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Article

200 Years of International Relations in Brazil: Issues, Theories, and Methods  

Dawisson Belém Lopes, João Paulo Nicolini, and Thales Carvalho

The Brazilian field of international relations (IRs) has evolved over the course of two centuries. Since Brazil’s independence in 1822, international topics have deserved attention from local practitioners and scholars. The emergence of Brazilian standpoints about international affairs and of a Brazilian IR scholarship developed after the consolidation of similar fields in other Western countries. Multiple schools of thought held sway over local understandings, thereby leading to the formation of a different field as compared to characteristics of the Anglo-American mainstream. The institutionalization of the area has come about through the creation of scholarly departments and national government agencies. It all led to a unique combination of methods, theories, and issues being currently explored in the Brazilian branch of IR scholarship.

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The Third Debate and Postpositivism  

Thierry Balzacq and Stéphane J. Baele

International Relations (IR) theory has undergone a series of debates which have left profound changes on the discipline as a whole. These debates, though highly influential, have still caused some controversy among those in the field. Indeed, IR scholars have yet to reach a consensus as to the number of debates in IR, let alone whether or not the third debate should be recognized as part of that esteemed history, or, further still, whether or not the debates should remain part of IR discourse at all. The eclectic nature of the third debate, after all, makes it difficult to classify, as there are multiple definitions and accounts of what the third debate truly entails. The third debate originated in the 1980s, as a certain set of scholars attempted to open up the theoretical field of international relations to previously neglected viewpoints. These so-called “dissidents,” more specifically, had aimed to liberate the field from the neo-utilitarian tradition of thought. The epistemological-ontological common ground of traditional IR theories stands at the very center of dissidents’ attack, because of their commitment to undermine “foundationalist discourses.” Furthermore, the third debate is credited with the emergence of constructivism as a mainstream theory of IR, the opening up of IR to new objects and subfields, and the growth of critical approaches to IR.

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Historical Theories of International Relations  

Joseph MacKay and Christopher David LaRoche

History has provided a site of theoretical inquiry for scholars of International Relations since the discipline’s inception. However, serious and sustained historical inquiry has only returned to the foreground of international studies in the last two decades or so, after a prolonged period of postwar uninterest. 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. International relations scholarship on history during this period addresses the intersection of theory and history in four broad ways. The first encompasses substantive historical studies that take history as a site of theory building about world politics. Here, 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 ways of inquiring into history, ranging across macrohistorical or structural analysis, rationalist accounts of international-system building, relational accounts of international hierarchies, discursive accounts of colonialism and resistance, and others. A third focuses directly on theoretical questions drawn from 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. Fourth and finally, scholars of the history of international thought have developed contextualist accounts of the intellectual history of international theory. These approaches rethink how theory interfaces with history by interrogating international thought itself.

Article

Teaching International Relations Theory in Introductory Global Politics Courses  

Jamie Frueh and Jeremy Youde

Theory can be a controversial element of an Introduction to International Relations (IR) course. Many undergraduate students have not been trained to think theoretically, and as a result many instructors find the abstract elements of IR theory difficult to teach, especially to students who lack the motivation provided by plans to major in political science or IR. But learning to think theoretically and to understand IR theory specifically is a valuable exercise for undergraduate students, particularly for nonmajors. Whether or not one believes IR theory to be good in and of itself, studying theory is a critical component of a complete liberal education, one that prepares students to be engaged global citizens. In addition to exploring effective ways to teach particular theories, instructors should work on making sense of the purpose of studying IR theory in ways that resonate with students. Learning IR theory requires students to think theoretically, something familiar to all who have survived the gauntlet of a doctoral program. Teaching students to think theoretically requires instructors, first, to empathize with the limited experience most undergraduate students have with academic theory, and second, to build learning environments that engage and authorize students as theoreticians. Utilizing active learning techniques and thoughtful assessment exercises, instructors can create environments more conducive to learning IR theory while engaging students in areas and media to which they are already connected. This approach to teaching requires adventurousness in the classroom and broader discussions about how to teach IR in general.

