The Study of International Relations

This is a summary of my notes from 12th October 2018 in Major Approaches to the Study of International Relations at Lancaster University.

International Relations – IR – is the name of both the practice and the academic discipline.  It started after The Great War an an attempt to use reasoned debate to develop common interests.  The original IR scholars were liberal internationalists.

Sometimes it is about relations between actors, sometimes the processes.  It is transdisciplinary.  It is eclectic.

The theories help, but can always be criticised in their coverage or assumptions.  The theories let you see better, but also distort part of reality.  All the theories have merits, all have weaknesses.  One needs to be able to criticise them all.  It is a contested discipline. The theories are commensurable: they allow one to see the same world differently and explain different aspects.

Questions posed by IR:

  • Are humans egoist (devoted to their own interests and advancement) or perfectible (capable of being made perfect, improvable)?
  • Is the international system anarchical or an international society?

There are no political opinions in IR.


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