Barry Buzan and Richard Little
For most English School writers, the international society is an element that is always present in international relations, but whose depth, character, and influence all fluctuate with historical contingency. The historical wing of the English School focuses on how the contemporary global international society came about as a result of the expansion to planetary scale of what was originally a novel type of international society that emerged in early modern Europe. This is partly a story of power and imposition, and partly one of the successful spread and internalization beyond the West of Western ideas such as sovereignty and nationalism. It is also a story about what happens when international society expands beyond the cultural heartland which gave birth to it. The classical story has been critiqued for being too Eurocentric and underplaying the fact that European international society did not emerge fully formed in Europe and then spread from there to the rest of the world. Rather, it developed as it did substantially because it was already spreading as it emerged, and was thus in its own way as much shaped by the encounter as was the non-European world. A related line of critique points out the conspicuous and Eurocentric failure of the classical story to feature the fact that colonialism was a core institution of European international society.
Historical Sociology and International Relations: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Large-Scale Historical Change and Global Order
Besnik Pula and Yannis A. Stivachtis
Historical Sociology (HS) is a subfield of sociology studying the structures and processes that have shaped important features of the modern world, including the development of the rational bureaucratic state, the emergence of capitalism, international institutions and trade, transnational forces, revolutions, and warfare. HS differs from other approaches in sociology given its distinction between routine social activities and transformative moments that fundamentally reshape social structures and institutions. Within international relations, the relevance of history in the field’s study has been highly disputed. In fact, mainstream international relations (IR)—Neorealism and Liberalism—has downplayed the importance of history. Nevertheless, World History (WH) and HS have exercised a significant degree of influence over certain theoretical approaches to the study of international relations. The history of HS can be traced back to the Enlightenment period and the belief that it was possible to improve the human condition by unmaking and remaking human institutions. HS was then taken up by a second wave of historical sociologists who were asking questions about political power and the state, paving the way for greater engagement between IR and sociology. Third wave HS, meanwhile, emerged from a questioning of received theoretical paradigms, and was thus characterized by theoretical and methodological revisions, but only minor and incremental changes to the research agenda of second wave Historical Sociology.
Joseph MacKay and Christopher David LaRoche
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies. Please check back later for the full article.
History has provided a site of theoretical inquiry for scholars of International Relations since the discipline’s inception—indeed, long before. IR’s canon of theoretical forerunners prominently includes written histories (Thucydides) and commentaries on history (Machiavelli, Marx). Many of the modern discipline’s founders were diplomatic historians. However, serious and sustained historical inquiry has only returned to the foreground of international studies since the turn of the 21st century or so, after a prolonged period of postwar uninterest. IR scholars have now begun to more rigorously theorize history as an object or analytical category unto itself. How can scholars identify moments or processes of systematic change? Does history have a long-run structure or trajectory? Moreover, scholars have begun to take seriously the epistemological problem of historicism. Recent IR scholarship can be understood as addressing the intersection of theory and history in three broad ways. The first encompasses substantive historical studies that take history as a site of theory building about world politics. Here, new accounts of early modern Europe, ancient China, precolonial South Asia, European colonial expansion, and other settings have challenged previous historical narratives that assert or assume linear progress or realist cyclicality alike. A second category follows on the first, comprising a plurality of methodological turns. Here, scholars have developed new ways of inquiring into history, ranging across macro-historical or structural analysis, rationalist accounts of international-system building, relationalist accounts of international hierarchies, discursive accounts of colonialism and resistance, and other matters. In parallel, scholars of the history of international thought have developed new, contextualist accounts of the intellectual history of international theory. A third focuses directly on theoretical questions drawn from the philosophy of history. These works aim to provide not methods of historical inquiry so much as theoretical tools for thinking philosophically about the historical long run itself. While explicit work in this area remains small, we find implicit theory building about history as such at work in much or most of international theory.
Brian C. Schmidt
A significant development in the history of international relations (IR) is the increased focus on historiographical issues. Prior to 1998, the literature had, for the most part, failed to address adequately the question of how to write a history of the field. The tendency was to describe the history of IR as if a complete consensus existed on the essential dimensions of the field’s evolution. However, during the past 10 years (1998–2008) a wealth of new literature has appeared that greatly challenges much of the conventional wisdom regarding the development of IR. Three main thematic issues have been prominent in the literature. The first theme concerns the status of IR as an academic field or discipline. For various reasons, there has been a repeated questioning of whether IR is in fact a distinctive discipline. A second theme is the issue of whether the boundaries of IR should be demarcated in terms of one particular country (the United States) or whether it should be viewed as a more cosmopolitan endeavor without regard to national differences. The third theme involves the historiographical debate about whether the evolution of the field is best explained in terms of exogenous events in the realm of international politics or by endogenous factors associated with the institutional setting of the field.
