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Sociology of the discipline of international relations

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We will first consider how to place the different approaches and theories in their context of enunciation, then we will discuss the history and historiography of International Relations. Then, we will see the major debates and look in this socio-historical approach at the stakes of the construction of these debates and their mythical function. This raises the problems of the structure in great debate that leads back to the structure of science itself, namely that it is the cumulative effect of these different approaches. Finally, we will look at the history of the discipline and end with the major debates in order to see the different issues that are supposed to be the history and narrative of the discipline of international relations.

What is a sociology of a discipline?[edit | edit source]

When we find a text, it will be part of an approach that refers to a whole tradition, to other authors and a school of thought. In order to approach these texts, it is necessary to place these discourses in their conditions of enunciation. It is not necessary to look exclusively at the intrinsic quality of a theoretical argument in order to explain its success.

For example, Samuel Huntington's debate on the clash of civilizations[9]

is representative of people who are successful in international relations. It is multi-positioned in the university context, and is also highly listened to in the political arena.

In the controversy between the clash of civilizations and the end of Fukuyama's history[10], for Fukuyama, with the end of the Cold War, we arrive in a liberal world that sees the emergence of a world increasingly pacified according to the canons of liberalism.

The way these texts have circulated reason about the people who have stated them in a certain way. Huntington had a speech for a population much more willing to accept it, this thesis had the ear of policy-making fields and more political circles. This is why it is necessary to put the speeches back into their enunciated conditions.

The fight for knowledge is subordinated to the fight for recognition. Writing in international relations or in any discipline is writing for and in relation to other people. You have to format ideas to get them through. We are dealing with people positioned in a field who have more or less power, the aim being to have more and more power to express themselves in the scientific field in the form of recognition.

Why should we approach the history and historiography of International Relations?[edit | edit source]

The history and historiography of international relations must be addressed. The purpose is to be confronted with competing approaches that are not necessarily to be addressed as they are usually presented. For example, the discipline is faced with many debates, sometimes these debates have not taken place or have been mystified while different researchers will seek to write their own history of the discipline.

Historiography itself for De Certeau in 1975 is "historian writing is a social practice that delineates the boundaries of one identity and another". The challenge in international relations is to exist as a discipline, because they have difficulty legitimizing or empowering themselves in relation to other disciplines such as political science in the United States or Switzerland. IHEID was born in the 1920s after the creation of the League of Nations to train people to work there. These are the remains of another vision of international relations, the very structure of BARI is the heir to that. IHEID is representative of another history of the discipline.

In other words, there are links between the identity of a discipline and the[re]presentation of its history, its justification as a discipline that reflects the practices of the actors in the field.

The mythical function of the "Great Debates"[edit | edit source]

Often it is a story that is not completely honest and is part of a naturalizing vision of science as a practice, it is in the natural order to be interested in wars between different States from a realistic point of view for example since already in antiquity there were armed conflicts, it would be the "nature of man".

To do this, we will adopt a scientific approach. International relations are part of a Kuhnian approach as seen in Mr. Giugni's introductory course on science-politics methods. One paradigm will be replaced by another after demonstrating that one paradigm was wrong.

The idea is that a science improves by bringing new events around a new paradigm that aims to shed light on the purpose of that science. Also, the interest of presenting oneself in this way is that there is a logic of cumulability, other approaches develop knowledge leading to a better knowledge which is the goal of any science.

It also makes it possible to set up a legitimizing discourse of its science. International relations are extremely dependent on American political science, which itself experienced a behaviourist revolution in the 1960s and 1970s with the scientificization of ideas.

Relying on work that resembles hard science as much as possible becomes a way of legitimizing one's basic ideas, which does not mean that in some cases there is relevant quantitative work. We are in a longer perspective of discipline or certain issues, choosing schools of thought that allow us to structure ourselves in a debate, disqualify others or legitimize our own world view, our own identity. This structure serves to situate the discipline of international relations within a naturalizing vision of science as practice.

For Schmidt, the aim is to "demonstrate that scientific advances have been made and that the field as a whole is progressing", but also that this structure serves to demonstrate "either coherence or inconsistency" within the discipline. Therefore, this structure serves to provide an identity specific to the discipline of international relations.

The "Great Debates": from mytho-history to history[edit | edit source]

When we tell the story, there is always a certain teleology. We move from one moment to another because something is happening and we try to explain. There is an accumulation of knowledge and we are making progress. There are transformations that must be integrated and explained to allow something to emerge. For example, in the context of the end of the Cold War, neo-realists say that since we are in a bipolarity we are in a stable situation there is no major war between the powers of this system. With the end of the Cold War, neo-realism was called into question, showing that there were other dimensions. There is also the war in former Yugoslavia, where we realize that identities are important. We must find ways and theoretical approaches.

