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Evolutionary Systems Theory: Concepts and Schools in International Relations  

Joachim K. Rennstich

As an interdisciplinary approach, evolutionary systems theory borrows from fields such as statistical physics and evolutionary biology, as well as economics and others, to build on their insights from studies of environments—as systems—and the behavior of actors within those environments—their agency. It provides a bridge between existing and divergent but related strings of research of particular systemic elements as a unifying macro-theory of our social and physical world, fusing multiple approaches into a common model. The unifying key is the focus on the behavior of agents (e.g., individuals, groups, cities, states, world systems) as it relates to the environment (both natural and social) in which these agents act and the feedback between behavior and environment. Evolutionary systems approaches can broadly be placed into two categories: the biobehavioral and the social-evolutionary approaches to the study of international relations with the help of evolutionary theory. The point of evolutionary explanations is not to make the case that humans are incapable of making their own choices—far from it. Learning and selection are critical elements of human agency in evolutionary models. Rather, evolutionary systems theory also includes in its models the structural capacity to make those choices, which derives from and depends on previous choices made, a process also bound by our biological evolution or alternatively by our cognitive limitations and available structural selection mechanisms, regardless of the relative complexity of human learning capacity.


The International System–International Society Distinction  

Tim Dunne and Richard Little

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.


Interdependence in International Organization and Global Governance  

Roger A. Coate, Jeffrey A. Griffin, and Steven Elliott-Gower

Interdependence is a key structural feature of the international system. While ambiguity exists over the concept and its usage, interdependence is central for explaining the nature and dynamics of international organization (IO), as well as international relations more broadly conceived. Interdependence involves interconnection/linkages among actors and systems of interrelationships of actors. Yet, interdependence means more than simple interconnectedness. It entails a relationship in which two or more parties are linked in a system of action in such a way that changes in one party impact in some meaningful way on the attainment of needs, values, and/or desired outcomes of the others. In other words, the satisfaction of each party’s needs and values is contingent to some degree on the behavior of others. The concept of interdependence is used in several areas. In general international systems, a system functions as a whole because of the interdependence of its parts. Interdependence also plays a significant role in Immanuel Wallenstein’s world-systems theory, as well as the closely related concept of dependency. Another important analytical thread in interdependence theorizing has been international integration, where the creation of cooperative transnational linkages for dealing with technical issues could result in a learning process that changed attitudes about cooperation. Finally, with interdependence as a core element, more systematic frameworks for analyzing and explaining the nature and role of transnational relations in world politics can be made.


Dependency and World-Systems Perspectives on Development  

Ray Kiely

This essay focuses on two related “radical theories” of development, dependency and world-systems theory, and shows how they emerged as a critique partly of modernization theory and of the development strategy of import substitution industrialization. The dependency and world-systems perspectives on development were very influential among radical development theorists from the late 1960s onwards, all of whom agreed that capitalism had to be theorized as a world-system. These include Andre Gunder Frank, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Theotonio Dos Santos, Walter Rodney, Samir Amin, Arghiri Emmanuel, and Immanuel Wallerstein. Some “stronger” versions of dependency, associated with underdevelopment and world-systems theory, have been introduced in recent years. In particular, A. G. Frank proposed the idea that development and underdevelopment are two sides of the same coin. A more nuanced approach to understanding dependency suggested that development and dependence were in some respects compatible. Wallerstein’s world-systems theory has spawned another approach called world-systems analysis. As theories, the ideas associated with both dependency and the world-systems are problematic, failing, for example, to adequately explain the origins of the capitalist world economy. However, both theories remain useful for understanding the current global order. In addition to recognizing that capitalism can in some respects be regarded as a world-system, the two approaches correctly assume that neoliberalism reinforces hierarchies by undermining the capacities of states to shift out of low value production into higher value sectors, as shown by historical patterns of manufacturing.