James D. Morrow
Theory shapes how data is collected and analyzed in at least three ways. Theoretical concepts inform how we collect data because data attempt to capture and reflect those concepts. Theory provides testable hypotheses that direct our research. Theory also helps us draw conclusions from the results of empirical research. Meanwhile, research using quantitative methods seeks to be rigorous and reproducible. Mathematical models develop the logic of a theory carefully, while statistical methods help us judge whether the evidence matches the expectations of our theories. Quantitative scholars tend to specialize in one approach or the other. The interaction of theory and data for them thus concerns how models and statistical analysis draw on and respond to one another. In the abstract, they work together seamlessly to advance scientific understanding. In practice, however, there are many places and ways this abstract process can stumble. These difficulties are not unique to rigorous methods; they confront any attempt to reconcile causal arguments with reality. Rigorous methods help by making the issues clear and forcing us to confront them. Furthermore, these methods do not ensure arguments or empirical judgments are correct; they only make it easier for us to agree among ourselves when they do.
Raymond C. Miller
Interdisciplinarity is an analytically reflective study of the methodological, theoretical, and institutional implications of implementing interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and research. Interdisciplinarians are those who engage in the scholarly field of interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinary approaches in the social sciences, meanwhile, involve the application of insights and perspectives from more than one conventional discipline to the understanding of social phenomena. The concept of interdisciplinarity gained prominence during the early 1970s to solve the problem of how knowledge can be unified and what the implications of such unity are for teaching and research in the universities. Though there were many differences between scholars, they all shared the thought that the scientific enterprise had become less effective due to disciplinary fragmentation, and that a countermovement for the unification of knowledge was the proper response. There are many ways of differentiating between types of interdisciplinary approaches, and they can be classified as multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and transdisciplinary. Multidisciplinary approaches involve the simple act of juxtaposing parts of several conventional disciplines in an effort to get a broader understanding of some common theme or problem. Cross-disciplinary approaches involve real interaction across the conventional disciplines, though the extent of communication and thus combination, synthesis, or integration of concepts and/or methods varies considerably. Transdisciplinary approaches, meanwhile, involve articulated conceptual frameworks that seek to transcend the more limited worldviews of the specialized conventional disciplines.
Xinyuan Dai, Duncan Snidal, and Michael Sampson
The study of international cooperation has emerged and evolved over the past few decades as a cornerstone of international relations research. The strategy here for reviewing such a large literature is to focus primarily on the rational choice and game theoretic approaches that instigated it and have subsequently guided its advance. Without these theoretical efforts, the study of international cooperation could not have made nearly as much progress—and it certainly would not have taken the form it does in the 21st century. Through this lens, we can identify major themes in this literature and highlight key challenges for future research
Dirk Nabers and Frank A. Stengel
International Political Sociology (IPS) emerged as a subfield of International Relations (IR) in the early 2000s. IPS itself may be understood as constituted by a field of tension between the concepts of “the International,” “the Political,” and “the Social.” Against this background, the centrality of anarchy and sovereignty as the fundamental structuring principles of international politics are increasingly called into question. While IPS remains an exciting, creative and important endeavor, researchers are also exploring paths toward what might be called a Global Political Sociology (GPS). Although IPS has become more global in orientation, more sociological with respect to sources, and more political in its stance, three ongoing shifts need to be made in order to transform IPS into GPS: first, insights from disciplines foreign to IR—both Western and non-Western—need to be employed in order to illustrate that specific localities have implications for the global as a whole; second, the continued engagement with causal theorizing must be replaced with contingency and undecidability as the fundamental constituting features of the political; and third, if the international that has been the nucleus of IR activities for decades, but impedes our understanding of politics instead of stimulating it, then alternative ways of theorizing global politics must be explored.
