International relations theory has much to gain from studying ethnicity, nationalism, and colonialism. Research on nationalism has produced important theoretical contributions to constructivist approaches in international relations. Similarly, postcolonial theory can contribute to international relations theory by exploring aspects of identity construction that are neglected in studies with exclusive focus on Western states. For example, postcolonial theory can be used in the study of ethnic conflict by combining both aspects of identity construction and strategizing, and how research on ethnicity and nationalism and postcolonial studies can benefit from closer dialogue. Moreover, postcolonial studies raise important epistemological and normative questions that need to be taken seriously by international relations scholars. Postcolonial and subaltern studies question the knowledge claims made by area studies by criticizing their representational strategies of colonialism and the postcolonial situation. They pose a challenge for international relations as a discipline by questioning the knowledge–power nexus. They assert that the presumably “scientific” accounts of the non-West carry the ideological baggage of colonialism. What is needed therefore is to account first for the historical representation of the non-West in Western scientific discourse and produce a critique of this knowledge system as a legitimating and administrative discourse in the service of colonialism.
Mehmet Sinan Birdal
Some of the main genealogies within postcolonial scholarship are discussed, with a focus on key thinkers, such as Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Aníbal Quijano, and Walter Mignolo. Key concepts, such as colonial discourse theory, development, and subaltern studies are presented. The discussion of postcolonial thought is embedded in a reflection on its relation to other theoretical paradigms and social theories (e.g., poststructuralism, world-system theory, Marxism). This focus seeks to highlight some of the main contours of the field, while also pointing out the ways postcolonialism has shaped the discipline of international relations (IR).
José da Mota-Lopes
The current scholarship on European colonialism may be divided into two approaches: colonial studies, sometimes referred to as a political-economy approach, and postcolonial studies, also known as “postcolonialism” or “subaltern studies.” Whereas the field of colonial studies appeared with the emergence of colonialism, the second emerged with decolonization, the national liberation armed struggles, and the political, formal, or institutional collapse of colonialism. The two approaches became or appeared as protests against very similar circumstances and critically complemented one another, but they soon tended to follow parallel and very different trajectories. Three basic conceptual references offer important insights not only about the geostrategic, historical, and socioeconomic trajectories of colonialism but also on its cultural evolvement and its present consequences: colonial encounter, colonial situation, and colonial legacy. In addition, the field of colonial or postcolonial studies today may give rise to three major evolvements in the near future. The first consists in the recovery of what started to be the initial subject matter of postcolonialism. The second arises from the requirement of a return to the political, historical, and economic origins of postcolonialist studies. Finally, it will perhaps be at the point of conjunction of world-systems analysis with postcolonial studies that a fundamental problem affecting our world will find the beginning of a possible solution. The combined application of world-systems analysis and postcolonial studies is a promising intellectual instrument for confronting the in-depth influence of Eurocentrism or Euro-American universalism in the current practice and teaching of the social sciences.
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.
Geeta Chowdhry and L.H.M. Ling
Postcolonial feminism in international relations (PFIR) is a disciplinary field devoted to the study of world politics as a site of power relations shaped by colonization. PFIR combines postcolonial and feminist insights to explore questions such as how the stratum of elite power intersects with subterranean layers of colonization to produce our contemporary world politics; how these interrelationships between race, gender, sex, and class inform matrices of power in world politics; and how we account for elite and subaltern agency and resistance to the hegemonic sphere of world politics. PFIR is similar to Marxism, constructivism, and postmodernism in that they all posit that the masses underwrite hegemonic rule and, in so doing, ultimately have the means to do away with it. One difference is that PFIR emanates from the position of the subaltern; more specifically, the colonized’s colonized such as women, children, the illiterate, the poor, the landless, and the voiceless. Three major components are involved in PFIR in its analysis of world politics: culture, politics, and material structures. Also, eight common foci emerge in PFIR: intersectionality, representation, and power; materiality; relationality; multiplicity; intersubjectivity; contrapuntality; complicity; and resistance and accountability. PFIR gives rise to two interrelated projects: an empirical inquiry into the construction and exercise of power in daily life, and theory building that reflects this empirical base. A future challenge for PFIR is to elucidate how we can transform, not just alleviate, the hegemonies that persist around the world.
James H. Mittelman
Development cannot be separated from global political economy, but it is an inherent component of the latter. The concept of development was popularized through expansion of colonization, and underwent various transformations as the socio-political structure of the world changed over time. Thus, the central task of development theory is to determine and explain why some countries are underdeveloped and how these countries can develop. Such theories draw on a variety of social science disciplines and approaches. Accordingly, different development paradigms have emerged upon which different scholars have shown profound interests and to which they gave extensive criticisms—modernization, dependency, Marxism, postcolonialism, and globalization. With the recent emergence of the post-modern critique of development, power has become an important subject in the discourse of development. Nevertheless, a full theoretical understanding of the relations between power and development is still in its fledgling stage. Though highly apparent in human societies, social power per se is a polylithic discourse with no unified definition and implication, which has led different proponents of development paradigms to understand power differently. Although there is a dialectic contradiction between the different dialogic paradigms, the reality of development theory is that there is a large choice of theories and models from which field practicioners will draw pragmatically the most appropriate elements, or they will create their own model adapted to the situation.
Celeste Montoya, Sarah McCullar, and Marjon Kamrani
Feminist international relations (IR) scholars have worked to expand understandings of the global processes through studies of gender. There are multiple forms of feminist scholars and scholarship, with each epistemology having its own understanding of gender and its role in influencing international relations. These include feminist empiricism, feminist standpoint, poststructuralist feminist approaches, and postcolonial feminism. Some of the early feminist IR scholarship placed most of their emphasis on critiquing patriarchy, sometimes resulting to a narrow and essentialist construction of masculinity. These early works note the absence of women and the denigration of the feminine, as well as the predominance of masculine subject matter and masculine partiality in IR. This began to change with the recognition of different types of masculinities, offering a broader conceptualization of gender and masculinities beyond attachment to sex. Beyond recognizing the relational differences between masculinity and femininity, feminist scholars have also pointed out the differential value accorded to each, thus emphasizing the problematic hierarchical nature of such binaries. Another goal of feminist scholars has been to uncover the feminine roles rendered invisible, to challenge the masculine nature of IR as a discipline as well as deal with descriptive and substantive representational issues within the field and practice of IR. Meanwhile, the study of sexualities focuses on power dynamics and the hierarchies associated with sexual identity in its many forms. The predominant themes in this study include sexuality in relation to the study of war and nation; sexuality as a commodity; and studies of hetero- and homonormativity.
Fiona Robinson and Anupam Pandey
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.