Article

Definitions of Geopolitics  

Igor Kovac

International relations literature and the foreign policy community offer and use multiple definitions of geopolitics. More often than not, both camps use the term even without providing or hinting at its conceptualization. This causes muddy thinking and misunderstandings among scholars, as well as misunderstandings between scholars and policymakers. It is unrealistic to expect that at some point, the scholarship will agree on a single common definition, nor is this something worth aiming for. Instead, raising awareness about ontological differences when defining geopolitics, as each definition leads to different (foreign) policy implications, makes more sense for academia and policymakers. Being cognizant of ontological diversity propels clarity of academic writing and informs policymaking. Thus, a conceptual analysis of the term geopolitics is needed to facilitate greater transparency when using the term. Probably the best place to start such an analysis is with the etymology of geopolitics, since no one objects to that: two ancient Greek words: gê (earth) and politikós (statesman). Gê personifies objectivity and determinism, while politikós represents subjectivity and interpretivism. Some definitions of geopolitics stress the first set of characteristics, while others emphasize the second. Moreover, two ontological continua—material–ideational and praxis–science—can be formed from this etymology that form an ontological matrix of geopolitics. Using this matrix, nine different types of definitions of geopolitics can be identified: classical geopolitics; geopolitics as strategic geography; cognitive geopolitics; global geopolitics; critical geopolitics; geopolitics as philosophy of statesmen; anti-geopolitics; geopolitics as logos, pathos, and ethos; and geopolitics as nexus. Each of them carries its unique ontological take on geopolitics, as well as lays particular foundations for policymakers. Such a typology excels other endeavors of classifying geopolitics, since they suffer from one or more vices: they are not systemic, they lack clear classification criteria, they cannot encapsulate all definitions of geopolitics, and their classroom and policy utility are mediocre. Finally, the functionality of the ontological matrix of geopolitics for didactical purposes and for bridging the gap between academia and policymaking is apparent. Namely, making students understand that meta-theoretical issues matter is much easier if visualization is possible. Depicting and explaining ontological positions on the geopolitical matrix is instrumental as similarities and differences become illustrative. Being exposed to the geopolitical matrix equips the people committed to the process of bridging the gap between academia and practice with a new and helpful tool.

Article

The Problem of Harm in International Relations  

Alexander Hoseason

Harm as a concept lies at the core of the discipline of International Relations (IR), providing a touchstone for scholars that both motivates and frames scholarly practice. However, its pervasive and varied nature means that it is rarely discussed in explicit terms. Attempts to understand the significance of harm for IR, as a pluralist discipline, can be divided into three key perspectives. First, the problem of harm describes a distinct research program centered on the way that social actors have understood, negotiated, and responded to changing forms of harm. Second, different understandings of harm provide a driver of, and a key point of contestation between, IR’s research programs and subdisciplines in ways that reflect the changing dynamics of scholarly interest and normative concern. Third, harm serves to define IR’s objects of inquiry, pointing toward the need for new theoretical tools and innovation in response to global challenges. Taken together, these perspectives suggest that harm serves as an important normative common ground in a discipline that is often understood as pluralist or divided. This common ground serves as a starting point for understanding how harm may change in response to developments or transformations in the international system.

Article

International Studies in China  

Yih-Jye Hwang

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the rise of China has been one of the most frequently discussed topics in international relations (IR) circles. Because of this rise, Anglophone IR scholars have developed an increasing interest in Chinese perspectives on international relations. At the same time, IR scholars in China are dissatisfied with being consumers of knowledge rather than knowledge producers; many Chinese scholars have suggested there should be a Chinese school (CS) of IR, and attempts have been made over the past few decades to establish it. The call for a CS can be understood as an effort by Chinese scholars to establish their own subjectivity in international studies, a pursuit of an indigenous Chinese site of agency with regards to developing IR and IR theory. To demonstrate this, the historical development of international studies in China after the founding of the People’s Republic and how it led to Chinese IR scholars calling for the establishment of a CS in the 21st century is first introduced. Subsequently, the main branches and viewpoints of the CS will be illustrated—including Yan Xuetong’s moral realism, Zhao Tingyang’s conception of the Tianxia system, the Shanghai school’s symbiosis theory, and Qin Yaqing’s relational theory of world politics—before elucidating the main criticisms they have received from the Anglophone world of IR. Critics argue that the overall development of international studies in China is very much one of Chinese scholars replicating mainstream IR and its problems. This claim suggests that the CS movement is an imitation of modern Western discourse for political service rather than a genuine development of an indigenous discourse from Chinese tradition. This article, however, refutes these critics by suggesting that the development of international studies in China does have the potential to make an important contribution to non-Western, post-Western, and global quests in IR; attempts at creating CS contain an indigenous Chinese site of agency with regards to developing IR.

Article

Language and Borders  

Devika Sharma

Languages and borders commit violence on an otherwise polysemous and hybrid world. By emphasizing fixity over liminality, a high cost is extracted for the order imposed on unsettled landscapes. Different voices are silenced and complexities become flattened, but more harmfully, reality gets foreclosed within the limiting confines of a hegemonic discourse that endorses a very specific worldview. Not only is this worldview the progenitor of a specific representation of borders and languages, but borders and languages become the sites from which this worldview is reinforced. To escape this tautology, borders and languages can also be viewed as sites for imagining an alternative radical geopolitics and linguistics. By de-colonizing and de-centering the conventional understanding of borders and languages, one can direct the focus toward the otherwise understudied liminal and in-between spaces and incorporate a more tentative and polysemous lexicon that is better equipped to comprehend these liminal spaces. To this end, it is important to consider language and borders not only as interconnected conceptual categories that impinge on understanding the world as it is but also as sites from which alternatives can be reimagined.

