My book will be the first to investigate the sources of international status. Drawing on multi-disciplinary insights, I develop a theoretical framework that highlights the social nature of status and use network analysis tools uniquely suited to the study of status. I argue that status depends on states’ positions in a social arrangement, rather than on their qualities or the things that they have. To investigate how countries achieve status, I conduct a network analysis of diplomatic relations since the early nineteenth century. My analysis shows that the structure of state relations itself shapes the conditions for status achievement in the international system. Once established, status distinctions reinforce inequality, independently from material conditions, via cumulative advantage mechanisms: the higher standing a state enjoys, the more it attracts additional recognition. It is no coincidence that, to this day, status evaluations rely on governance ideals associated with the West. As such, international hierarchies of status are far from meritocratic systems: While states at the margins of the international system struggle to gain recognition, states at the system’s core enjoy considerable advantage in maintaining their status.

My book demonstrates that the role of status in international politics is broader, and more complex, than traditionally assumed. While existing studies tend to equate status-seeking behavior with aggressive behavior, the book indicates that status also contributes to the maintenance of international order. Since fundamental values like democracy shape recognition, there are structural incentives for states to adopt international norms. And while mainstream approaches posit that the great powers maintain global stability via military or institutional instruments, I show that great powers also lead by example, setting standards that other states adopt. As such, hegemony requires upholding existing standards not only internationally, but also domestically. Finally, the book suggests that hegemonic wars result when established and emerging powers have conflicting conceptions of state competence. If the hegemonic transition from Britain to the U.S. was peaceful, since both countries shared similar conceptions, a potential transition from the U.S. to China is more likely to spell conflict—as China increasingly questions the liberal democratic foundations of the contemporary international order. By highlighting the distinctive features of status both analytically and empirically, my book aims to move status from its current position as a residual category in IR to its rightful place as a concept central to the study of international politics.