Inanna Hamati-Ataya

Behavioralism is a paradigm that became predominant in American social sciences from the 1950s until well into the 1970s. Although its reign did not last beyond the 1980s, it has transformed the fields of (American) political science and international relations (IR) so profoundly that it remains to this day an essential, albeit implicit, component of their identity. The article starts with the context in which behavioralism emerged, then engages the “Behavioral Revolution” in American political science and presents its main epistemic, ontological, and axiological tenets. It then moves more specifically to Behavioralism in IR, and to the terms of its “second debate.” The article concludes with an assessment of Behavioralism’s legacy.


The Role of Geographic Education in International Studies  

Fred Shelley

Geography has been a formal academic discipline in the United States since the early twentieth century. During the first six or so decades of this period, geographic education was dominated by the legacies of environmental determinism and orientalism. These concepts were representative of a Eurocentric worldview that showed contempt for non-Western cultures and economies, treating “natives” of non-Western cultures as backward, ignorant, and lazy. Presentation of material about non-Western areas of the world in geography textbooks and publications has been characterized by assumptions of Western cultural superiority. The late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries saw geographic education undergo considerable transition, as geographers pay more and more attention to perspectives like dependency theory and world system theory. Renewed interest in geographic education coincided with the revival of geography as an intellectual pursuit and recognition of the importance of place in the world economy and in international relations, along with the explosive growth of information made possible by television, the internet, and other technologies. More importantly, the orientalist biases that have historically characterized geographic education in the United States and other Western countries have gradually disappeared. It has been argued that improved geographic education will help overcome geographic illiteracy and promote public awareness of international relations, but such awareness must be intertwined with the changing role of educational institutions in managing information, and to recognition of the changing relationships between education and information.


Foreign Intervention and Violence Against Women  

Janet Elise Johnson

Violence against women represents the most popular gender related issue for global women’s activists, international development agencies, and human rights advocates. Although state responsiveness to violence against women was previously seen by feminist political scientists as only a domestic issue, international studies scholars have begun to theorize how states’ responsiveness is shaped by foreign interventions by global actors. As countries around the world began to adopt new policies opposing violence against women, social scientists adept in both feminist theory and social science methods began the comparative study of these reforms. These studies pointed to the importance of the ideological and institutional context as structural impediments or opportunities as well as suggested the more effective strategic alliances between activists, politicians, and civil servants. Those studies that attempt a deeper analysis rely upon indirect measures of effectiveness of policies and interventions, such as judging policy on how feminist it is and judging reforms based on the recognition of the relationship between violence against women and gender based hierarchies. Through these measures, feminist social scientists can estimate the response’s impact on the sex–gender system, and indirectly on violence against women, which is seen to be a result of the sex–gender system. The next challenge is differentiating between the various types of intervention and their different impacts. These various types of intervention include the “blame and shame,” in which activists hold countries up against standards; bilateral or transnational networking among activists; the widespread availability of international funding; and traditional diplomacy or warfare.


Geographic Perspectives on World-Systems Theory  

Colin Flint

World-systems theory is a multidisciplinary, macro-scale approach to world history and social change which emphasizes the world-system as the primary (but not exclusive) unit of social analysis. “World-system” refers to the inter-regional and transnational division of labor, which divides the world into core countries, semi-periphery countries, and the periphery countries. Though intrinsically geographical, world-systems perspectives did not receive geographers’ attention until the 1980s, mostly in economic and political geography. Nevertheless, geographers have made important contributions in shaping world-systems perspectives through theoretical development and critique, particularly in the understanding of urban processes, states, and geopolitics. The world-systems theory can be considered as a sub-discipline of the study of political geography. Although sharing many of the theories, methods, and interests as human geography, political geography has a particular interest in territory, the state, power, and boundaries (including borders), across a range of scales from the body to the planet. Political geography has extended the scope of traditional political science approaches by acknowledging that the exercise of power is not restricted to states and bureaucracies, but is part of everyday life. This has resulted in the concerns of political geography increasingly overlapping with those of other sub-disciplines such as economic geography, and, particularly, with those of social and cultural geography in relation to the study of the politics of place.


