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.
Barry Buzan and Richard Little
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.