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date: 24 January 2021

Universals and Particulars in International Relations Theorylocked

  • Fiona RobinsonFiona RobinsonDepartment of Political Science, Carleton University
  •  and Anupam PandeyAnupam PandeyDepartment of Political Science, Dalhousie University

Summary

One of the most vigorous debates within the discipline of international relations (IR) revolves around the “universal/particular” dichotomy: the tensions between worldviews that emphasize the “whole” as a unified entity or set of ideas—in the case of IR, the “whole” typically refers to the “whole world”—and those that emphasize constituent “parts”, and the differences among them. Discussions regarding universalism and particularism have involved the traditions of realism, liberalism, and the English School, as well as critical theory, poststructuralism, and postcolonialism. Furthermore, the opposition between universalism and particularism has often taken the form of the analysis of conflict between the sovereign state, on one hand, and universal human rights, on the other. Feminists have been particularly influential in challenging the universal/particular debate in the context of human rights. Their perspectives on human rights are exemplary of feminist scholarship in the field of international ethics more generally. Indeed, feminists are constantly striving to mitigate and overcome the tensions between the universal and the particular through their commitment to relationality. The crucial question that remains is: What should be the relationship between the universal and the particular and how should we conceive of this relationship in a non-antagonistic and constructive manner? The answer lies in conceiving the relationship between the two as a dialectical one. In order to understand the universal, it is important to accept the fact that it is derived from particular local contexts and can only be realized through the culturally specific norms and rules in each context.

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