International relations in the South: different worlds
Edited by Arlene Tickner and Karen Smith
All over the world, we are currently seeing a push to recognize diversity. There is a growing realization that our understanding of the world was written by white western males and that not including other perspectives leads to unintentional bias. One might assume that this pattern of parochialism, Western centrism, and discrimination is less pronounced in a discipline such as international relations (IR), which is concerned with global politics and the interactions between different societies. Therefore, the topic of IR should make the discipline more global and more sensitive to diversity. However, this does not appear to be the case. Already in 2003, Tickner noted that IR sets the limits of what is considered important and relevant, but knowledge of global realities often transcends these constructed disciplinary boundaries (Tickner 2003). Since the start of the new millennium, therefore, an important discussion within the discipline of IR has focused on how ethnocentrism and Western-centricism have limited our understanding of the ‘international’, arguing that IR must tackle issues faced by states, non-state actors and citizens around the world to be relevant (Acharya and Buzan 2007, Bilgin 2008, Tickner & Wæver 2009, Deciancio 2016, Peters and Wemheuer-Vogelaar 2016, Picq 2016).
This debate has taken place mainly in academic journals – and one can unfortunately question the scope and impact of these beyond academia. Arguably, it is in the classroom where the IR scholarship really has the potential to make a difference. In the classroom, we influence how the next generation of researchers, but also policy makers and activists, meet the world. However, students are rarely introduced to the theories and knowledge of southern countries. In an empirical analysis of IR programs, Biersteker (2009, 320) succinctly concludes that ‘the nature of the American parochialism of IR is that it is rationalist, positivist, US-centric, monolingual, recently published. and written by men ”. This assertion is supported by the results of the 2014 TRIP survey: “the geographical distribution of the assigned authors, in short, reinforces the idea that the United States is hegemonic in the discipline, that the flow of ideas takes place in largely outward from an island state ”(Maliniak et al. 2018, 462). In short, the basic RI texts are mostly written by old western white men and integrated into a particular way of seeing both science and the world.
Arlene Tickner and Karen Smith are trying to change that with their awesome new IR manual. They give us a tool that allows us to teach IR in a way that transcends conventional Western perspectives. The chapters are written by a diverse set of world-class authors and each chapter brings a high quality of analysis and insight. The book seems to have struck a balance between chapters that speak to each other, creating a cohesive narrative, yet still being able to stand on their own. In one way or another, all chapters explore the complex relationship between local manifestations and the global world (s). Additionally, all chapters present cases, theories, or a story that have been ignored in mainstream IR textbooks, recognizing that theoretical knowledge not only reflects the world but the product as well.
Challenge traditional thinking and broaden horizons
The book is structured in four parts: 1) Discipline, 2) concepts, 3) issues and 4) futures. Although I cannot cover all of the chapters here, they are all stimulating and full of ideas. The first part consists of three chapters focusing on IR as a discipline. A highlight here is Chapter Three where David Blaney produces a complex and stimulating contrapuntal reading of the discipline of IR through the case of Native American homelands in North America. By highlighting the connectivity, commerce and diplomacy of Native American peoples, Blaney shows that the idea of setting a time when international relations and diplomacy begin is redundant. Moreover, it is produced by a dangerous and erroneous systematized linear thought that seeks to link theoretical origins to particular times and places. Instead, Blaney argues that the past and the present coexist in a multidimensional society made up of multiple and interdependent sovereignties. In this way, the global is made up of intricate and intricate relationships that challenge traditional IR thinking. Peter Vale and Vineet Thakur help develop this point in Chapter 4, where they argue that there is “disciplinary amnesia” (p.69) on the role of IRs as scientific advisor to the early “new imperialism”. XXth century. It was an IR in which racism and colonialism were disguised as idealism and moralism.
The second part discusses the different concepts that make up the IR discipline. In chapter 6, Amy niang argues that “the ‘international’ is necessarily an extension of the colonial in a postcolonial world” (p.97) through the interesting example of the monetary regime of the French Colonial Franc (CFA) in a world of presumed sovereignties. Navnita Chadha Behera’s chapter on the state and sovereignty (ch. 8) should be required reading for every student who engages with the state as a concept. With various cases and stories, Behera illustrates how state and sovereignty are experienced in very different ways by their respective inhabitants across historical expanses and geographic locations. IR’s disciplinary debates fail to capture this diversity across time and space. This reminds us that there is no necessary quality to the geographic units we use in the social sciences. Instead, we are continually building and rebuilding our spatial imaginaries.
