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Article

The English School’s global positioning is one of the most significant intellectual achievements accomplished by the second generation of the English School scholars. It is at the same time an important process of social production of ideas/knowledge in international relations (IR). Sociopolitical changes and economic transformations since the late 1990s have indirectly set off a period of intellectual change by opening up structural opportunities for reorienting and reconfiguring major debates in the global discipline of IR. More specifically, this means the restructuring of the attention space—the intellectual territory of limited size—in IR. The English School scholars collectively have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by this restructuring to successfully establish the English School as one of a small number of contending occupants in the inevitably limited attention space of IR. Successful global diffusion of the English School ideas, however, is also conditional upon local social and intellectual conditions. As an empirical examination of the diffusion of the English School to Asia shows, the English School is influential in Asia, as it serves a particular social purpose. It is taken as an inspiration for the social production of knowledge and intellectual innovation in Asian IR, as it encourages and legitimates its opposition to the dominance of mainstream Western IR theories, promising new and alternative sites of IR knowledge construction. Whether or not one sees this opposition as a “post-Western turn” to theorizing IR, its ambitious goals have been stated as decentralizing Western understandings about the world and to de-essentializing Western way of theorization, to disrupt the structural hierarchies between Western and non-Western perspectives in order to reorient IR toward a more democratic and less hegemonic direction, and to bring about non-hegemonic, diverse spaces of learning.

Article

The “English School” of International Relations is a historically formed community with somewhat uncertain—even disputed—beginnings. The awareness that there was such a network of scholars grew in the late 1970s against a background of an impressive succession of publications in the UK in the 60s and 70s. As with any historically formed community, the English School gradually transformed itself from a grouping of scholars with intellectual similarities and close personal ties toward a succession of scholars who see themselves as taking part in the historical evolution, or continuing story, of the English School. The key event that contributed significantly to its transformation was the call to “reconvene the English School,” resulting in a “new English School” loosely organized by overlapping networks and activities based in British International Studies Association (BISA) and the International Studies Association (ISA), among others. The writings of the English School, or scholars commonly associated with that label, embody one or more of the following three concerns in their respective investigations into world politics: “structural,” “functional,” and “historical.” Hence, the key interests of the English school are the formal structure and functional studies of the society of sovereign states, as well as the historical transformations of past and present international societies.

Article

The British Committee on the Theory of International Politics is generally considered the original core of the “English School.” Equally often, scholars have identified as one of its characteristic elements the importance it attributed to “international society” as a force aimed at enlivening and regulating, as far as possible, power relations between states. The attention it paid to international society is also seen as consistent with the importance the authors of the British Committee attributed to “history” and in particular to the “history of international society” as a means to understand and reconstruct international life in the past and the present. However, the internal history of the British Committee is all too often neglected. Studies concerned with the orientations of the English School have mainly sought to analyze the thinking of this or that author without considering the work of the British Committee as a whole. In other words, scholars have tended to pay little attention to the moment when the British Committee began to examine “international society” and the manner in which it did so. In particular, the achievement of the British Committee discussions during 1961–1962 was important, and it was the beginning of a development of great interest. The various texts, the debates, do not limit themselves to a sort of rich and varied list of the component parts of an “international society.” Instead, they paint an overall picture, and they guarantee an interconnection between the reflections of the individuals and the overall orientation of the Committee. Moreover, they are the critical point of departure for the future development of theory.

Article

The English School, or society of states approach, is a threefold method for understanding how the world operates. According to English School logic, there are three distinct spheres at play in international politics, and two of these are international society and world society—the third being international system. On the one hand, international society (Hugo Grotius) is about the institutionalization of shared interest and identity amongst states, and rationalism puts the creation and maintenance of shared norms, rules, and institutions at the centre of international relations (IR) theory. This position has some parallels to regime theory, but is much deeper, having constitutive rather than merely instrumental implications. On the other hand, world society (Immanuel Kant) takes individuals, non-state organizations, and the global population as a whole as the focus of global societal identities and arrangements, and revolutionism puts transcendence of the state system at the centre of IR theory. Revolutionism is mostly about forms of universalist cosmopolitanism. This position has some parallels to transnationalism but carries a much more foundational link to normative political theory. International society has been the main focus of English School thinking, and the concept is quite well developed and relatively clear, whereas world society is the least well developed of the English School concepts and has not yet been clearly or systematically articulated.

