US media narratives on PMSCs and shows the persistence of these negative elements. The third part of the chapter engages the narratives found on the websites of PMSCs and illustrates how these actors try to tell a romantic story by constituting themselves as brave patriots and noble humanitarians. The final part of the chapter then illustrates the narrative struggle and the marginalised status of these romantic stories and the persistence of the highly negative anti-mercenary narratives by examining the story told in US print news media, among the political elite, in international institutions as well as in pop-cultural representations in films and video games.

in Romantic narratives in international politics
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The end
Alexander Spencer

The conclusion briefly summarises the main arguments of the book before turning to alternative reasons for the dominance and marginality of certain (romantic) narratives. Here the chapter tentatively explores the narrator based, story based and audience based approaches to explaining and understanding the dominance particular narratives over others. Finally the chapter reflects on how narratives may be useful in the analysis of other political phenomena outside of the romantic story genre including genres of tragedy and failure.

in Romantic narratives in international politics