This article seeks to discuss the emergence of transnational groups coming from the core of state bureaucracies and what has sometimes been called the “deep” or “right hand” of the state. In doing so, the article aims to explore the groups’ degree of autonomy in terms of elaboration of politics and their place within the different fields of power that irrigate the international. Are these groups exchanging information transnationally or not? Do they form a group, an elite of professionals, a guild, which has its own agenda and priorities? Have they a sense of solidarity provided by the sharing of a certain kind of know-how that enters into tension with the loyalty to a national agenda? And, if this exchange of information exists, as evidenced by the Snowden leaks, does it concur or not with the establishment of specific national security priorities?
This article seeks to discuss the emergence of transnational groups based on a form of solidarity related to their daily work, their “artisanal craft,” or their “specific knowledge,” which often transcends differences in terms of national cultures. It will help to understand the complexity of forms of boundary-making in what has been called a “fracturing” world; the fracturing world being, here, a world full of transversal lines, of complex dynamics, yet not a disaggregated nor a broken world (Basaran et al. 2016). Certainly, for some researchers, it may appear so from the moment the image of state unity in decision-making is shaken; they fear the consequences of their empirical investigations and try to preserve the myth of nation-states alongside a level of rationality called the international society of states. However, if one pursues a more sociological and anthropological approach, the central element is then to understand how actors’ logic of practices in their everyday lives creates solidarity at a distance, including for civil servants of different states. In terms of empirical stakes, such an approach necessitates an investigation of how these actors simultaneously perform and enact an action whose meaning is communicated and translated along chains of interdependences that are locally, nationally, and internationally situated. This is the transversal dimension or “transversal line,” which depends on the length and strength of significations, that is often named “transnational.” Yet, as we will see, when used alone, the terminology of “transnational” has the tendency to create an essentialist difference between groups that are recognized as transnational actors and those which are not transnational due to their association with another entity, the state, therefore making them national.
In this dualist vision, the latter are tied to a “civil servant” ethos and, in theory, they are immune from a strong sense of solidarity and identity that a certain “craft” creates between individuals and groups of individuals who live in different countries and different settings; knowledge of each other emerges not via close contact in everyday life, but via “distant” contacts. The idea that proximity in a territory is still the first and foremost element in generating similar dispositions and solidarity, which may be considered one of the strongest state doxa, consequently precludes an understanding of the power of centrifugal dynamics that escape the attraction of the state, and contradicts therefore the tendency to a polarization of the struggles for power toward a bureaucratic center. Via digital exchanges of information or short visits, for example, centrifugal dynamics that are strong enough to create a specific way to see the world, and to adjust different dispositions toward a given know-how, are enabling a group of individuals to consider that the transversal social world they inhabit together is more compatible and “truer” than the others, including local or national ones.1
Of course, one might say “there is nothing new under the sun”;2 the most traditional International Relations literature has recognized the existence of transnational actors for many years (Nye and Keohane 1971). However, this recognition came with a major caveat, which is still organizing discussions about ideas, norms, and behaviors, especially when sovereignty and security are at stake. Transnational actors have certainly been seen as beneficial to economic liberalization, especially by liberals, but in the synthesis of liberal and realist approaches undertaken in strategic studies, they were suspected to be less loyal to the national state than national actors, be they transnational companies or social groups contending the government (Carbonneau 1977; Rapoport 1983; Richardson 1999). From the mid-seventies, the emergence of the subfield of “transnational terrorism studies” has seized the opportunity to create a relation between “terrorism” and “transnational actors” by focusing mostly on forms of violence joining actors coming from abroad with groups of insiders (Crozier 1973). At that time, transnational actors referred to the Basques, to Kurds, to Tamils. The label of transnational terrorism has very quickly added cases where US or Israeli citizens have been victims of assassination in the world, transnational referring to victims of the act and not the perpetrators. Before 2001, transnational terrorism largely conceived transnational actors using political violence as if they were no longer part of a specific society, as if they were becoming “foreigners” by their attraction to the “abroad,” even when they were born citizens; the contemporary phenomenon of so-called “foreign fighters” is one among many examples of the temptation to consider transnational as non- or de-national, in brief as a “traitor.” Beyond the use of political violence, diasporas, religious minorities, even international bankers and well-off tourists have not been exempted from suspicion by association. This move to consider the actors of transnational activities as de facto foreigners is important to understand some of the populist reactions toward mobility today. According to this reasoning, which Brexit has exemplified, not only is transnationality potentially dangerous, but it is, in addition, impossible to analyze the transnationalization of bureaucracies of control (police, justice, border guards, or military) in this framework because of the common sense opposing radically transnational (non-state) actors to (national) state actors. It is impossible to imagine that the state itself is transnational and could be fragmented, heterogeneous, and projected outside its territorial boundaries without extra-territorial privileges being recognized by other states. As we will see in the second part of this article, part of the literature has understood the false opposition reserving transnationality to non-state actors, and has considered it possible to describe some transnational practices of bureaucracies as “transgovernmental networks.” However, these networks were nevertheless considered marginal activities, often connected with the existence of supranational and international organizations. On the contrary, I contend that it is crucial to investigate the state, not as a place of internal regulation bound by nation and territory and as a unitary actor in the international realm, but instead as a form of representation, which has strongly changed over time, and whose configuration is the outcome of a specific field of power where actors (elected but also non-elected professionals of politics, that is, civil servants or