Hegemony and the Global Political Economy  

Richard Saull

Hegemony emerged as an analytical term to conceptualize different historical periods out of the combined post-1945 historical context of two key events: the dissolution of an international political order founded upon European colonial empires, and the establishment and evolution of a postwar liberal international economy under U.S. leadership. Within the subdiscipline of International Political Economy (IPE), the genesis of the concept of “hegemony” or “leadership” has two sources: the idea of hegemonic order or dominance within the world economy as articulated in Immanuel Wallerstein’s World-Systems Theory in the early 1970s, and the publication of Charles Kindleberger’s analysis of the Great Depression that initiated a debate involving neorealist and liberal-oriented scholars around what subsequently become known as “hegemonic stability theory.” John Ikenberry also articulated a nuanced understanding of hegemony from a liberal-institutionalist perspective with regard to the post-1945 international order. There exists a substantial amount of literature on the theory and history of hegemony within IPE, and much of this discussion has been fueled by ongoing developments in the world economy. Critics of hegemony situate and embed state power and behavior within the socioeconomic structure of capitalism, and also focus on class agency as central to the establishment and evolution of hegemonic orders. To varying degrees these scholars have drawn on the theory of hegemony developed by Antonio Gramsci.


Systemic Theories of Conflict  

Karen A. Rasler and William R. Thompson

There are various approaches, both simple and complex, to systemic conflict. The simpler ones include balance of power, polarity, concentration, polarization, and democratization. More complex systemic approaches to conflict range from power transition and relative power cycle to leadership long cycle and world-systems. Some of these programs continue to generate scholarly interest and produce new findings, while others have been beset with little activity. Yet, none of these research programs have captured enough scholarly attention to be fully “mainstreamed.” That is, they have not been co-opted as central interpretations of international politics. The theoretical literature on simpler approaches to systemic conflict persists today but was more common prior to the mid-1970s. Since systemic analyses were not well developed in the first two or three decades after World War II, scholars grappled with what systemic analyses meant. One question is whether we should differentiate between a global system and its multiple regional subsystems. Complex systemic research programs have declined in analytical popularity after peaking in the 1980s, in large part because perceptions of the world situation changed in the 1990s. Whether “traditional” system dynamics will regain its lost status in light of the globalization processes perceived to be at work remains unclear, but there is cause for optimism about the future contributions of systemic theory as research programs in this area have expanded to include new topics and issues, along with new theoretical developments in other areas that will be pertinent to systemic perspectives.


Diplomacy and Revolution  

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.


The International Political Sociology of Risk  

Luis Lobo-Guerrero

Conceptions of “risk” have permeated different forms of governance in both developed and developing countries. Many scholars have theorized how societies, states, organizations, and economic actors cope with uncertainty, giving rise to an international political sociology (IPS) of risk. A major concern of the IPS of risk is how uncertainty has become a central problem for governance. The ways in which risks are assessed and managed are taken as problematic spaces from which to question the roles of states, societies, economic actors, and individuals in coping with uncertainty. The origin of risk research as a disciplined field can be traced to Chauncey Starr’s article “Social Benefits versus Technological Risks” (1969), which offers a way of measuring the social acceptability of risks associated with technological development. Starr’s argument exemplifies what is known as the problem of “the ethical transformation of risk.” Risk as an ethical problem is central to modern debates on the distinction between “risk” and “uncertainty.” International Relations (IR) as a discipline has slowly begun to incorporate theoretical developments in risk theory arising from sociology, economics, and anthropology. Beyond rational choice theory implementations of threat-based conceptions of risk, IR scholars began to be influenced by three main currents of thinking risk: the risk society thesis, the governmentality of risk, and modern systems theory. A host of challenges remain with regard to the development of an IPS of risk, foremost of which is theorizing the ways in which power proceeds through practices of uncertainty.