The problems of the structure in "Great Debates" structure[edit | edit source]

For Schmidt, there is an overestimation of the weight of world events on the discipline and therefore he adopts a contextualist[contextualist] approach. It is necessary to understand how the discipline deals with new elements, such as new ideas that falsify theory. Schmidt shows that the presence of new approaches cannot be explained by the presence of this context, there is an underestimation of the place of "internal discourses" in the discipline. How can we explain that neo-realism is still a strong and vibrant approach in international relations when it was falsified in the 1990s?

History is often that of the "winners" or "dominators" known as "Whig history". When we tell the story, there is always a certain teleology. It is often the winners who tell the story, it is those who have the ability, the symbolic power to legitimize the story that will start telling it. This makes it possible to understand why there is a dominance of Anglo-American international relations. It is a legitimizing dimension that Schmidt describes as "presentism".

If we really want to understand the evolution of approaches, why approaches emerge and disappear, such as the place of Niger's international theories in the early 1970s, we must consider that the evolution of this discipline does not take place because events happen. Discipline sometimes evolves because people talk to each other, they are internal discourses. External elements do not necessarily matter, but we overvalue to tell a story in which we progress.

A (?) history of the discipline[edit | edit source]

Perspective Contextualiste[edit | edit source]

Schmidt's contextualist perspective highlights important events and different approaches. This graph illustrates how the story can be told in a contextual way. For example, constructivism emerged after the Cold War because before there was no identity phenomenon, but of course this is not true. To understand history, we must see the events used as key moments. There is rarely a history of international relations that shows decolonization as an important event.

Ri2 Perspective Contextualiste.png

The presentism reading[edit | edit source]

The story is structured in terms of debates. In a debate, the person with the best argument will win. This is the idea of "telos"[Τέλος], if we take the debates in their function of scientific progress. There is a tension created saying that there are approaches that do not allow us to understand something else. There are winners explaining that there is progress because the winner is the one with the best argument.

Ri2 lecture présentisme.png

Here, we can see the progressive dimension. For some, there are four debates. It depends on the perspective you give, knowing that Weaver is a great safety theory. It will recreate the debate between the "neo-neo". This debate was presented by its actors as well as by Waltz, saying that there is a fundamental agreement that is an anarchic structure and there are two ways to understand the anarchic structure:

  • High politics in the context of the state's survival with all that is military.
  • Low politics.

The neo-realists show that we have reached a stable moment when they agree to divide the work with the neo-realists who deal with war and the liberals of the economy. International relations have reached the end as Fukuyama suggested. What Weaver has shown quite pertinently is how, by reading this table and taking up the notion of presentism, debates build international relations. They are the result of a number of tensions and impulses in the discipline.

Weaver is a central researcher in critical approaches to security. We need something interesting here. He is doing a sociology of the discipline in order to come back to the question of debates by coming back himself to the stakes of the construction of the history of the discipline. He will himself speak about a fourth debate and take a position.

This warning against teleological readings of different approaches in international relations must be applied to all worlds, even to those that are "supposedly" critical. In Who contextualizes the contextualizers? Disciplinary history and the discourse about IR discourse, Gerard Holden leads this debate. These are tools that we must apply to ourselves.

Ri2 lecture présentisme 2.png

Perhaps after the war in the former Yugoslavia it was said that constructivism would have strength. This type of statement must be qualified by a teleological logic. What constructivism brings to international relations, particularly in the field of language, are things that were developed several decades ago in anthropology or sociology. Just because the international context proves them right does not mean that we can say so. We have to make a distinction between the social world and the issues of people who are trying to explain what is happening.

Differences may arise as to the number of debates. This shows that there are several positions. These are the people who will try to build this discipline to show why they have relevance and why we must listen to them. These debates will take place in an attempt to impose a narrative to impose its own approach and its own place in the discipline.

The first debate: "realistic" vs. "idealistic".[edit | edit source]

Mytho-history[edit | edit source]

This debate took place in the inter-war period between "realists" and "idealists", resulting in an indisputable victory for the realists over the idealists. President Wilson is one of these idealists with his project for a League of Nations.

The idealists embarked on a boundless optimism after the First World War, but the Second World War destroyed these illusions. Idealists were locked into a normative definition of international relations. The discipline has shifted towards a more "real" vision of international relations and towards more scientism.

History[edit | edit source]

Edward Hallett Carr

This debate did not take place, it is an invention of some realistic thinkers whose main architect of the construction of this debate is E. H. Carr who proposes a reinterpretation in his book La crise de vingt ans de l'entre-deux-guires how, through realism, we arrived at the Second World War.