bankers) try to impose a viewpoint over the hierarchy resulting from different struggles of viewpoints emanating from other fields (security, justice, welfare, health, education…). That is why, for Bourdieusian sociology, the field of state is central, as it works as the field organizing the exchange rate between the different forms of capital accumulated in other fields (Bourdieu 2012). The homogeneity of the state is therefore a strong illusion, which is performative for all, and attracts actors toward a center along a centripetal logic; but this comes with the differentiation between those who benefit from their position at the center and those who are penalized and/or marginalized and excluded. The question of who benefits from the state is for that reason a key inquiry that cannot be explained only by a slow process of monopolization (Weber 1978; Tilly 1993; Elias 2006). As Bourdieu insisted: “Research also needs to take into consideration changes in the forms and boundaries of power in places other than the territorial state” (Bourdieu to Bastien, “Discussions”). In practice, this means that the national territory does not bind the state. Rather, boundary-making depends on the chains of interdependences of its bureaucracies inside and outside the territory. This is why, in this alternative and more sociological vision, which we will analyze in the third part, it is central to remember Yves Dezalay’s argument whereby individuals are always “double agents,” playing simultaneously in different fields (Dezalay and Garth 2011). Fields of the national and the international are not separated and are even less so on a trajectory of bifurcation. On the contrary, they are entangled and superposed, as demonstrated when individuals (including civil servants), by a single act, may play in the national and transnational social universes they inhabit simultaneously. Therefore, when they deploy their strategies across countries, the course of the “palace wars” they initiate depends as much on the forms of capital inherited from the national as from the resources they won abroad; transnationalization therefore plays either for a diminution or for a reinforcement of national positions. Hence, opposing national and international (or transnational) as two different realms or “realities” is incoherent. They need to be analyzed in continuity and superposition, as will be developed in the fourth part. This opens up a different vision of both international fields of power, which are simultaneously organized through a series of national fields of power. Yet, whereas the latter are captured by the centripetal logic of state centralization, the former are organized along a centrifugal logic of solidarity at a distance. This solidarity at a distance, reinforced by the digitization of communication and the power of TV images of the world, is expressed by the strength of some professional loyalty bounds, despite the actors’ different nationalities. For these reasons, they will be called transnational guilds.
The Bifurcation of the World: National or Transnational—The Making of a False Dualism
The phenomena of transnational guilds and transnational fields of power are not easily accepted, despite the evidence, because they challenge strongly held beliefs of IR specialists. These beliefs, which are also present in the background of the minds of many actors, including politicians, can be summarized as follows. First, transnational actors are perceived as different from “normal” actors and are conceived as being outside the state apparatus. They are the product of increased interactions in terms of communication, transportation, mobility of persons and financial transactions across boundaries, and of the emergence of groups who do not represent their state, but inhabit world politics. Nye and Keohane (1971) were the first to challenge the difference between transnational actors and state actors in the journal International Organizations, insisting on their entanglement. However, on considering the reactions against their theory, stemming from the idea that transnational actors live in national countries and act in both worlds, they have worked hard, since the late 1980s, to settle discussions with neorealist authors, notably by accepting the idea that national interests were not endangered by situations of interdependence nor by the multiplication of transnational actors (Katzenstein, Keohane, and Krasner 1998; see also Nye 1990, Risse-Kappen 1995, Finnemore and Sikkink 1998). In organizations such as European Union institutions, transnational actors will behave coherently as long as a new form of governance that involves them is established. The question, therefore, moves from being about the nature of the actors to the distribution of power between transnational actors and state actors. This position nevertheless reified a difference in which, when transnational actors are multi-positioned and also engage in state activities, they ultimately follow the lines of state socialization and prioritize state interest. A huge controversy will emerge, despite the hope for a “synthesis” between critical International Political Economy and liberal classic transnationalism (Cox 1992; Krasner 1994; Slaughter 1994; Strange 1994), and will challenge the very notion of transnational as opposed to national. What is imaginable for “doctors without borders,” for “environmental activists,” or for other members of non-governmental organizations is not acceptable or imaginable if one evokes the same characteristics for military, policemen, or intelligence services. For liberals, the actors are as different as if they were made from a “different wood.”3 This vision is particularly strong if one regards national security bureaucracies as structurally or normatively different from other bureaucracies, but the temptation to preserve the core of bureaucracies of security from transnational action and actors does not solve the problem, and is wrong empirically; the dismantling of the state by transnationalization does not take into account the multi-positioning of actors and their habitus (Bonelli and Pelletier 2010).
In the 1990s, James Rosenau synthesized the diverse understandings of the transnational in a brilliant book, “Turbulence in World Politics.” However, we now need to reject his key thesis. At the time, Rosenau insisted that it was the competition between these two worlds that was creating “turbulences,” with the weakening of central authorities, the creation of subgroups becoming more powerful at the expense of states and governments, and the redirection of loyalties connected with the reinforcement of decentralizing as opposed to centralizing tendencies (Rosenau 1990, 1995), and this is still inspiring. He nonetheless maintained the dichotomy between state and transnational actors and did not seriously imagine that the very heart of state bureaucracies themselves could be transnational. For him, behaviors between state and non-state (transnational) actors were different and were bifurcating. Police collaboration on a large scale could only maintain a short-lived momentum, before being regulated by diplomacy; and he explained at the ISA of 2000 that if the situation of transnational policing networks, outside the control of diplomacy and government, persisted, it would be a contradiction in terms with his theory and could be considered a demonstration of the error of bifurcation hypotheses (discussion by Rosenau of the books of Strange 1995 and Bigo 1996).
