Clues, Careers, and Curricula – Doing Global International Relations
This article is part of the TRAFO Series „Doing Global International Relations”.
by Antonia Witt, Felix Anderl, Stefan Kroll, Philip Wallmeier
Judging by its name, International Relations (IR) should be both international and interested in relations. For much of the discipline’s past, however, neither has truly been the case. As an academic discipline, IR has epitomized what, from a transregional perspective, some consider the two “birth defects” of social science: firstly, it is rooted in the idea that the world is made up of equal and sovereign states, which are the primary actors and analytical vectors for imagining and researching the international. Secondly, the discipline also exemplifies much of the Eurocentrism that has shaped the development of modern social science. IR’s fundamental concepts like statehood, order, and anarchy have been derived from a very particular and temporally very short, European experience. Yet, these concepts have acquired a status in the discipline’s theoretical canon as general and universal categories. For a long time, IR was thus predominantly understood as the study of relations among (nation-)states, and so the ‘Westphalian’ system of sovereign states became both the standard heuristic lens and embodied the ideal of international order. As a result, this meant that the historical roots, multiple paths and alternatives to this perceived global normality were either ignored or declared the subject of other disciplines.
Claims to the global… and its limits
From the point of view of those outside the discipline’s core, especially for those focusing on particular world regions, the Westphalian imaginary contradicted observed social realities not only with regard to its understanding of the state, but also with regard to the terms used to describe the multiple forms and manifestations of the international as seen and experienced on an every-day basis. For African liberation movements, Latin American farmers, Pan-Africanist thinkers, or the architects of regional organizations like ASEAN, OAS, and the AU, the international was much more than simply the sum of relationships among sovereign states. While many noted the ‘challenge’ that non-Western experiences in particular pose to the discipline’s standard narratives, they also rejected engaging with IR more thoroughly and thus foreclosed the opportunity of doing IR differently. Moreover, it meant that IR and Area Studies continued to live a life of autarchic coexistence with few direct points of interaction. This only nourished mutual stereotypes about the respective other and hindered actual engagement.
One of the major points of division between IR and Area Studies has indeed been theory, both in terms of its attributed significance as well as substance. For those working on particular world regions, IR has remained an American-European dominated discipline whose understanding of the global was defined by its claim to rather than its actual engagement with the world in its multi-facetted forms and shades. IR, in turn, has often refused to engage with Area Studies because of the latter’s limited interest in the global context, theory, and generalizations. While IR has claimed to study the global, it became increasingly clear that IR lost sight of what this was made of, including how ‘the global’ actually affects the lives of the planetary population. Those taking the alternative route were then accused of ignoring the broader questions of what makes this world hang together and for conflating context with particularity.
Yet objections to the discipline’s canon came not only from external challenges and rejections, controversy and diversity within the discipline has also grown. In 2015, the International Studies Association (ISA), the discipline’s primary international forum, held its annual convention under the theme of “Global IR and Regional Worlds: A New Agenda for International Studies”. The conference theme was part of the agenda of then ISA President Amitav Acharya for what he calls Global IR, which is rooted in a multiplex rather than a Westphalian imaginary of the world. Multiplexity, as understood here, refers to the histories, agents and agency, normativity, as well as power relations that constitute the international. In order to interrogate and theorize Global IR, Acharya had previously called for “concepts and approaches from non-Western contexts on their own terms and to apply them not only locally, but also to other contexts, including the larger global canvas” (Acharya 2014: 650). Historical and contemporary ideas and experiences from the world’s diverse regions should thus nourish a discipline whose primary concepts, methods, subjects, and protagonists would reflect its claim to internationalism more adequately.
This prominent call to re-frame the discipline echoed the work of a small, yet increasingly vocal, group of scholars who had advocated de-centering the discipline beyond its American-European core, both in terms of who contributes to IR’s knowledge and what kinds of ideas, conceptual clues, and experiences comprise the discipline’s understanding of the international. In 2015, 61.8% of the TRIP (Teaching, Research and International Policy) Survey’s respondents on the state of IR agreed that it is important to counter Western dominance in IR. Further, 43.2% of the respondents were in favour of teaching IR at the undergraduate level as an “interdisciplinary subject rather than as a subfield of political science”. And yet, asked for their own regional focus, more than half of the respondents either declared themselves to be working on (allegedly) global issues, like international organizations, transnational actors and the like, or on Western Europe/North America. Turning IR into Global IR will surely require more than declarations.
Pathways to doing Global IR
While the ground is prepared for a self-critical and reformist agenda, how to do Global International Relations remains up for exploration and debate. We have, therefore, decided to use this blog series to introduce and debate experiments, experiences, and dilemmas in doing Global International Relations. We have divided this topic along three broad lines:
- Clues – how to translate Global IR into research frameworks?