Alexander D. Barder
Recently, international hierarchy has taken center stage in international relations (IR) theory. Hierarchy is typically understood as a feature of domestic institutional stratification; it defines a set of social arrangements that reflects relations of authority. Where anarchy had once dominated IR theory, there are now substantial debates about how to account for hierarchical international relations between nominally sovereign states, as well as a prevalent conflation between hierarchy and hegemony to discuss unequal material and social arrangements. Yet the focus on hierarchy is nothing new. Theories such as Power Transition Theory and Hegemonic Stability Theory had attempted to understand the international system as a consequence of significant material imbalances of power. Moreover, critical theoretical approaches relying on Marxian analysis tended to emphasize the diverse hierarchical forms of international relations in the political-economic realm. More recent literature on international hierarchy is derived from a rationalist ontology, which explains why it would be a legitimate policy choice for states to enter into asymmetric relations. This literature understands hierarchy in its formal-juridical dimensions. In addition, discussions of international hierarchy by critical and postcolonial theorists take different ontological and epistemological starting points, as hierarchy can be understood in broader terms as a way of constituting and demarcating identities, for example. In other words, hierarchy is as much a social concept as a juridical one. However, this raises crucial theoretical questions concerning the differences between hegemony and hierarchy.
Vidya Nadkarni and J. Michael Williams
Both the political science fields of International Relations (IR) and Comparative Politics (CP) developed around a scholarly concern with the nature of the state. IR focused on the nature, sources, and dynamics of inter-state interaction, while CP delved into the structure, functioning, and development of the state itself. The natural synergies between these two lines of scholarly inquiry found expression in the works of classical and neo-classical realists, liberals, and Marxists, all of whom, to varying degrees and in varied ways, recognized that the line dividing domestic and international politics was not hermetically sealed. As processes of economic globalization, on the one hand, and the globalization of the state system, on the other, have expanded the realm of political and economic interaction, the need for greater cross-fertilization between IR and CP has become even more evident. The global expansion of the interstate system has incorporated non-European societies into world politics and increased the salience of cultural and religious variables. These dynamics suggest that a study of cultures, religions, and histories, which shape the world views of states and peoples, is therefore necessary before assessments can be made about how individual states may respond to varied global pressures in their domestic and foreign policy choices.
The early literature on international environmental politics (IEP) had a decisively global scale, in the sense that the key environmental problems of the day, population and resources (including ocean resources), were viewed as global rather than national or regional. This is not to say that transboundary and other international issues were not significant but, rather, to observe that the global scale was introduced into the study of IEP immediately after World War II, as it was with respect to economic, political, and military issues. Two factors seem to account for this global view of IEP: the global ends and means of American politics and the resource and naturalist legacies of colonial empires. The globalization of environmental issues continued unabated during the early 1960s to the middle 1970s, growing more complex over time as a result of the assertion of the Global South, and became more contested in the decades that followed. By the 1990s, the globalization of IEP and its study was broadened and deepened by the two grand narratives that dominate and contest the contemporary study of IEP. As a consequence, the diffusion of the study of IEP has continued and accelerated. European institutions and scholars are now as prominent while other English-speaking countries have contributed fundamentally to our thinking about IEP. IEP scholarship is also becoming more prominent in other areas, particularly the South.
International relations and history are inextricably linked, and with good reason. This link is centuries old: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, one of the very earliest and one of the very greatest historical works of all time, is widely regarded as the founding textbook of international relations. Still, those two disciplines are legitimately separate. A somewhat clear boundary between them can probably be drawn around three lines of demarcation: (1) past versus present, (2) idiographic versus nomothetic, and (3) description versus analysis.
The utility of history for the analysis of international affairs has been taken for granted since time immemorial. History is said to offer three things to international relations scholars: (1) a ready source of examples, (2) an opportunity to sharpen their theoretical insights, and (3) historical consciousness, that is, an understanding of the historical context of human existence and a corresponding ability to form intelligent judgment about human affairs. This tradition continued well after international relations firmly established itself as a recognized separate discipline some time after World War II, and would remain virtually unchallenged until the 1960s.
Since the 1960s, attitudes toward history have diverged within the international relations community. Some approaches, most notably the English school and the world system analysis, have almost by definition thriven on history. History plays a fundamental role in the critical-constructivist approach, while realist scholars continue to draw regularly on history. History is far less popular, though not absent from works belonging to the liberal-idealist approach. Postmodernism is the one approach that is almost completely antithetical to the analytical use of history. Postmodernists have characterized history as merely another form of fiction and question the existence of objective truth and transhistorical knowledge. One cannot exclude the possibility that postmodernism is correct in this respect; however, it is highly unlikely that uncountable generations of people have been victims of mass deception or mass psychosis regarding the utility of history, not least in the analysis of international relations.