Transgovernmental Networks: State Bureaucracies Involved in Transnational Activities
The idea that transnational actors are different from state actors has, for many years, blocked the possibility of thinking about police collaboration as a central factor in international politics. The world of the military and diplomats, as state representatives, have accepted the need to deal with actors free of sovereignty, such as transnational companies or powerful NGOs. They were not ready, however, to accept or even understand that police were developing strong international links, and that intelligence services working on communication interception were developing secret technologies together while denying the size and the scope of their collaboration and pretending to behave according to a national security code of ethics prohibiting them from having more than episodic contacts.
Police activities were not a question of international relations. Police could not go transnational or global, because they were the “essence” of state action. It is also for this reason that most scholars of the European Union considered that if it was easy to have a spillover effect on economic and market dimensions inside the European Union, it was very difficult in “sovereignty” matters like policing. They predicted very slow changes and considered that Justice and Home Affairs (called also the Third Pillar of the EU) would always be the pillar lagging behind.4
Nevertheless, after the pioneering works of the turn of the nineties, it was slowly accepted that, first, criminal justice was going beyond boundaries (Nadelmann 1993; Anderson 1989) and, second, that transnational policing was expanding both informally and formally at an accelerating speed, certainly more quickly than the second pillar, and even to some extent than the first pillar (Bigo 1994; Sheptycki 2000; Loader and Walker 2005; Andreas and Nadelmann 2006). Transnational policing was not reserved to exceptional circumstances linked to the fight against clandestine organizations claiming to represent a revolution or a different nation, but was a common practice affecting all the regions choosing to open their borders to the freedom of movement of capital, goods, information, and people. Transnational policing was the child of the dynamics organizing larger areas of freedom of circulation inside a specific area and of control at their boundaries, be it NAFTA in North America or, even more evidently, Schengen in the European Union. Moreover, it was also clear from the 1990s, that is, before 2001, that in addition to policing boundaries and migrants, antiterrorist police squads and intelligence services were liaising in structural ways, exchanging information via technology or personnel abroad. As opposed to the current idea that they were just answering a specific threat (jihadi terrorism, radicalization), this was more the result of struggles between services to acquire global information awareness (Sheptycki 1995; Bigo 1996). It was also the result of a specific move on the part of agencies, whose responsibility and accountability were contained within the national territory, to reframe their agenda, their missions, their technologies, and their personnel, to expand abroad at a time when the military and geopoliticians were, on the contrary, expanding their remit inside the territory (Bigo 2000). Modifying the power relation between foreign affairs, defense, and internal security, this move advantages the latter, particularly in favor of those intelligence services whose surveillance capacities can reach both the inside and the outside of the territory of the state (Aldrich 2009).
Beyond global policing, the first description and theorization of this move that reached international relations and was recognized as important inside political science was the work of Anne Marie Slaughter regarding transgovernmental actors. She considered that the identification of a new “descriptor,” transgovernmental, was a way to explain the mimetism of state bureaucracies with NGOs and their preferences for networking (Slaughter 2002). Contending the distinction between national and transnational actors, many authors followed her path and used the terminology of transgovernmental network strategies to balance the double claim that the process of globalization was at stake but that the state was actively participating in this globalizing phenomenon by projecting its own internal bureaucracies abroad.
Although Slaughter did not specifically discuss policing and intelligence, she investigated judges, a group strongly attached to national sovereignty, and the transnationalization of norms regarding punishment. Despite this attachment to sovereignty and territory, she considered that judges were working in networks and learning from each other, but did not need a “conductor” to do so (Slaughter 2005). She therefore suggested that the US administration should look more carefully at the capacity of the European Union to act efficiently without a central node, a phone number, a person— hence implicitly criticizing Henry Kissinger and Robert Kagan’s visions regarding the EU’s lack of strength (Kagan 2003).
At the same time, she asserted that these transgovernmental networks would lead to a disaggregated world order if governments did not actively take back the “upper hand” by using their own networked bureaucracies to adjust to a networked world (Slaughter 2003, 2005; Eberlein and Newman 2008) . As she explains, “States still exist in this world; indeed, they are crucial actors. But they are ‘disaggregated.’ They relate to each other, not only through the Foreign Office, but also through regulatory, judicial, and legislative channels” (Slaughter 2004, 5). So, her vision of transgovernmental networks was driven by her wish to convince the US government to transform the informal ties between individuals exchanging information into a more structured network policy to influence other governments, therefore insisting on the policy angle (Slaughter and Hale 2010).