Doing Global IR requires changing epistemological and ontological assumptions about what makes the international and where to find it. It also requires ascribing a different status and significance to the theory that underpins the discipline. What answers have various researchers offered to the pertinent questions of balancing the ‘small’ with the ‘big’ pictures, the search and celebration of particularity while remaining sensitive to the general? These are the questions that complicate traditional IR’s engagement with the ‘multiplex’ world. What place and status is attributed to theory, and what kinds of theories are considered adequate, both empirically and normatively? Finally, what makes this IR particular as compared to other disciplines? Or, put differently, what, if at all, makes Global IR worth achieving at all?
- Careers – how to deal with disciplining disciplines?
Academic disciplines are not only expressions of a particular canon of ideas, concepts, and methods, nor are they merely a means of self-organization for research communities. As the name suggests, disciplines also have numerous disciplining functions. Working across and in-between disciplines and speaking to multiple audiences can, therefore, be rewarding and problematic at the same time. Despite the ubiquitous call for inter-disciplinarity, professional associations, funding schemes, publishing outlets, and the job market still function largely according to disciplinary logics – maybe even as a result of the increasing demand for inter-disciplinarity. How do these various disciplining effects affect scholars working on the boundaries IR? How can disciplinary logics be turned into an asset rather than a hindrance?
- Curricula – how to teach Global IR?
Teaching is the key to reproducing a discipline’s core narratives, yet it can also be an important instrument to set new agendas. This, however, also means that the classroom itself becomes a site where various boundaries need to be transgressed in terms of innovative reading lists and authors, accreditation for courses, accepted forms of assignments, classroom language barriers, and diversity of students’ backgrounds. Have understandings of Global IR entered academic curricula, and if so, how? What teaching methods have proved successful? How can teaching as a practice and experience become more global and sensitive to diversity?
We deliberately start this blog series with many questions intended to foster stimulating and controversial debates over the coming weeks and months. We will have contributions from established and more junior researchers, based at universities from Pretoria to Washington, from those with a traditional IR background and those who have been disciplinary nomads for most of their careers. We will also learn how the idea behind Global IR is seen and reflected in other disciplines, such as international law and political theory.
This kind of conversation is exactly the aim of this blog series, where a diverse set of academics can come together in order to share their personal views and experiences, to report on ongoing projects, to test visions for the future, and to learn, exchange, and discuss. So we invite everyone – interested readers, students, and researchers – to contribute: by commenting on, sharing the blog posts, or by contributing one directly.
Felix Anderl is a doctoral researcher at the Cluster of Excellence Normative Orders at Goethe-University Frankfurt. He obtained degrees in Political Science and History (B.A.) from Freiburg University and „International Relations: Global Governance and Social Theory“ (M.A.) from Jacobs University and the University of Bremen. Felix works in a research project on opposition and dissidence in the anti-globalization movement. His research focuses on the transnational contestation and critique of governance norms and the interaction of formal institutions with protest movements. Felix currently works on a PhD project, in which he analyzes how the World Bank reacts to transnational resistance. In his latest publication (Review of International Organizations), he investigates „the myth of the local“ in development organizations.
Stefan Kroll is a postdoctoral researcher at the Cluster of Excellence Normative Orders at Goethe-University Frankfurt. Prior to his current appointment, he worked at the Max-Planck-Institute for the study of Religious and Ethnic diversity (Göttingen), the Munk School of Global Affairs (Toronto), and the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History (Frankfurt). Stefan holds a doctoral degree in social sciences and was awarded the Otto-Hahn Medal of the Max-Planck-Society 2011. His research is focused on international norms and adjudication, world society and the history of international law. His publications include a book on the adaptation of international law in China (Nomos, 2012) and the edited volume Law on Stage (Meidenbauer, 2011). Kroll has published articles, book chapters, and reviews in international journals and edited volumes.
Philip Wallmeier is a doctoral researcher at the Cluster of Excellence Normative Orders at Goethe-University Frankfurt. Before coming to Frankfurt, he studied Political Science, Philosophy and Economics at the Universities of Bayreuth and Valladolid, at the University College London and the Higher School of Economics, Moscow. His current research on the “Communal Movement” since the 1960s contributes to the project “Transnationalization of Rule and Resistance in International Relations”. His main research interests include rule and resistance in global politics, environmental politics, International Political Theory and Sociology.
Antonia Witt is a postdoctoral researcher at the Cluster of Excellence Normative Orders at Goethe-University Frankfurt. Prior to this, she was member of the Young Scholars Research Group “Changing Norms of Global Governance” at the University of Bremen. Antonia holds a PhD in Global Studies from the University of Leipzig and studied African Studies, Political Science and Peace and Conflict Studies in Leipzig and Bradford/UK. Her research interests are regional and international organizations, the international dissemination of legitimacy principles and political norms, authority in international politics, and interventions. She is currently finalising a book manuscript on the transnational making of order in Madagascar in the aftermath of the 2009 coup d’état.
Citation: Antonia Witt, Felix Anderl, Stefan Kroll, Philip Wallmeier, Clues, Careers, and Curricula – Doing Global International Relations, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 04.08.2016, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/4831.