International Relations : a Distinct Discipline.

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The question of whether International Relations is a distinct discipline has been a matter of consistent controversy. However, any field of study needs to fulfill certain criteria in order to be classified as a distinct academic discipline. Accordingly, I believe, that International Relations is indeed a ‘Distinct Discipline’ since it has many characteristics of a distinct academic discipline.

International Relations can be interpreted by some to be ‘actual relations between states’ but in the academic field of International Relations, we give it a somewhat different definition. Whilst there has never been a precise definition regarding the discipline of International Relations it can be broadly defined as –

“ A branch of social sciences dealing with policies, developments and interactions, the effects of which cross national boundaries and affect the lives of people in different countries and in several parts of the world. ”

Though IR as an academic discipline is of recent origin, relations among nations is a phenomena that is as old as history itself. Scholars often trace the origin of International Relations back to 1648. This is due to the fact that although actual relations between states had taken place since the ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, Rome -they were incidental, sporadic and limited in nature. But by the Westphalia Treaty of 1648 International relations assumed a new character. It was from this treaty that the concepts of “territorial sovereignty” and “independent nation sate” were born. But it isn’t until the period after World War I in the 1920’s that International Relations developed as a “distinct discipline”. The industrial revolution in the 19th century, brought with it new thought, technology, communication, transportation. Trade, transit and transactions had become the order of the day. All these developments had made international relations more systematic, regular and comprehensive. The trauma of the First World War made people demand a better understanding of foreign relations; War and peace came to the forefront; all these developments drew peoples’ attention to the growing importance of international relations as an academic discipline.

In order to explore if International Relations is indeed a ‘distinct discipline’, we need to first understand what is meant by a distinct discipline or academic discipline. Some scholars consider a distinct discipline to be a separate field or study wholly distinct from any other field or study. If this is the case, then International relations cannot be considered a ‘distinct discipline’ because it is a well known fact that International Relations is not a subject that can be learnt, taught or studied by itself. It is closely linked to many other fields and subjects such as Political Science, History, Sociology, Law, Economics, etc. At least some basic knowledge of these fields is essential if you hope to grasp the multi-dimensional nature of international-relationships, and therefore International Relations can be classified as an “inter-disciplinary” subject.

But on the other hand, if by the words ‘distinct discipline’ is meant a disciplined study of a particular field, with a recognizable focus of interest and body of theory, then International Relations is, and always has been a ‘distinct discipline’, a discipline that has tended to evolve with the times.

According to the Webster Online Dictionary an academic discipline is,”A branch of knowledge that is formally taught, either at the university, or via some other such method. Therefore International Relations would fall into the category of a distinct academic discipline as it has evolved into being a field of study which is formally taught in many Universities and professional institutions.”

“International Relations is a subject which began to be studied formally after World War I (1919) but since then, it has grown much both in terms of the number of...
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