Some Europeanists have also adopted this terminology of transgovernmental networks, not to warn of the danger they may represent for US hegemony but, on the contrary, to emphasize their positive role for multilevel governance. This has especially been the case regarding various policy areas where state sovereignty was limiting the development of integration or, more specifically, where the centrifugal dynamic of the internal security of the European Union regarding its involvement beyond EU borders was creating an “external dimension” of Justice and Home Affairs (Smith 2006; Balzacq 2009). In the case of the latter, which became one of the most studied topics of European studies, some renamed this type of cooperation as EU-TGN, signifying EU transgovernmental networks. In doing so, it was suggested that “a policy characterized by fairly independent interaction between different governmental sub-units” and thus having more autonomy to achieve goals was generally de facto beneficial to the goals of the EU (Commission as well as Council and member states), such as in the case of the European Neighbourhood Programme (ENP) (Wagner 2007; Lavenex 1999, 2008, 2014). Beyond the external dimension of internal security policy and the idea of multilevel diplomacy, Simon Hollis also evoked the development of an EU civil protection network to prepare for, and respond to, natural and man-made disasters as an alternative way to “govern” (Hollis 2010).5 The logic of transgovernmental networks is therefore not only an instrumental means for the promotion of values but also a way to connect with forms of neoliberal private management affecting governments, public affairs, or organizations like the European Union. Scholarly debates have therefore mainly connected transgovernmental networks with the EU Commission’s strategy, often insisting on the “exceptionalism” of the EU in the domain of transgovernmental activities. Yet, when relativized, this position on the exceptionalism of the EU can be understood as essentially due to the hyper-specialization of disciplines; European studies scholars reading rarely critical criminology, sociology of deviance and policing, strategic studies, military history, or intelligence studies. And yet, the degree of correlation of different practices that have a global reach, labeled as transgovernmental networks, obliges one to think beyond public policies and the strategies of central actors. Paralleled with an effort to visualize transgovernmental networks, more complex approaches analyzing the horizontality created by these centrifugal regulations via nodes and networks have been extended to the most traditional sectors of EU defense policy (Mérand, Hofmann, and Irondelle 2010) as well as to the funding of the EU security industry and the transfer of management knowledge at the border (Martin-Mazé et al. 2014; Martin-Mazé 2015).
This approach has transformed the transgovernmental networks approach from within by studying them not as policy tools but as a way to trace power dynamics and their effects regarding the “loyalty” to the politicians in charge. Thurner and Binder (2009) proposed to deepen this analysis even further by considering the relations between these transgovernmental actors as the path toward a new global political space beyond the nation-state, claiming that the bifurcation approach was not coherent with the dynamics and the intensity of transgovernmental relations. They suggested that the world was now like a tapestry of intermingled transgovernmental networks, whose origins were coming from UN or EU networks and therefore were to limit US hegemony. The rise of the BRICS was also mentioned, but this idea of a new form of world governance via transgovernmental networks—in other words, an instrumentalist strategy used for the EU to better adapt to globalization—was stunted with the financial crises of the euro in 2008 and with the demise of the BRICS in 2014. Despite these shortcomings, the terminology of transgovernmental networks is nevertheless still alive and well, and continues to be used for describing the practices of state bureaucracies exchanging data and elaborating strategies far beyond diplomatic channels (Hobolth and Martinsen 2013; Bulkeley 2014; Freyburg 2015).
So, if one looks at the domains of activities that were investigated in the past ten years, it seems that most Western state bureaucracies are implicated in transgovernmental networks. This is observable with respect to international labor law regulations, access to retirement benefits, social and education policies, environmental policies, but also, and mainly, in the domain of sovereign regalian activities: transnational policing, transnational criminal justice, and military activities.
Despite its heuristic descriptive interest, the terminology of transgovernmental networks nevertheless needs to be deconstructed and replaced by the term “transnational guild” because the former is clearly far too narrow to understand the transformations of power involved in the transnationalization of bureaucratic activities. Instead of analyzing the effective practices of the groups of persons involved in these activities, the global governance and transgovernmental networks literature has analyzed them as an effect of economic globalization and not as a form of power dynamic.
In addition, in most descriptions, it is unclear which groups are involved, and whether or not they circulate. Moreover, distinctions between, on the one hand, the strategies proposed in the corpus of analyzed discourses or papers and, on the other hand, the results of these policies after the interactions of the effective practices, are rarely discussed. For example, knowledge concerning the number of people involved and their trajectories has often been masked. This has focused exclusive attention on a limited group of institutions, displacing an analysis of the social networks that they create between them and the informal structures that give strength to their relations and loyalties. Another difficulty lies in the fact that the terminology of networks is a permanent invocation in this literature, but the questions of “who is acting regarding whom (logics of distinction)” and “what are the relations and processes between the actors (alliance and struggles)” are often lacking in the description of these networks. The authors using the terminology of transgovernmental networks often visualize the present and take the correlations of chronology as if it was a causal dimension. The actions and their dynamics are anticipated as rational outcomes of published strategy documents, documents that are often the sole or the central elements of analysis. The groups are not so much described as “foreseen” and are projected as a natural evolution as opposed to being the results of transformations of international fields of power.
Therefore, transgovernmental network analysis recognizes that the distinction between state actors and transnational actors renders major events of world politics invisible, and yet, it is simultaneously problematic, as it focuses almost exclusively on institutions and public policies, as demonstrated by more sociological and anthropological research discussing transnational dynamics in public policies regarding economics, surveillance, security, and boundaries of the European Union (Lyon 1993; Udehn 1996; Lebaron 2001; Saurugger and Mérand 2010).