The third part of the book focuses on key issues in IR such as migration and resistance. In Chapter 14, Nizar Messari argues that while migration is an old phenomenon, the way it is now securitized is new. Messari also argues for giving more voice to migrants, which is especially interesting when brought into conversation with other chapters highlighting the detrimental prevalence of state-centered thinking in IRs. By definition, migrants disrupt our binary thinking of borders. In the next chapter, Carolina Cepeda-Másmela introduces a subject often overlooked in IR, namely resistance (ch.15). She highlights how the neoliberal order has been challenged around the world, arguing that we should recapture local forms of resistance against neoliberalism and analyze how they help envision global alternatives. Thus, these resistances again underline the complex relationship between the local and the global.
The last and fourth part is perhaps the most radical part of the book. In Chapter 17, LHM Ling and Carolina M. Pinheiro show “how the Global South can talk to and listen to each other. – a ‘conversation’ between friends, so to speak – and in so doing, improve communication between North and South ”(p.318). The authors keep their word with their ambitious attempt to create a dialogue between the Taoist yin / yang dialectic and the Andean notion of pasha. This work serves as an example of how South-South discourse can express a new form of social relationship and create new languages.
A book that invites discussion
With a stated mission to diversify voices and stories in IR, questions about the researchers, concepts, and cases included in the book will naturally arise. However, the editors address these questions in their interesting introductory chapter where they argue that it is never possible to represent the full range of experiences of the Global South; instead, readers should actively question the views and cases presented in the book. Maybe it’s that honesty; that there are many ways to do this sets this book apart.
With a book of this kind, one can always wonder about certain choices which enter into the structuring of the book. For me, the bigger question is why the editors chose to delineate between concepts and problems (parts 2 and 3), especially since the different authors seem to approach their subject in a similar way. For example, while security is referred to as a concept, resistance is discussed as a problem. I’m sure many researchers working on various forms of resistance would argue that resistance is a concept too. Likewise, security would also be seen as an issue for many.
Small quarrels aside, the book takes you on a journey to places and stories often ignored in IR: From relations between Amerindian peoples (ch.3) to the CFA monetary regime (ch.6), migrants in France (ch. 14) ), at the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in the Brazilian state of Amazonas (ch. 16). In addition to providing students with a more nuanced understanding of the concepts and issues that make up IR, the book also presents new and lesser-known empirical cases that educators and students can work with.
Editors and writers challenge traditional IR by exploring attempts to imagine politics beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. They remind us that a discipline is not an objective space but something that is constantly being built and rebuilt through scientific field practices. Therefore, they encourage us to rethink disciplinary boundaries and broaden our horizons so that we can offer truly international perspectives to our students. This book is a step forward for the IR.
Acharya, Amitav and Barry Buzan. 2007. “Why is there no theory of non-Western international relations? An introduction. “Asia-Pacific International Relations 7 (3): 287-312.
Biersteker, Thomas J. 2009. “The Parish Spirit of Hegemony: Challenges for ‘American’ International Relations. In International Relations Scholarship Around the World, edited by Wæver Ole and B. Tickner Arlene, 308-327. Routledge.
Bilgin, Pinar. 2008. “Thinking beyond“ Western ”IRs? Third World Quarterly 29 (1): 5-23.
Deciancio, Melisa. 2016. “International relations of the South: a regional research program for global IRs”. Journal of International Studies 18 (1): 106-119.
Maliniak, Daniel, Ryan Powers and Barbara F Walter. 2013. “The Gender Citation Gap in International Relations”. International Organization 67 (4): 889-922.
Peters, Ingo and Wiebke Wemheuer-Vogelaar. 2016. “Globalization of International Relations: Scholarships Amid Divisions and Diversity”. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Picq, Manuela. 2016. “Rethinking IR from the Amazon. »Brazilian Journal of International Politics 59 (2): e003.
Tickner, Arlene B. 2003. “Seeing IRs Differently: Notes from the Third World. Millennium — Journal of International Studies 32 (2): 295-324.
Tickner, Arlene B. and Ole Wæver. 2009. Fellowship for international relations around the world, Globalizing beyond the West. New York: Routledge.
Further reading on E-Relations internationales