Current Research

Professor Mai’a K. Davis Cross has recently completed a new single-authored book entitled, International Cooperation Against All Odds: The Ultrasocial World (Oxford University Press, 2023, in press).  This book recasts how we understand international relations through an examination of how the human evolutionary predisposition to be “ultrasocial” as a species impacts which political ideas succeed, transform, manipulate, and inspire on a global scale.  At a time when pessimism about our current world order is at an all-time high, this book overturns widespread assumptions that international relations is mainly about conflict, power, and national self-interest. In the last 10-20 years, scientists have discovered that as a species, we are biologically hard-wired, soft-wired, and pre-wired to be other-regarding and cooperative. Humans are an ultrasocial species, and yet this predisposition is completely ignored in governments across the world. Political leaders, experts, and the media have cultivated a myopic vision of global conflict, feeding an obsession on crises of the moment, rather than recognizing frequent and significant breakthroughs in peaceful cooperation and overall trends in the decline of violence. This book shows how time and time again our ultrasocial predisposition has pushed us towards big ideas that inspire and bring us together around the power of possibility. Featuring original research on international cooperation in outer-space exploration, European Union integration, nuclear weapons, and climate change, among other examples this book shows ultrasociality at work in a range of contexts. Tracing the path from social neuroscience and evolutionary biology (among others) to the power of ideas to international agreements, The Ultrasocial World opens up an entirely new understanding of world politics. If we recognize our nature as a species and the potential we have to work together, we can start to transform institutions, and devise policies that take advantage of this. 

This book has already led to several related works, most notably expanding upon Professor Cross’s research on space diplomacy and space security. She has published a series of articles on space including, “The Social Construction of the Space Race: Then and Now,” published in International Affairs, and co-edited a special issue on Space Diplomacy (in press, 2023) for the Hague Journal of Diplomacy.  

Also, building on the EU case study, Professor Cross has been commissioned to write a book on European Union grand strategy, which is under contract in The Oxford Studies in Grand Strategies series at Oxford University Press. This book will provide an authoritative and comprehensive account of European Union grand strategy, with a focus on the impact the EU’s aspirations and actions have had on the world stage. Accessible to scholars, students, and policy practitioners alike, the book will lay out the enduring debates, long-term trends, tools, and achievements that constitute EU grand strategy. Using an interpretivist lens, rather than a standard rationalist approach, the book emphasizes that grand strategy is derived from both the need to address global transformations as well as processes internal to actors, such as historical memory, national pathologies, and domestic politics.

More generally, Mai’a Cross’s current research continues to delve deeply into practical applications of her ultrasocial approach to international relations in order to further illuminate cooperative processes globally and contribute to policy prescription.

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