The EU Neighborhood policy is a specific terrain of inquiry, which has confronted a public policy approach with a critical security approach inspired by sociological and anthropological perspectives. Some scholars coming from the latter approach have analyzed the strategies of EU actors in their diversity and also the strategies of targeted actors, such as Morocco (Jeandesboz 2007; El Qadim 2010). They demonstrate that analysts using a transgovernmental networks approach have clearly underestimated struggles with local players, believing in a sort of hegemony of European normative power. They have not understood that the resistance of the addressees of their policies has been more confrontational than non-actions at the policy level. Such scholars have also overlooked the capacity of groups on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea to pass transnational alliances, based on shared dispositions regulated by their craft, to frame the future of legality in the name of necessity, technology, and new dangers, against the interests of their own populations and sometimes of the political games, which were simultaneously developed by other actors.
To conclude this part, if, by the mid-2000s, the notion of transgovernmental networks challenged the bifurcation approach and became rightly widespread to describe all the transnational bureaucratic activities that knit different tapestries of the world and are no longer fully congruent with national boundaries, these public policy approaches have nevertheless ignored a sociological investigation of the groups enacting these transnational practices.
Nowhere, in all these descriptions, have political scientist scholars questioned the everyday life of the agents living these transnational relations and building them as part of their work. They completely overlook the relations that actors have outside work hours and official programs. They do not care if they are intermarried, if their children are socialized in specific schools, if they populate the same holiday destinations. It is only quite recently that a non-institutionalist perspective, more closely related to ethnographic research, has been used to undertake such inquiries permitting a proper analysis of the long-term structuration of emergent groups' properties.
Transnational Power Elites, A Global Class in the Making (?): The Lifestyle of Transnational Bureaucrats
The lack of a sociological orientation and limited understanding of power dynamics pleads for the contention of the validity of the terminology of transgovernmental networks. We have to forge a concept for this re-conceptualization of international dynamics of power, one that refuses both the discourse of a “bifurcation” differentiating transnational actors from state actors and the analytical discourse of transgovernmentality as simply a strategy or a public policy. As we will see, by insisting, on the contrary, on the “entanglement” of the transnational and the national, of the external and the internal, and the hybridization that is created when groups belonging to state bureaucracies act transversally and behave like classic transnational actors, we are able to analyze a large set of practices which, de facto, are deeply transforming what we call “the State.” A series of assumptions about the assumed link of loyalty between politicians and civil servants of various bureaucracies, especially when bureaucracies develop transnational contacts with their homologous partners, requires re-examination.
But, the approach we suggest also has to be distinguished from another thesis that insists, on the contrary, quasi-exclusively on economic discrepancies, social status, and lifestyles. This approach speaks of public and private bureaucracies only via their top management, neglecting the practices of a wider group of bureaucrats, and the strong competition inside and between these professional worlds (Robinson 2011). Such an approach certainly puts more emphasis on dynamics of power, but also homogenizes the practical logics of actors living in very different places far too quickly, without explaining why they could have solidarities at a distance.
Many authors have proposed the term “transnational elites” to refer to the practices described by the terminology of transgovernmental networks and public policies. They consider that the roles of these actors are not just the conduct of public policies and governmental activities by other means. They begin to change in scale with the emergence of networks that are in competition both at the national level, but also at the global level (traders, bankers, lawyers), for power and politics. Some popular books have even gone so far as to say that a global class, the “one percent,” is emerging from these groups. From this perspective, the transnational solidarities that cut across states permit the richest of each group to meet in specific “global” places (hotels in cosmopolitan cities, restaurants, beaches, etc.) where they commonly organize their strategies to win a global class warfare (Orlando 2013, 2014). Although these books generally appeal to the populist media, they have not really succeeded in connecting this idea of a global class in the making with precise data concerning the dynamics of power that would emancipate them from the states and bureaucracies they work for. Most of the time they are just evocations of a shared lifestyle of consumerism, but are not supported by strong ethnographic research. They also invoke power relations in terms of struggles, but do not clearly explain the processes and dynamics that support them (for an exception, see Robinson 2011).
Opposed to this popular rhetoric of a global class, scholars who have been inspired by the works of Wright Mills, Murray Edelman, or Pierre Bourdieu, and who have participated in the encounter between critical sociology and International Relations research, insist that it is necessary to take a step back from both culturalism and public policy by analyzing the practices of these bureaucracies in networks as symptomatic of the formation of a transnational “power” elite. Far from leading to global governance or the homogenization of the world under the rule of the one percent, it becomes clear that it is dispersion, heterogeneity, centrifugal dynamics of power that expand and shape the relations of these actors, who are working for their respective states and bureaucracies, live locally and are often nationalists, but share common professional dispositions and solidarity at distance. The question, then, is more about how these groups are connected to the centrifugal dynamics reorganizing the relations between state bureaucracies and private bureaucracies, between neoliberal logics and the nationalist reactions of some governments.
Among the first authors to have reintroduced such sociological dimensions to analyses of the dynamics explaining the proliferation of “transgovernmental” activities, Brian Garth and Yves Dezalay have proposed to look at the practices of the “import-export” of knowledge that actors mobilize in situations of transgovernmentalism and beyond. They have analyzed the resources and long-term strategies inside these circuits in order to assess the more general processes of the international (re)production of the modalities of government knowledge and of their “noblesse d’état” (Dezalay and Garth 2002, 2011). They have proposed an investigation of the resources mobilized nationally and internationally by the actors, but equally look at their families and professional groups in order to analyze how some succeed in having an internationally recognized diploma, a vernacular language (often English), as well as a network abroad that they can mobilize when back home. They coined the notion of “double agent” to explain the simultaneity of an action in different fields. This is why, for Garth and Dezalay, since almost all agents can be double agents if they participate in such professional networks, first, the reproduction of hierarchies in the national field of power is de facto inseparable from the hegemonic struggles for the definition of the international hierarchy concerning the modalities of knowledge governing the state; but second, that internationalization cannot be successful without a national base. Therefore, they consider that power games at the national level are central.