During the inter-war period, there was no real department of international relations, the first one dating from 1919 at the University College of Wales in Wales, the second one being IHEID in Geneva. This leads us to question the bad faith of the first great realistic thinkers in international relations who will "bring out the big guns" in order to inscribe their approach in a naturalizing vision where since Ancient Greece we are faced with the same logics between political devices, when we leave the hierarchy it is anarchy that prevails as described by Thucydides.

In this debate, there is a real form of intellectual dishonesty with Carr, but also Morgenthau who laid the foundations for realism in international relations, but which is still relevant for many researchers today. We do not judge the quality of the work, but the strategy to legitimize the relevance of their work.

Idealism as a current of international relations, it is possible to say without exaggerating that it is an invention of realism. There has never been an "idealistic" or "progressive" tradition as such. The proposals and positions of the "idealistic" or "progressive" authors have been distorted and truncated by the "realists". Thus, the "First Debate" is the result of an arbitrary reconstruction by people like Carr who identify themselves as "realistic".

The second debate: "traditionalists" vs. "behaviorists".[edit | edit source]

Mytho-history[edit | edit source]

We must understand the continuity with the first debate. Authors like Carr or Morgenthau are rebuilding a number of actors and authors to create a new "puzzle". These authors created the idealistic current, it is a "straw man". It is possible to understand to a large extent the predominance of realism as the central approach to international relations, an approach that crystallized international relations from the 1950s onwards.

With the second debate, we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation where people come from a realistic tradition being attacked by other realists. This is the distinction between "traditionalists" and "behaviourists".

Morgenthau has a very developed ethical thinking, there is a fine analytical and ethical thinking. In his work, there is a whole ethical dimension to the logic of decision-making, in 1945 - 1946 he wrote a text showing why decision-making in international and difficult relations, because international relations is the world of evil far from the Kantian approach. Morgenthau has developed a subtle thought about how to act in a situation where one has to make tough moral choices. Carr is a very fine reader of the story. It was based on a historical and legal reflection.

Hedley Bull

Hedley Bull was at the head of the English school which is very popular in Great Britain which is the synthesis of Carr and Morgenthau with the legal and normative dimension. This school will be constructivist, especially with texts in the 1950s and 1960s. They seek to understand international relations as power relations, also starting from the realistic principle that we are in a situation of anarchy, at the same time they will try to take into account the dimension of civilization. If we look at the evolution of the "international system", more precisely the "international society", they will try to understand how the idea of civilization will socialize certain States to behave differently.

The "traditionalists" represent a bit the synthesis between Carr and Morgenthau who are committed to understanding international relations from a historical and legal perspective. Behaviorists" adopt a different approach saying that we must do science, we must objectify, intend to do statistics, models, do science as well as hard sciences.

It was the behaviorists who won. With the teleological dimension, we are moving towards more progress. Since we are in the social sciences, we must do as science does and do quantitatively. The concept of democratic peace is, for example, a statistical reasoning. The discipline has shifted towards a more scientific approach, in the sense of the natural sciences.

History[edit | edit source]

Morton Kaplan

If we look at history, Morton Kaplan asks himself the question of a discipline because international relations do not produce something scientific. It is not really clear that there was a real debate. There is no record of debate, nothing in the work of international historians shows the existence of the first debate.

For this debate, authors enter into confrontation through interposed articles, but this debate is not clear. What we can see is that there has been a scientific turning point in international relations, especially since the 1960s, mainly in North America.

If we look in concrete terms, there is a distinction between North American international relations, which are in a mimetic position vis-à-vis North American sociology, and other European perspectives. The English school has still not disappeared.

This has distanced the epistemic community from others, but it is also linked to phenomena where American universities have gained more and more weight worldwide. In Asia, professors studied in the United States; in Turkey, fellow scientists did their doctoral thesis in the United States.

What we have to understand is that it is an American phenomenon, but there are also phenomena of the movement of important people with these logics. Even if de facto this debate has not led to a dominance of scientific perspectives, this situation is being created to some extent. In the Scandinavian countries, the scientific dimension is dominant, while in Great Britain it is one of many.

The agreement between neoliberals and neo-realists is based on the acceptance of a scientific dimension of what science is. The consequence is the distance from international relations of political or normative issues that will re-emerge in the 1980s through so-called critical perspectives.

This second debate took place between the mid-1960s and 1970s. The 1980s were the time of strict consensus among the "neo-neo". Bob Keohane has had an extremely powerful influence on the name of what the discipline of international relations is all about.