Article

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.

Article

The English School of international relations theory has its own particular account of the history of international relations, a key aspect of which is the expansion of a set of norms, practices and institutions—diplomacy, embassies, international law, sovereignty, the modern state—out of their formative cultural heartland of Europe and to the rest of the world over the past few centuries. This is the story of “European international society” spreading out to become a “global international society,” accelerating especially during the 19th century via cultural imperialism and colonial conquest. The writings of the English School on this Expansion Narrative have evolved since the 1960s, going through phases of development that have concretized the details of the Narrative’s history, elaborated on the processes behind the spread, and attempted to inject more scientific rigor into analysis. Over time a more profound challenge has also emerged, in a revisionist shift from a monocentric story of Europe training the rest of the world in the proper ways of domestic and international life, toward a polycentric, globalization model, in which different civilizations have learned from each other to create a synthetic, multicultural international society by the 21st century. These analytic tensions are a source of creativity and innovation for the English School and set it apart from other approaches to international relations.

Article

The central feature of the English School is now usually considered to be its commitment to the proposition that international relations (IR) take place within an international society of shared norms and some shared values. However, an exclusive focus on norms has the effect of denuding the school of the more pluralistic dimensions that were advocated by some of the founding members of the British Committee on the Theory of International Politics. Hedley Bull, in particular, stressed that to account for international order it is necessary to view IR from three divergent perspectives: the international system, the international society, and world society. The early British Committee discussions, directed toward delineating the “fundamentals” of international theory, used the terms international society, international system, and states system interchangeably. But the idea of a states system was distinctive to the emerging English School. A distinguishing marker of the English School is the claim that not only is there a need to accommodate societal norms in theoretical accounts of world politics, but that there is also a systemic logic, and that these analytics together have explanatory power in considering how the world hangs together. The essential elements of the school’s thinking were most fully and effectively realized in The Expansion of the International Society, the central work where the international system–international society distinction is employed. This grand narrative represents a crucial contribution to the field of IR but one that has been very generally underappreciated across the discipline. To generate a deeper understanding of the two concepts, it is clear that much more research needs to be carried out on international societies and systems around the world.

Article

The English School conceived “international theory” as a way to approach the political philosophy and political speculation by examining historical traditions of international relations. The starting point for this line of inquiry was to organize the wide range of material contained in the history of ideas about international politics into a much simpler, and thus more intelligible, scheme, in the event comprising three traditions. Martin Wight called them realism, rationalism, and revolutionism, but they are also known as Hobbesianism (or Machiavellianism), Grotianism, and Kantianism. The fundamental difference between the three traditions is that each represents an idea of what international society is, from which they derive various propositions about more specific topics such as how to deal with peoples from different cultures, how to conduct diplomacy and wage war, or what obligations under international law are. For realists, international society is the state of nature, and since they see the state of nature as a state of war, the answer to the question “What is international society?” is “nothing.” Rationalists agree that international society is the state of nature, but for them it is a state of “goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation,” and so “international society is a true society, but institutionally deficient; lacking a common superior or judiciary.” Revolutionists, by contrast, reject the analogy with the state of nature. Instead, they have an immanent conception of international society, in the sense that they look beyond the apparent or present reality of a society of sovereign states and see behind it a true international society in the form of a community of mankind. Ultimately, these three traditions has exercised a profound influence on the ways in which international relations scholars think about the history of ideas.

Article

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.

Article

Noé Cornago

The relationship between diplomacy and revolution is often intertwined with the broader issue of the international dimensions of revolution. Diplomacy can offer important insights into both the historical evolution of world order and its evolving functional and normative needs. In other words, the most important dimension of diplomacy, beyond its concrete symbolic and pragmatic operational value, is its very existence as raison de système. A number of scholarly works that explore the link between revolution and the international arena have given rise to a minority subfield of scholarly research and debate which is particularly vibrant and plural. Three basic lines of research can be identified: case studies undertaken by historians and area studies scholars that focus on the international dimensions surrounding particular revolutions; comparative political studies that address the international implications of revolutions by departing from a more comprehensive theoretical framework but still based in comprehensive case studies; and more theoretically comprehensive literature which, in addition to careful case studies, aims to provide a general and far-reaching explanatory theoretical framework on the relationship between revolution and long-term historical change from different perspectives: English school international theory, neorealism, world systems analysis, postmarxism, or constructivism. In a context of growing inequality and global exploitation, the international dimension of revolutions is receiving renewed attention from scholars using innovative critical theoretical approaches.

