Theorising International Relations. The Origins and Its Promise.

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Perceptions of history and reflections on world politics tend to be shaped by large-scale events which acts as a precursor to significant change; these events are often, although not exclusively, episodes of large-scale violence (Lawson, 2012). International Relations was born as a discipline through a recognised need to address the conditions which act as a precursor to war and large-scale violence. The discipline draws on philosophic foundations which concerns itself with a range of theories pertinent to understanding world politics (Lake, 2010). Since the establishment of this discipline following the First World War, it has remained a respected school of thought for understanding contemporary international affairs (Lawson, 2012). Somewhat distinct from the fields of politics and history, the discipline brings in the notions of theory and concepts through a diversity of methods. The discipline transcends solely domestic content to consider relations on a global scale; the relations between states and the relations between states and multi-national companies. A large fractal of the discipline concerns itself to understanding violence and war on international scales. Ultimately, the discipline is the study of political and social interactions between states, non-state actors and individuals (Griffiths, O’Callaghan and Roach, 2014).

Central to the study of international relations is the ‘state’; within the discipline, state policies are one of, if not the most common, object of analysis (Lake, 2010). It is the state which determines when and who with a country goes to war; the state which determines international agreements; and the state which establishes environmental standards (Lake, 2010). The state is a crucial part of understanding world politics and is largely why the discipline is largely state-centric. As such, the primary concern of International Relations is ultimately what states do on an international scale and how their actions influence and precipitate large-scale change (Lawson, 2012). Within the discipline, many state-centric theories exist which considers states, within world politics, to be the primary actors (Lake, 2010). However, as the discipline has developed and the world has advanced, through the diffusion of human rights principles, new questions have been raised for International Relations scholars (Griffiths, O’Callaghan and Roach, 2014). Over the last approximately 30 years, however, the state-centric notion of international relations has been brought into question with regards to what the discipline has left out which should ultimately be included for analysis. Since then, the discipline has expanded to study the moral and behavioural dynamics of the state; within this, the discipline has opened up to study wars, atrocities, co-operation between states and processes of integration.

To the present day, international relations equips itself with a range of conceptual tools to achieve three tasks:

  • To analyse the impact of rules and decisions on state behaviour.
  • To understand the changing dimensions and limits of power structures, institutions, and order, including the role of greater transparency (access to information) and accountability.
  • To promote the ideals of justice, greater social inclusion and equality (Griffiths, O’Callaghan and Roach, 2014: vii).

This blog will continue to explore these questions and their application to a variety of affairs, such as the global war on terrorism, throughout future articles.

 

 

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