The third debate: "neopositivists" and "postpositivism"[edit | edit source]

Mytho-history[edit | edit source]

These are people who follow the line of behaviourists between "neopositivists" and "postpositivism". Those who emerged from this victory in the second debate and faced with post-positivism will completely or partially reject this scientific vision with a place for discourse analysis.

The challenge of discourse analysis is to say that the cognitive vision that makes language only bitterens what language says and only describes something that exists regardless of what you say. For postpositivists, there are language effects if you create a situation through language. In the context of security, situations can be created through language that do not exist objectively. Immigration fits into this vision, it is a theme that emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s where immigration becomes a security issue when there is no change that could explain this. There are people who do "framing". Language makes it possible to create a social reality that does not necessarily have objectivity.

Alexander Wendt

In this debate, we see that "constructivism" emerges which has a certain naturalness because constructivism among people like Finnemore and Wendt comes from the same university with Duvall as thesis director. These doctoral students created constructivism. The strength of constructivists is that he says they think that the social and constructed world has intersubjective phenomena that create normative phenomena. Even if we assume that the world is constructed, we will do it in a scientific way, in a way that the way the world is reasoned and explained fits into positivism.

What is interesting is that this constructivism has taken hold whereas constructivist authors in the 1980s did not build themselves like the constructivism we are told because they do not call for science. They had a historical, historical position, using law.

The discipline has stabilized, everyone has reached a consensus and now there is a new social division of labour in "neo-neo". Now, there is a third actor, constructivism on norms and identities. However, everyone should do the same.

History[edit | edit source]

Robert Keohane

There was no debate and literature. Wendt himself is rebuilding what is happening, but in practice there is no debate. Bob Keohane has written several articles, including a famous one saying that there are two ways of doing international relations, there are "perspectiveists" and "reflexivists". He created the best part and for realists and neo-realists and constructions only if they fit in with our ideals. On the other hand, he tolerates reflexivists, you need poets...

These are not three currents emerging, but an explosion of different currents, the neo-Marxists, the postcolonial current, neoclassical realists like Schweller returning to the historical dimension to make realism.

This course provides an overview of the expansion and explosion of approaches to understanding international relations. We must understand the mechanism between what is really happening, as with the Cold War, which allowed international relations to be conceived in order to understand the complexity of the world. The external effects had the effect of creating ways of thinking, paradoxes in order to explain the world. International relations are not just about states, it is also about a Filipino servant in Hong Kong being beaten, because there is a circulation of goods with a transnational economic function, intercultural, religious and other phenomena. People will be interested in this Filipino servant servant and this is just as legitimate as being interested in the Cold War between superpowers.

There is a multiplication of the number of approaches related to critical traditions, a multiplication of objects of study and a broadening of the notion of "international".

Summary[edit | edit source]

Why think about the shape of the field and how we as a knowledge producer can shape our practices? There is a stake in knowing who we are. We tell a story to justify who we are.

In the sociology and history of "discipline", there is an important issue for the identity of a field. It is necessary a legitimizing function of this mytho-history but the importance of having a critical[historiographic] distance from this mytho-history.

You have to be aware of the critical distance from what you usually hear. Never believe in a "blank goal", this means that there are people who do not realize their sociological effect.

For Schmidt, there is an overestimation of the weight of external events and on the other hand the underestimation of internal discourses. For Cox, in his article Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory published in 1981 "Theory is always for someone and for some purpose", theories are not neutral, there are always elements that are hidden.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

Literature review[edit | edit source]

  • Ashworth, Lucian M. (2014) A History of International Thought : From the Origins of the Modern State to Academic International Relations. London: Routledge
  • Cox, R. W. (1981). Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 10(2), 126–155.
  • Callis, H. G. (1947) The Sociology of International Relations. American Sociological Review. [Online] 12 (3), 323–334.
  • De Certeau, M. (1975). L'écriture de l'histoire. Paris: Gallimard.
  • Donnelly, J. (2000). Realism and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lapid, Y. (1989). The third debate: On the prospects of international theory in a post-positivist era. International Studies Quarterly, 33(3), 235–254.
  • Schmidt, B. C. (2002). On the History and Historiography of International Relations, in Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse and Beth Simmons (eds.) Handbook of International Relations. London: Sage, 3–22.
  • Wæver, O. (1996). The rise and fall of the inter-paradigm debate, in Steve Smith, Ken Booth and Marysia Zalewski (eds.) International Theory: Positivism & Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 149–185.
  • Wæver, O. (1998). The sociology of a not so international discipline: American and European developments in international relations. International Organization, 52(4), 687–727.a

References[edit | edit source]