Article

In his 1966 essay, “The Grotian Conception of International Society,” Hedley Bull distinguishes between two conceptions of international society: pluralism and solidarism. The central assumption of solidarism is “the solidarity, or potential solidarity, of the states comprising international society, with respect to the enforcement of the law.” In contrast, pluralism claims that “states do not exhibit solidarity of this kind, but are capable of agreeing only for certain minimum purposes which fall short of that of the enforcement of the law.” Bull’s formulation of pluralism and solidarism, and the way he set the two concepts against one another, exerted a profound influence on subsequent English School scholarship and sparked the pluralist–solidarist debate. This debate revolves around theorizing different kinds of order, in particular international and world order. The English School used the language of “pluralism” and “solidarism” to address the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention. After the issue of humanitarian intervention was pushed down the list of scholarly priorities, pluralism and solidarism sparked renewed interest from scholars such as Barry Buzan, Andrew Linklater and Hidemi Suganami, William Bain, and Andrew Hurrell. Despite the debates triggered by the pluralist–solidarist debate, the vocabulary of pluralism and solidarism is a promising means of tackling questions and issues that are undertheorized or largely neglected in English School theory, including those relating to the place of sub- and supranational entities in international society, the meaning and scope of world order, and the significance of international political economy in theorizing different kinds of order.

Article

The concept of anarchy is seen as the cardinal organizing category of the discipline of International Relations (IR), which differentiates it from cognate disciplines such as Political Science or Political Philosophy. This article provides an analytical review of the scholarly literature on anarchy in IR, on two levels—conceptual and theoretical. First, it distinguishes three senses of the concept of anarchy: (1) lack of a common superior in an interaction domain; (2) chaos or disorder; and (3) horizontal relation between nominally equal entities, sovereign states. The first and the third senses of “anarchy”’ are central to IR. Second, it considers three broad families of IR theory where anarchy figures as a focal assumption—(1) realism and neorealism, (2) English School theory (international society approach), and (3) Kant’s republican peace. Despite normative and conceptual differences otherwise, all three bodies of theory are ultimately based on Hobbes’s argument for a “state of nature.” The article concludes with a summary of the key challenges to the discourse of international anarchy posed by the methodology of economics and economics-based theories that favor the alternative discourse of global hierarchy.

Article

Katarzyna Kaczmarska

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.

Article

Andrew Hurrell

Order and justice are deeply intertwined in English School writing. The central concern of the English School is with the problem of order and with the question: To what extent does the inherited political framework provided by the international society of states continue to provide an adequate basis for world order? This kind of question links closely with the debates on international institutions and global governance that have been so prominent since the end of the Cold War. But the English School focus is less on theoretical understanding of particular institutions and more on assessing the overall character of institutionalization in world politics, the normative commitments inherent in different ways of governing the globe, and the adequacy of historical and existing interstate institutions for meeting practical and normative challenges. There are four specific themes that are central to the pluralist wing of English School writing on order and justice. The first theme concerns power and the conditions of order, while the second concerns diversity and value conflict. Meanwhile, a third theme emerges from the idea that moral values should, so far as possible, be kept out of international life and of particular international institutions. Finally, the fourth theme concerns the argument that international society has the potential not just to help manage international conduct in a restrained way but also to create the conditions for a more legitimate and morally more ambitious political community to emerge. As power diffuses away from the Western, liberal developed core, and as the intractability of the international system to liberal prescriptions becomes more evident, so one can detect new changes in the way in which global justice is understood.

Article

The argument can be made, and has in fact been made, that the English School is primarily concerned with the study of institutions. The institutions of international society are social in a fundamental sense. That is, they are something above and beyond what one usually associates with an international institution. There are three dominant perspectives on what the primary institutions of international society are: functional, historical/descriptive, and typological. Hedley Bull was the major proponent of the functional perspective, and he identified five primary institutions of international society: the balance of power, international law, diplomacy, war, and the great powers. However, the historical/descriptive perspective appears to be the prevailing one. Nevertheless, various authors have started to think about the institutions of international society typologically. This has certain implications for how one views the cognitive objectives of the English School. The adherence to functional, historical/descriptive, or typological perspectives involves a positioning in relation to where international relations (IR), as a discipline, and the English School, as an approach to it, should locate itself in wider academia.