This has led them, as well as Mikael Madsen, who followed the same problematization in his own research, to consider that the existence of fields of power at the international level are far from being proven, even if transnational strategies are deployed (Dezalay and Madsen 2006; Madsen 2011, 2012). For them, everyday life and practices are always situated locally and embedded into dispositions that are mainly national. This may be true, but the focus they have on the actors and their strategies, which contrasts with the world of some of the disembodied transgovernmental networks, is nevertheless itself a problem. Dezalay and Madsen risk reproducing a traditional vision of the international as a different level distinct from the national, by accepting in their narrative the dualism of national/international and the metaphor of the import/export of knowledge. Therefore, their transnational elites have strategies, but not dispositions, and the international is, for them, de facto always the national of someone else, as opposed to a series of transnational horizontal practices.
If their contribution has been central in providing an in-depth description of the practices of the international circulation of knowledge as a competition between elites, a sociology of the positions and dispositions of elites in terms of economic and cultural capitals, while shedding light on the strategies concerning the transfer of symbolic capital from one scene to another, they have nevertheless partly failed to capture the dynamics of the relations and processes that tend toward centrifugal relations and disband, fracturing the homogeneity of territorial boundaries (Wagner 2011; Basaran et al. 2016). In their approach, they see fields only if these fields have centripetal forces, pushing the different actors in competition toward a center. In brief, they see fields only if these fields look like the state itself. Adding the idea of centrifugal dynamics to the notion of “transnational fields of power” may therefore allow for a better understanding of why these transnational actors are neither a global power elite, nor just transgovernmental agents. As we will see, this notion of centrifugal field suggests that the key actors of these transnational bureaucratic activities are therefore better named transnational guilds, that is, actors whose struggles and solidarity at a distance are connected with a profession and, inside this profession, with a specific craft explaining the common dispositions between individuals who are very distant from each other.
Before explaining in greater detail this notion of “guild,” it is important to note that if some researchers suggest that the international cannot be structured by a field of power, other researchers have already considered that an international or, more precisely, a transnational field of power exists when transnational activities between bureaucracies can create a lifestyle or dispositions that are specific to these transnational actors and are distinctive from their national origins. The different observations coming from various domains have generated a healthy controversy granting precision on the conditions under which the dynamics of fields of power stretch the boundaries of national political fields and equally create forms of distinction between bureaucratic fields and the political field, that is, a field reduced (or not) to the professionals of politics (Bigo and Madsen 2011).
Beyond the case of information exchanges between policemen and intelligence services that we discussed, or the ones of judges explored by Anne Marie Slaughter, it seems that the phenomenon of transnational bureaucratic fields also exists in other domains and that we can suggest an autonomization of transnational bureaucratic fields from the elected national politicians that, in theory, control the political fields. The capacity of all these transnational actors as professionals of (in)security or, for example, European judges to frame the boundary-making between security and insecurity with more authority than the professionals of politics is crucial to analyze (Guild 2008). This is the case for professional diplomats interested in civil protection and environment (Rhinard 2013), for the military staff of international organizations, the networks of central bankers, and the networks of lawmaking, arbitration, human rights lawyers, and constitutional lawyers (Lebaron 2008; Kauppi and Madsen 2013).
Among the most precise and detailed studies, Didier Georgakakis’s work on Eurocrats is exemplary of this alternative approach. Even if Georgakakis and Rowell prefer to speak, though hesitantly, of a European bureaucratic field that is differentiated from a series of national political fields where power relations continue to be centrally located, they accept that fields of power are not just the coalescence of national fields of power, but transnational fields (Georgakakis and Rowell 2013). This terminology of bureaucratic field, which has some autonomy from the political field, is therefore reserved in their view to cases where an international organization can create permanent jobs, which generates a specific form of loyalty, different from the one that civil servants have toward the state they come from. However, it is possible to contend that the example of the European Union is unique and supposes financial autonomy as well as an opposition between permanent and non-permanent actors. In my view, many bureaucratic fields, once their actors are engaged heavily in the exchange of information and regular meetings, also have a strong autonomy and are far from being subordinate to the field of the professionals of politics, notably, as the latter often have fewer transnational links (Bigo 2000, 2013).
Recent research on issues of (in)security in Europe has shown that competition for the last word between national politicians and groupings of police and intelligence professionals to frame security issues regarding terrorism, extraordinary renditions, large-scale surveillance, and military drones abroad are often framed along the interests of the latter, despite the catastrophic consequences for the former in terms of re-election (see the latest research by the Centre for Study of Conflict, Liberty, and Security) (Basaran et al. 2016).
Similar processes take place in the case of the death of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, where political professionals seem to be prisoners of contradictory rhetoric, while different security agencies, often working at the transatlantic scale, advance their own agenda of technologies of surveillance and control in the European Union. Jef Huysmans was one of the first scholars to theorize these moves in analyzing, first, the politics of insecurity generated in relation to migration and asylum and, second, the fact that the extension of security in many domains enacts democratic limits. These limits may in turn lead to the development of violent democracies through the introduction of a routinization of exception and the extension of illiberal logics in conducting policies regarding security or welfare, which result in destabilizing societal relations and cohesion to a point that fracturing worlds emerge from everywhere (Huysmans 2006, 2014).
