chapter  5
Claiming the early state for the relational turn: the case of Rus’ (ca. 800–1100)
ByIver B. Neumann
Pages 20

The starting point for this chapter is the assumption that humankind has a biological unity, as the species homo sapiens sapiens, but that its social and political organization demonstrates considerable variation. For burgeoning nineteenth-century social science, political differences were especially puzzling. Social thinkers tried to solve this puzzle by placing distinct modes of political organization along a time axis, and then arguing that any differences were due to mutations and adaptations emerging across time. In other words, observable variation “here and now” was the consequence of evolutionary sequences particular to each region and polity. The key point is that the very emergence of political organization was studied programmatically as pristine, untouched by the evolution of other political organizations. In consequence, possible interactions or relations between polities were by definition read out of the literature on early state formation. It was, as will be discussed, only in the 1970s that the followers of the work of American sociologist, Immanuel Wallerstein, claimed the early state as a proper object of relational studies. This chapter charts the findings of studies of early states, highlights how relations between early polities have come into more steady focus over the past four decades, and ends with a case study of how what we now call “the international” was key to the emergence of one particular polity, the Rus’ Khaganate, the first state to emerge in what is now North-Western Russia. The nineteenth-century evolutionary response to how the state came into

existence has now fallen into disrepute among most social thinkers, yet it still frames debates about early states in political science and International Relations (IR). This oversight leads IR to ignore the worlding going on in early state formation processes, which speaks to the grand and still ongoing theme of the nomadic versus the sedentary in world history. There is, however, a problem. With hunters and gatherers all but gone from the face of the earth, and the

pastoral nomadic way of life rapidly disappearing (Khazanov 2001: 6), soon we will be unable to collect data based on direct observation. Given the need for the fullest possible universe of cases, we necessarily turn to the study of history. The case study presented in this chapter draws from an earlier time period, but is intended to speak to contemporary instances of state building where the tension between the sedentary and the nomadic remains a theme, be that in Afghanistan or South Sudan.2