Article

Wesley B. O'Dell

The notion that Great Powers fulfill a leadership role in international politics is old, influential, and contested. As the actors in the international system with the greatest capacity for taking action, Great Powers are assumed to think both further ahead and in broader, more systemic terms than other states; they then use their preeminent positions to organize others to promote public goods, reaping benefits along the way thanks to their direction of events. At the core of this understanding is the assumption that Great Power actions are, or ought to be, inspired by something more than simple self-interest and the pursuit of short-term gains. As an organic creation of international practice, Great Power leadership was traditionally the domain of historians and international legists; early students of the topic utilized inductive reasoning to derive general precepts of Great Power sociology from the landmark settlements of the 18th and 19th centuries. The framing of Great Powers as a leadership caste originated in the struggle against Louis XIV, was given tentative institutional form through settlements such as the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), and deepened considerably in both institutionalization and sophistication in the 19th century Concert of Europe. The return of France to full Great Power status, the Congress (1878) and Conference (1884) of Berlin, and the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901) all demonstrated the willingness and ability of the Powers to cooperate in the management of international change. In the early 20th century, the leadership of the Great Powers was both challenged as an unjust agent of catastrophe as well as increasingly formalized through recognition in new international institutions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Theorists of international relations began to formulate theories based on Great Power management at the time of the discipline’s beginnings in the early 20th century. Realists and liberals frequently utilize Great Power concepts to explain processes of equilibrium, hegemonic competition, and institution building, while approaches influenced by constructivism focus on the role of ideas, statuses, and roles in the formulation of Great Power identities and policies. The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a 21st-century manifestation of the application of Great Power leadership to international problems; though hailed by some as the future of Great Power management, it provokes controversy among both theorists and practitioners. Similarly, extensive scholarly attention has been devoted to the management and accommodation of “rising powers.” These are states that appear likely to obtain the status of Great Power, and there is extensive debate over their orientation toward and potential management of international order. Finally, the position of Russia and China within this literature has provoked deep reflection on the nature of Great Power, the responsibilities of rising and established powers, and the place of Great Power management amidst the globalized challenges of the 21st century.

Article

Considerations of the English School and of its central concept—international society—have all too often neglected the most logical starting point: the internal history of the British Committee. The British Committee on the Theory of International Politics was a group of scholars created in 1959 under the chairmanship of the Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield that met periodically in Cambridge, Oxford, London, and Brighton to discuss the principal problems and a range of aspects of the theory and history of international relations. The British Committee stands out as a remarkable and unusual intellectual project. A product of its place and time and of a particular academic culture, it did not pretend to represent the full range of British thinking. Its membership intentionally omitted such major figures as E.H. Carr and C.A.W. Manning. Whatever direct influence it had on contemporary British scholarship in international relations can be attributed partly to bonds of friendship, across generations, and to the performances of individual members in the lecture hall. Though the Committee incubated a good deal of its members’ work, sometimes published posthumously, its collaborative output was never prolific. Only two collective works can be attributed to it: Diplomatic Investigations (1966) and The Expansion of International Society (1984). However, the Committee developed a thorough study of international society and the nature of world politics, which has had an important impact that continues in the present day.

Article

Normative thinking permeates the work of the English School and has done so since its start as the British Committee for International Politics. Ethics, or, more precisely, the tension between ethics and power or interests, was one of the original concerns of the founding members of the Committee. It was an aim of the Committee to combine ethical reflection with the historical analysis of states systems. The approach in first-generation, or classical, English School scholarship to ethical questions primarily involved the identification of traditions of political and moral speculation about international relations (IR). Another significant feature of classical English School thought was moral skepticism, which seriously challenged what could be said about ethical choices within the forms of international interaction it charted. However, keen interest in what normative agendas can be supported within international or world society—basic subsistence rights, international criminal justice, and humanitarian intervention—does not necessarily amount to a normative theory. As such, order versus justice is a more productive starting point for normative theorizing within the English School. Meanwhile, there are two modes of normative thought in postclassical English School: practical and moral–philosophical arguments. The English School is grounded in the practical, in the real-world tussle of power and interests, while at the same time it works through what it is possible to say about the nature of obligation and moral responsibility among international actors. This is where ethics and practical interest meet, and it represents the unique contribution of the English School to contemporary normative IR theory.