So, in considering the examples of transnational policing, intelligence networks of large-scale surveillance, and so-called migration management policies, one may insist that the study of professional solidarities at a distance, between bureaucracies exchanging data, sharing experiences, visiting each other often, and socializing inside and beyond professional lives, is crucial to understanding how their central loyalties may shift or be shaken when they are obliged to choose between the national security imperatives defined by politicians and the loyalty to their colleagues abroad doing the same work and with whom they share so much.
This may explain how they begin to develop autonomous positioning with respect to their specific crafts. It is around this notion of craft that maybe the key element of the displacement of power boundaries is happening between alliances and struggles that continue to be organized politically around the government of territorial states and other alliances and struggles follow the lines of craft and know-how shared transnationally. The latter intensify local struggles with their more proximate colleagues and reinforce solidarity at a distance with colleagues from very different national cultures. The debate is, therefore, to analyze under which conditions transnational actors coming from state bureaucracies, including the ones of “national security,” can develop a sense of belonging to a “transnational guild” through distinct lifestyles and dispositions, which are related to the fields of power they inhabit and the dynamics of these fields: centripetal or centrifugal.
If the attraction is centrifugal, that is, if the actors are linked together but repelled from the center and attracted to the boundaries, as if getting further from the center gives them more power, and not less, by positioning them at the crossroads of multiple diffracted fields, then proximity, center, and accumulation of power are no longer always correlated. On the contrary, solidarity at a distance, reinforcing internal local and national struggles, may explain some of the contemporary evolutions in matters of (in)security by permitting an analysis of the strength of centrifugal networks that professional actors sharing the same craft may use; practices that relativize the role of territorial proximity and solidarity (Agnew 2005; Agnew in Basaran et al. 2016).
Transnational Guilds: A Terminology Allowing Understanding Distant Solidarities and Struggles
The terminology of transnational guilds, used here to explain the emergence of a specific group of powerful bureaucratic agents at the transnational scale in the field of (in)security, may therefore be generalized to other bureaucratic fields when the actors are engaged in practices that have been described by the label of transgovernmental networks. This is especially the case when these practices involve a socialization in everyday life that goes beyond work relations and generates a solidarity at a distance, demonstrated by the correlation between a certain kind of worldview associated with the dispositions of a certain craft and potentially with a form of common dispositions (or habitus) regarding lifestyle, way of life, and body language (Bigo 2013). The approach in terms of guild has the advantage of attracting attention toward the way emergent dominant actors try performatively to decide and frame what is at stake in occupying the boundaries of a transnational field operating under centrifugal dynamics. They are operating not only through their discursive strategies or even long-term strategies of resource accumulation, but also and mainly through their activities at a distance, that is, the exchange of information that they may employ in digital form (or not) as well as their organization into “clubs” or places that are specific to them.
I therefore suggest that this notion of guild be employed only when it is possible to speak of groups who have specific crafts, and which enter into competition inside or between different professions to organize the world along the logic that fits best with their patrimony of dispositions, transforming their logic of practice into a practice of logic (and willingness to impose it as the only possible logic).
These groups of people are often (but not exclusively) projected in transgovernmental activities. They are the flesh of these activities and have in fact been more central in leading them than the norms or formal rules studied by public policy analysts. They emerge when the dynamics of power generate a field whose boundaries are both extending and attracting the most powerful actors, minimizing the ones at the center. Distant solidarities are therefore central and grow as far as inner struggles obliging them to find new allies in terms of professional competition. It is these special ties between them, coming from the hyper-valorization of certain activities or know-how (sometime called “best practices”), that organize them along a logic of professional guilds.
The form of “craft” depends on the specific professional activities, and is not limited to a specific class of activities. Practitioners of law, of banking, of parliamentary activities may have very different crafts, if compared with those of policemen or border guards, but each profession is organized around struggles for excellence in terms of “craft.” This is why the “specialism” of each field goes against the idea of a “common” craft transversal to large groups, and this is also why we have abandoned the idea of a generic group of professional (in)security managers to the benefit of a multiplicity of type of different guilds inside these professions, and the way they frame the competition around what they consider as their “advantages” or “better ethical foundations.” The members of a “guild” have a sense of being part of a specific social universe that differentiates the insiders (initiated) from the laypersons (profanes) no matter where they live in the world, and quite independently of their specific national culture. This is the case as long as they have been initiated in certain places, with specific rituals, and with the acquisition of crafts that are constructing a certain common patrimony of dispositions, which exists despite differences of language, heterogeneities of national culture, and even of class positioning. Their practices are thus reminiscent of those of the city guilds of the late Middle Ages, which were themselves clusters of different crafts and professions, living together but with their specific “houses,” and which developed their own inner rituals, as well as their own way of communicating and competing with the few other guilds that they needed for achieving a specific work (Isin 2002).6
Certainly, contemporary professional guilds may be less formal, but they have internal hierarchies, powerful and powerless agents, and struggles, which are sometimes ferocious, even at a distance. Following Abbott, it is clear that professions are places of struggles between people with different crafts who try to get the upper hand of the normative elements that regulate the profession (Abbott 1981, 2014). In the case of guilds concerning transnational interception and management of sensitive information, for example, they consider that they have a better understanding than the guilds organizing their practices along human capital, inside information, and criminal justice. They value anticipation, intrusive acquisition of knowledge about large groups of suspects in the name of prevention, and consider that they may reduce the risk of terrorism via forms of predictive profiling. If, to achieve this goal, they have to bypass “upper” hierarchical groups such as judges, or even their own government, they consider that it is necessary, if an agreement between the “crafted” people has emerged about what to do.
