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date: 08 December 2022

Informal International Relationslocked

Informal International Relationslocked

  • Thomas Kwasi TiekuThomas Kwasi TiekuDepartment of Political Science, Kings University College

Summary

There has been a proliferation of works on informal dimensions of international relations. Putting the scholarship under the banner of informal international relations (IIR), [A1] the value preposition of research and publications on informal aspects of international political life is critically explored in order to chart promising pathways to further research in this growing field of study. Three generations of IIR scholarship may be identified. The first-generation scholarship took the IIR approach without explicitly acknowledging it. The second-generation scholars treated it primarily as an anomaly that ought to be explained. The third-generation scholarship seeks to give IIR a conceptual clarity, theorize it, and show the analytical utility of the concept.

Although the IIR scholarship has given us a new outlook into international political life, the IR literature on informality is biased in at least three ways. First, it focuses mostly on informal politics in international organizations (IOs) housed in Western Europe and North American states. It is insightful and informative in the discussion of informality in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) but lacks similar cutting-edge analysis when it comes to informal aspects of international life in the rest of the world. The IIR scholarship neglects the rich tapestry of materials and insights from the Global South and Eastern Europe. Second, it is dominated by studies of informal governance. Other aspects of informal relations, namely, informal practices, processes, norms, and informal rules, have received little attention. Third, it is dominated by rational choice approaches. Perspectives such as critical constructivism, practice theory, intersectionality, neocolonialism, decolonial perspective, and postcolonialism, among others, are rarely used by third-generation scholars to explore informal international life.

Finally, IIR ideas are deployed primarily as a last resort or as something used to explain negative political outcomes. IR scholars turn to the informal as a unit of analysis when traditional issue-areas such as formal state structures, formal IOs, official processes, codified norms, and written rules cannot help, and they deploy informal ideas only when well-known variables including state power, powerful registered domestic groups, and legalized nonstate actors are unable to explain a given political problem. But as those who have studied the issue carefully observed, the informal rather than the formal should be the baseline for IR analysis. The discipline of IR will be improved considerably if informality is prioritized and all facets of informal international life are explored in a systematic manner.

Subjects

  • Diplomacy
  • Organization
  • International Relations Theory

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