The nature of the debates surrounding international relations (IR) as a social science have pointed to issues of ontology, epistemology, methodology, philosophy of science, history, and sociology of knowledge, yet they are all crucial in understanding the character of international relations. Such an idea was brought about by Stanley Hoffman’s 1977 article, “An American Social Science: International Relations.” For Hoffmann, IR developed the way it did out of a set of distinctive intellectual predispositions, political circumstances, and institutional opportunities. His insights, however controversial, thus reveal fundamental questions about the work of IR scholars. The key issues here are the definition of IR as a discipline, the definition of IR as a science, and the definition of IR as an American social science in particular. The large variety of inquiries explored in IR, the “kind” of social science IR scholars are engaged in, as well as how “progress” is assessed, all reveal some important nuances in international relations as a discipline. Moreover, the debates surrounding the scientific legitimacy of IR scholarship reveal how IR gained legitimacy as a discipline. The historical development of IR could in fact be described as a series of debates, known among those in the field as the “great debates,” which eventually became the coherent whole understood to be the field of international relations.
The essay discusses the origins and development of the idea of international society in the discipline of International Relations (IR). It locates the concept in the English School tradition, providing a summary of the classic statements as found in the writings of Wight, Bull and Manning. It engages with more recent writing, including Buzan’s reconceptualization of international society and explaining the pluralist-solidarist distinction. The essay traces key debates surrounding the concept, such as the expansion of international society, humanitarian intervention and the standard of civilisation. The final part presents the main criticisms of the concept and explores the ontological status of international society.
Yannis A. Stivachtis
To understand the global and regional dimensions of the contemporary international society, one must become familiar with the English School literature related to the historical expansion of the European society of states and its gradual transformation to the global international society of today. There is a distinction between an international system and an international society. English School scholars have accepted that this distinction is valid, but the boundary line between the two concepts is problematic. According to the English School literature, before and during the establishment of the European society of states, the world was divided into many regional international systems/societies—each with its own distinctive rules and institutions reflecting the dominant regional culture. The global international society of the early twentieth century was the result of the expansion of the European international society, which gradually brought other regional international systems/societies into contact with one another. However, World War I led to the destruction of the European society of states. Moreover, the emergence of a bipolar world in conjunction with the imperial Soviet policies during the Cold War led to the division of the global international system into two separate international societies. Nevertheless, with the end of the Cold War, a united global international society emerged. Within the confines of the global gesellschaft international society, one can find several gemeinschaft types of regional international societies—some of which are more developed than others.
Heidi H. Hobbs, Harry I. Chernotsky, and Darin H. Van Tassell
International Studies majors evolved as a reflection of broader trends toward internationalizing higher education in the United States. However, International Studies has historically lacked an integrative framework. In particular, it has been described as approximating “all things international” and the point at which multiple disciplines converge. This variation and lack of identity have resulted in the random ways International Studies programs have developed in terms of their core curricula, faculty, and variety of institutional homes. The search for an International Studies paradigm that can unite the various disciplines comprising the field has spawned a debate over globalization between the so-called hyperglobalizers, who emphasize the progressive erosion of the borders that have differentiated national economies and sustained the centrality of nation-states, and their critics, who point to the resilience and political endurance of the nation-state system and the continuing capacity of states to regulate the global economy. Another view, representing the third wave of globalization theory, suggests that globalization is an extremely complex phenomenon. One key element that should frame International Studies curricula is to foster an understanding of the multiple perspectives guiding perceptions and visions across the world. The core curriculum should adress the following issues: political awareness, economic understanding, cultural competency, international cooperation, and global citizenship.
The internet is a set of software instructions (known as “protocols”) capable of transmitting data over networks. These protocols were designed to facilitate the movement of data across independently managed networks and different physical media, and not to survive a nuclear war as the popular myth suggests. The use of the internet protocols gives rise to technical, legal, regulatory, and policy problems that become the main concern of internet governance. Because the internet is a key component of the infrastructure for a growing digital economy, internet governance has turned into an increasingly high-stakes arena for political activity. The world’s convergence on the internet protocols for computer communications, coupled with the proliferation of a variety of increasingly inexpensive digital devices that can be networked, has created a new set of geopolitical issues around information and communication technologies. These problems are intertwined with a broader set of public policy issues such as freedom of expression, privacy, transnational crime, the security of states and critical infrastructure, intellectual property, trade, and economic regulation. Political scientists and International Relations scholars have been slow to attack these problems, in part due to the difficulty of recognizing governance issues when they are embedded in a highly technological context. Internet governance is closely related to, and has evolved out of, debates over digital convergence, telecommunications policy, and media regulation.
Marcos S. Scauso
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies. Please check back later for the full article.
