International Relations from the Global South: Worlds of Difference
Edited by Arlene Tickner and Karen Smith
All over the world we are currently witnessing a push towards recognizing diversity. There is a growing awareness that our understanding of the world was written by white Western men and that failure to include other perspectives creates an unintended bias. One might assume that this pattern of bigotry, west centrism and discrimination is less pronounced in a discipline like International Relations (IR), which deals with global politics and interactions between different societies. It is therefore expected that the IR issue will make the discipline more global and sensitive to diversity. However, this does not appear to be the case. As early as 2003, Tickner noted that IR sets the limits for what is considered important and relevant, but that knowledge of global realities often exceeds these constructed disciplinary boundaries (Tickner 2003). Since the turn of the millennium, an important discussion within the IR discipline has therefore dealt with the question of how ethnocentricity and western centering have restricted our understanding of the “international” citizens worldwide in order to be relevant (Acharya and Buzan 2007, Bilgin 2008, Tickner & Wæver 2009, Deciancio 2016, Peters and Wemheuer-Vogelaar 2016, Picq 2016).
This debate has mostly taken place in academic journals – and unfortunately the scope and impact of these beyond the academic world can be questioned. It’s probably 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 politicians and activists, interacts with the world. However, the students are rarely introduced to theories and knowledge from the Global South. In an empirical analysis of the IR curricula, Biersteker (2009, 320) concisely concludes that “the nature of American IR pochialism is that it is rationalistic, positivistic, US-centered, monolingual, recently published and by Men is written. “This claim is supported by the results of the 2014 TRIP survey:” The geographic distribution of assigned authors, in short, reinforces the notion that the United States is hegemonic in the discipline that the flow of ideas is largely outside of the insular United States. ”(Maliniak et al. 2018, 462). In short, the core texts in IR are mainly written by old white western men and embedded in a particular view of science and the world.
Arlene Tickner and Karen Smith are trying to change this with their impressive new IR textbook. They give us a tool that we can use to teach IR in ways that go beyond the traditional west-centric lens. The chapters have been written by a number of world-class authors, and each chapter offers high quality insights and analysis. The book seems to have struck a balance between chapters that speak to one another, create a coherent narrative, and at the same time are able to stand on their own. In one way or another, all of the chapters examine the complex relationship between local manifestations and the global world (s). In addition, each of the chapters presents cases, theories, or history that have been ignored in the mainstream IR textbooks, and recognizes that theoretical knowledge not only reflects the world, but also produces it.
Defy traditional thinking and broaden horizons
The book is divided into four parts: 1) Discipline, 2) Concepts, 3) Topics, and 4) Future. While I cannot cover all of the chapters here, they are all thought-provoking and insightful. The first part consists of three chapters dealing with IR as a discipline. A highlight here is Chapter Three, in which David Blaney offers a complex and thought-provoking counterpoint reading of the IR discipline in the case of the Native American homelands in North America. By highlighting the connectivity, trade and diplomacy of the Native American peoples, Blaney shows that the idea of pinpointing a point in time when international relations and diplomacy begin is redundant. In addition, it is generated by a dangerous and erroneous systematized linear thinking that tries to tie theoretical origins to specific times and places. Instead, Blaney argues that past and present coexist in a multidimensional society made up of multiple and interconnected sovereignties. In this way, the global is made up of overlapping and complex relationships that challenge traditional IR thinking. Peter Vale and Vineet Thakur help highlight this point in Chapter 4, where they argue that there is “disciplinary amnesia” (p.69) over the role of the IR as a scientific advisor to the “new imperialism” of the early 20th century. It was an IR in which racism and colonialism were disguised as idealism and moralism.
The second part looks at the various 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 post-colonial world” (p.97) through the interesting example of the currency regime of the French African colonial franc (CFA) in a world of supposed sovereignty. The chapter State and Sovereignty by Navnita Chadha Behera (chap. 8) should be required reading for every student who deals with the concept of the state. Behera uses various cases and stories to illustrate how statehood and sovereignty are experienced in very different ways by their respective residents across historical spans and geographical locations. The disciplinary debates of IR do not take this diversity over time and space into account. It reminds us that the geographical units we use in the social sciences do not have a necessary quality. Instead, we continuously construct and reconstruct our spatial imaginations.
The third part of the book focuses on key IR issues such as migration and resistance. In Chapter 14, Nizar Messari claims that while migration is an ancient phenomenon, the way it is now being secured is new. Messari also advocates giving migrants more voice, which is particularly interesting when brought up to discussion with other chapters that highlight the detrimental prevalence of state-centered thinking in the IR. By definition, migrants disrupt our binary borderline thinking. In the next chapter, Carolina Cepeda-Másmela introduces an often overlooked topic in IR, namely resistance (Chapter 15). She highlights how the neoliberal order has been challenged worldwide and argues that we should reclaim local forms of resistance to neoliberalism and analyze how they help develop global alternatives. In this way, these resistances underline the complex relationship between the local and the global.
The last and fourth parts are perhaps the most radical part of the book. In Chapter 17, L.H.M. Ling and Carolina M. Pinheiro show “how the global south can talk to one another and listen to one another” – a “chat” among friends, so to speak – and improve communication between north and south ”(p.318). The authors start a conversation with their ambitious attempt to bring the Daoist Yin / Yang dialectic and the Andean concept of Pacha into conversation. This work serves as an example of how South-South conversations can express a new form of social relationship and create new languages.
A book that invites discussion
With the stated mission of diversifying voices and stories in IR, questions naturally arise as to which scientists, concepts, and cases will be included in the book. However, the editors address these questions in their interesting introductory chapter, in which they argue that it is never possible to represent the full extent of the experiences of the global South; Instead, readers should actively question the views and cases presented in the book. Maybe it’s this honesty; that there are many ways to do this is what distinguishes this book.
With a book of this type, one can always question some of the decisions that go into structuring the book. For me, the biggest question is why the editors chose to delimit concepts and topics (Parts 2 and 3), especially since the different authors approach their topic in a similar way. For example, while security is referred to as a concept, resistance is discussed as an issue. I am sure that many scientists working on different forms of resistance would argue that resistance is a concept too. Security would also be perceived as an issue for many.
Apart from minor quibbles, the book takes you on a journey to places and stories that were often ignored in the IR: From the relationships between Indian peoples (Chapter 3) to the CFA currency regime (Chapter 6), migrants in France (Chapter 14), on the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in the Brazilian state of Amazonas (Chapter 16). Not only does the book give students a more nuanced understanding of the concepts and problems that make up IR, but it also introduces new and lesser-known empirical cases that teachers and students can work with.
The editors and authors challenge mainstream IR by examining attempts to envision politics beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. They remind us that a discipline is not an objective space, but something that is constantly being constructed and reconstructed through scientific practice in the field. Therefore, they encourage us to rethink the disciplinary boundaries and broaden our horizons so that we can offer our students truly international perspectives. This book is a step forward for 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 Parochialism 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. “Are you thinking of ‘western’ IR?” Third World Quarterly 29 (1): 5-23.
Deciancio, Melisa. 2016. “International Relations from the South: A Regional Research Agenda for Global IR.” International Studies Review 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. “Globalizing International Relations: Fellowship Amid Divisions and Diversity.” London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Picq, Manuela. 2016. “Rethinking IR from the Amazon.” Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional 59 (2): e003.
Tickner, Arlene B. 2003. “Seeing IR Different: Notes from the Third World.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 32 (2): 295-324.
Tickner, Arlene B. and Ole Wæver. 2009. Scholarship for international relations around the world, worlds beyond the West. New York: Routledge.
Further reading on e-international relations