Article

Regionalism  

Filippo Costa Buranelli and Aliya Tskhay

“Regionalism” is a polysemic term that represents both a subfield of international relations (IR) that studies regions of the world and a process of formation of regions themselves. Its meaning and content have evolved substantially from its inception in the 1940s to its most recent contributions in the early 21st century. More precisely, the field of regionalism was severely marked by neofunctionalism theory and an economic reading of international relations in the years of the Cold War and then embraced new contributions from post-positivist and critical theories and methodologies from the 1990s onward, which featured not only different manifestations and causes but also different normative meanings. Regionalism has progressively moved away from Europe over the years (both as a site of production of research and as an empirical case study) to explore non-European and, more widely, non-Western and postcolonial domains, challenging Eurocentric theoretical and epistemological assumptions in IR. In addition, the two subfields of comparative regionalism and interregionalism have become prominent. The field of regionalism is more dynamic than ever, developing, self-innovating, and becoming more conceptually aware, while at the same time being susceptible to weaknesses, blind spots, and potential for further improvement and deeper dialogue with IR theory.

Article

Challenges to Traditional International Relations Theory Posed by Environmental Change  

Hugh Dyer

Changes in the environment can impact international relations theory, despite enjoying only a limited amount of attention from scholars of the discipline. The sorts of influence that may be identified include ontology, epistemology, concepts, and methods, all of these being related to varying perspectives on international relations. It is likely that the most profound implications arise at the ontological level, since this establishes assumptions about, for example, whether the world we wish to understand is both political and ecological. However, more recently the recognition of the practical challenge presented by the environment has become widespread, though it has not yet translated into a significant impact on the discipline of international relations, even when theoretical implications are noted. It is now almost obligatory to include the environment in any list of modern international relations concerns, as over time it has become necessary to include peace, underdevelopment, gender, or race, as they quite rightly became recognized as significant aspects of the field. Moreover, the environment, as a relatively novel subject matter, has naturally brought some critique and innovation to the field. However, studies of the environment are also subject to such descriptors as “mainstream” and “radical” in debates about how best to tackle the subject. As is often the case, the debates are sharpest among those with the greatest interest in the subject.

Article

Feminist Security Theorizing  

Laura Sjoberg

Feminist Security Theorizing is in many ways what it sounds like—thinking about security in the global political arena through gender lenses. Since early work in feminist International Relations (IR), feminists have been exploring research questions about the ways that gender shapes and is shaped by war, conflict, and militarism. The field has developed to be labeled Feminist Security Studies (FSS). Debates about whether FSS is “feminist security” studies or feminist “security studies” have asked about the subfield’s focus—whether it is toward rethinking security in feminist ways or toward the mainstream field of security studies as such. With space in the field for both approaches, feminist security theorizing has looked at revealing the importance of gender in conceptualizing security, demonstrating that gender is key to understanding causes and predicting outcomes, and showing gender as a key part of solving security problems. FSS has several common theoretical commitments and concerns. These include a necessary commitment to intersectionality, a recognition of the importance of theorizing not only about gender but also about sexuality, a consciousness about framing, and an awareness of the politics of sociology of the academic disciplines in which it is situated. It is important to explore the past, present, and potential futures of feminist theorizing about security, concluding with an invitation to expand recognition of feminist work addressing security issues across an even wider variety of perspectives.

Article

Feminist Ontologies, Epistemologies, Methodologies, and Methods in International Relations  

Jennifer Heeg Maruska

Feminism operates on various feminist epistemologies, methodologies, and methods. While there is no consensus on how to organize or label these, there are a few generalities that can be drawn between these epistemologies, particularly in the international relations (IR) context. Classifying these epistemologies generally under the umbrella (or in the constellation) of postpositivism makes clear the contrasts between positivist social science and more critical approaches. Moreover, within the many critical approaches in feminist IR are many points of convergence and divergence. Feminist IR theory also focuses on the complexities of gender as a social and relational construction, in contrast to how nonfeminist ontologies focus on the rights of women, but including those of children and men as well. Hence, the postpositivist ontology takes on a more complex meaning. Rather than trying to uncover “how things really are,” postpositivists study how social realities (the Westphalian system, international migration or trafficking, or even modern war) came to be, and also how these realities came to be understood as norms, institutions, or social facts—often examining the gendered underpinnings of each. Most feminist IR theorists (and IR constructivists) share an “ontology of becoming” where the focus is on the intersubjective process of norm evolution.

Article

International Insertion: A Non-Western Contribution to International Relations  

Fabrício Chagas-Bastos

International insertion is a concept that comes from non-Western intellectual origins and can help individuals understand how peripheral and semi-peripheral countries behave in world politics, and their interests, core values, and strategies. International insertion also expands the knowledge to characterize how agency spaces are created by peripheral countries. Insertion is a necessary step to those countries attempting to transition from the condition of one who seeks to be recognized as part of, to one who is admitted as possessing and capable of seeking status and acting within political, economic, and military global hierarchies. In a nutshell, insertion means being recognized by the small group of gatekeeping states as a relevant part of the specific social networks that constitute the global hierarchy. The conceptualization of international insertion allows a robust middle-range explanation that considers multiple dimensions (political, economic, and military) of the national and international structural and contextual aspects these actors must translate to navigate world politics.

Article

Normative Theory in the English School  

Molly Cochran

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.