Since the 1980s, scholars disputing the hegemony of positivist methodologies in the social sciences have promoted interpretive approaches, creating discussions about methodological pluralism, and enabling a slow and often resisted proliferation of theoretical diversity. Within this context, interpretivism acquired a specific definition, which encompassed meaning-centered research and problematized positivist ideas of truth correspondence, objectivity, generalization, and linear processes of research. By critiquing the methodological assumptions that were often used to make positivism appear as a superior form of social science, interpretive scholars were confronted with questions about their own knowledge production and its validity. If meanings could be separated from objects, if phenomena and identities could be constructed, and if observers could not step out of their situated participation within these constructions, how could scholars validate their knowledge?
Despite important agreements about the centrality, characteristics, and intelligibility of meaning, interpretivists still disagree about the different ways in which this question can be answered. Scholars often use diverse strategies of validation and objectivize their interpretations in different degrees. On one end of the spectrum some poststructuralist, feminist, and postcolonial scholars renounce methodological foundations of objectification and validation as much as possible. This opens the possibility of empirically researching epistemic assumptions, which scholars interpret either as components of dominant discourses or as alternatives that create possibilities to think about more multiplicity, difference, and diversity. On the other side a number of constructivist, feminist, and critical scholars attach meanings to social structures and view their interpretations as reflecting parts of intersubjectivities, lifeworlds, cultures, etc. Because they use their own strategy to objectify interpretations and solve the methodological question of validity, scholars on this end of the spectrum tend either to pursue empirical research that does not analyze epistemic dimensions or to generalize particular experiences of domination. This disagreement not only influences the kind of empirical research that scholars pursue, but also creates some differences in the definitions of key interpretive notions such as power relations, reflexivity, and the role of empirical evidence.
Within these agreements and disagreements, interpretivism created an overarching methodological space that allowed for the proliferation of theoretical approaches. Since the 1980s, poststructuralist, feminist, constructivist, neo-Marxist, postcolonial, green, critical, and queer theories have sought to expand the study of meanings, uncover aspects of domination, listen to previously marginalized voices, unveil hidden variations, and highlight alternatives. Some of the branches of these theories tend toward different sides of the methodological spectrum, but the opening of this interpretive space has allowed for scholars to deconstruct, reconstruct, and juxtapose meanings, contributing to the field from different perspectives and within particular empirical areas of research. Moreover, this diversifying process continues to unfold. Approaches such as the decolonial perspective that emerged in Latin American studies continue to infiltrate international studies, creating new transdisciplinary debates and promoting other possibilities for thinking about international and global politics.
International relations (IR) is widely accepted as an academic discipline in its own right, despite the many subdisciplines which hold it together. These disparate subdisciplines, in fact, have come to define international relations as a whole. Establishing systematic matrices that describe and explain the discipline as a whole can show how the subdisciplines that constitute international relations have sufficient coherence to allow us to say that there is a discipline there. To look at the discipline otherwise would be viewing it as a mere collection of insights taken from other disciplines—in short, international relations could not be defined as a discipline at all. Such an argument forms a more heterodox view of international relations—one which does not attempt to engage with traditional debates about what constitutes the subject’s core as compared with its periphery. The “old” international relations was largely confined to politico-strategic issues to do with military strategy and diplomacy; that is, to discussions of peace and war, international organization, international governance, and international law. It was about states and the state system and little more. By contrast the “new” international relations is an all-inclusive account of how the world works. The underlying coherence of this account makes it possible to provide more comprehensive and more nuanced explanations of international relations.
Caron E. Gentry
Alex J. Bellamy's Just Wars: From Cicero to Iraq (2006), Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars (1977), and Larry May's Aggression and Crimes Against Peace (2008) are three significant works on Just War thinking that offer unique perspectives on the different facets of jus ad bellum. Bellamy's book is a historical examination of the evolution of Just War thinking. Walzer's book is a classic and a crucial component of the Just War canon; this book brought Just War considerations back into political conversations. While classical Realism dominated the post-World War II political landscape for its own moral contemplations towards war and power, it was not able to speak to the anti-Vietnam agonism. Walzer purposefully set out to speak to these considerations in a frankly philosophical framework, one rooted in historical thought and examples. May has a unique voice within the Just War tradition— his starting point is a form of pacifism. Although this is somewhat controversial, it is not without precedence. One of the key pieces on nuclear weapons is the 1983 letter from the US Catholic Bishops that placed the Just War tradition within a pacifist framework. Similarly, May has set out to examine how this ancient tradition can fit the needs of the current international arena, particularly in light of humanitarian intervention.