Their relations with politicians are therefore often of obedience, but also simultaneously of contempt, if not dissidence. Only a small group of politicians have invested enough resources and time to gain their recognition, but even in such cases they consider that they live in a separate world, which implies having an inner sense of shared secrets and exceptional skills, as well described by investigative journalists (Bamford 2008; Harris 2010) or surveillance scholars (Lyon 2015). When these activities are performed, more or less secretly, outside legality, they evoke “clubs” possessing an esoteric knowledge that only some initiated persons can understand and share. In terms of control of behavior, this also converges with the idea that individual and collective achievement inside the guild must only be submitted to other members of the guild that have a right to say something and to judge their works (of art), but who do not have to obey other rules, be they transparent public demands or any idea that they are submitted to an open competition in a market of information.
The notion of “transnational guild,” which was initially coined during research on European transnational policing, and has been applied more recently to understand the relation between intrusive forms of digital surveillance and the making of intelligence, may additionally make sense for other groups. These groups are not at all composed of security professionals, but they perform activities, construct their professional identities across borders, and have, after many encounters and trainings, almost similar dispositions despite their different basic socializations.
The fact that they act at a distance does not block these groups from becoming powerful or from having “fractured proximities,” which are not so much derived from the same institutions as from participation in distant but strong “extitutions” (Huysmans 2016). This is particularly strong when the digitization of information exchanges inside the group succeeds in performatively creating a sense of community (or at least a between-us) at a distance. So, finally, how transnationality is translated locally and affects the dynamics of power cannot be answered in a general manner, but is the key question for each empirical case. The empirical existence of these transnational guilds is therefore the product of the circulation of power into a field and between fields; circulation that is not always captured by the logic of centripetal force around a state territory and its embracing of a national society with a specific culture. On the contrary, these transnational guilds populate and live along what has been described as acts at a distance, which create forms of struggles and alliances that are mediated by distant communications and digital media (Latour 1988; Bigo 2005; Broeders 2007; Bigo 2011; Venturini 2012). They exchange not only information but also meanings of life and ways of framing the world.
At the heart of this approach, it is necessary to recognize that mimetism, solidarities, struggles, and logic of distinctions operating across institutions and states are not always, for this reason, weak or fragile. They just operate differently via other institutional spokespersons and forms of solidarities, producing centrifugal effects that always project them at a longer range, diffracting the fields and dispersing consequences into stretched-out places that are nevertheless interdependent (Bigo in Basaran et al. 2016).
Further research may assess in more detail the loyalty to national elected politicians that is expected from these transnational (bureaucratic) guilds, when this obedience is challenged by the horizontal solidarities between them—solidarities that exist despite the fact that they belong to different national bureaucracies. In addition, the term “bureaucracy” itself cannot be limited to public bureaucracies, as Max Weber already pointed out in Economy and Society (Weber 1978). The process of the “bureaucratization of the world,” via the transforming nature of production and services as well as the digitization of information, creates in almost every country a network of intermingled actors of private and public origins, where the most powerful individuals are often the ones whose trajectories have been to constantly criss-cross between the boundaries of private and public (Hibou 2015). It is therefore absolutely necessary to link the sociology of transnational guilds with its international political economy roots. As explained by Beatrice Hibou, neoliberalism has certainly not destroyed bureaucracy and states in favor of markets. Rather, it has reconfigured bureaucracies as powerful assemblages of public and private actors. The notion of transnational guild is particularly apt for describing this entanglement between public and private agents who are bureaucrats on both sides. The straddling position of transnational bureaucratic actors, the multi-positioning in domains of activities that formally look different but are interconnected, is often the most important position for the accumulation of symbolic power and economic privileges. In addition, this position may formally be in the private domain with public actors and politicians as subordinates at a certain point. This goes against the idea that the public is delegating subordinated tasks to the private, and is always in charge, which is still so prevalent in public policy approaches with the simplistic views of delegation and outsourcing. What is at stake is therefore largely more important than low-key public policies. It is a reconfiguration of loyalties worldwide, disaggregating the state as we have known it during the nineteenth century with the primacy of nationalist frames and the normative acceptance that elected politicians are in charge of the state, while reassembling the bureaucratic guilds system. This reassembly has taken place along new centrifugal dynamics that destabilize the attraction of old centers of power, and open new lines of solidarities organized along professional know-how and similar crafts, doubled with non-public agendas that are often “corporate” in the old meaning of “corporation” and “guilds.”
As we have explained, this challenges national politicians; therefore, the reinforcement of transnational solidarities has also pushed toward hyper-nationalist and reactionary politics among some sectors of population, which consider themselves as disenfranchised and powerless, even when they are not. So, a phenomenon pointed out by Arjun Appadurai as a key explanation of the social dynamics in India, the fear of majorities becoming minorities in one’s own country, makes sense in my view beyond this country, and may be related with the correlative development of centrifugal fields and transnational guilds (Appadurai 2006).