Debating International Relations and Its Relevance to the Third World

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African Journal of Political Science and International Relations Vol. 3(1), pp. 027-037, January 2009 Available online at http://www.academicjournals.org/AJPSIR ISSN 1996-0832 © 2009 Academic Journals

Full Length Research Paper

Debating international relations and its relevance to the third world Boniface E.S. Mgonja1 and Iddi A.M. Makombe2
1 2

Department of Political Science, University of Alberta, Canada. Institute of Development Studies, Mzumbe University, Tanzania. Accepted 14, December 2008

In 1935, Sir Alfred Zimmern described IR not as a single field or discipline, but a “bundle of subjects…viewed from a common angle” drawn toward questions of international and global continuity and change. However, since its emergence as a “formal separate discipline” of study IR manifests a very little emphasis from the point of view of the Global South realities. Generally, the study of IR has largely neglected the epistemological position of the Global South, its intellectuals and their roles in the continuity and change in the discipline. This paper draws a postcolonial approach to critique, the Eurocentric nature and character of IR discipline and its exclusive emphasis on what happens or happened in the West. The claim is made on how IR as a discipline privileges the Eurocentric world views as an integral to the ordering and functioning of the discipline. Key words: International relations, euro-centrism, postcolonialism, Global South. INTRODUCTION International Relations (IR) can be described as the ways that countries of the world, group of people and even individuals within those countries interact with and affect one another (Snow and Brown, 2000). This interaction includes inter-alia, the world’s governments; non-state actors (such as international organizations, multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and individuals); social structures (including economics, culture, and domestic politics); and geographical and historical influences (Goldstein, 2002). As a distinct field of political science, IR draws on political theory, political economy, feminism, and international law to provide its own theoretical perspectives in explaining conflicts and co-operations between states and non-state actors in the modern world. In 1935, Sir Alfred Zimmern described IR not as a single field or discipline, but a “bundle of subjects…viewed from a common angle” (Zimmern quoted by Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff, 2001) drawn toward questions of international and global continuity and change. Goldstein (2002) emphasizes that the IR field is interdisciplinary, relating international politics to economics, history, sociology, and other disciplines. This is evidenced by the fact that IR is typically divided into other subfields such as international relations theory, international security, international law and organization, and international political economy. However, since its emergence as a “formal separate discipline” (Burchill et al., 2005) of study in 1919 at the University of Wales in the United Kingdom (UK), IR is manifesting a very little emphasis from the point of view of the Global South realities. Generally, the study of IR has largely neglected the epistemological position of the Third World (“Third World” is a commonly used term to refer to the economically underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America, considered as an entity with common characteristics, such as poverty, high birthrates, and economic dependence on the advanced countries (Mazrui, 1977). While Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s definition of the Third World incorporates so called people of colour in North America (Mohanty, 1991), the authors of this paper use the term ‘Third World’ based both on the intellectual and geographical position. This includes from its scope most of those scholars inhabit or hail from postcolonial societies wherever they are in the world. For the purpose of this paper, the term Third World...
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