International Relations: Theory, Empire, and Power
While international politics has been a topic of discourse since at least Thucydides, international relations, as a branch of study distinct from political theory, emerged in the late 19th century—just as the European nation-state was making itself felt as the dominant political actor on the world stage. Concerned initially with questions of colonial management, the discipline shifted, with the onset of the Cold War, largely to the analyses of U.S. super-power. Two competing theoretical frameworks emerged: liberalism, which holds that states can work in coordination to maintain peace under international law; and realism, which depicts a Hobbesian world of states competing in a zero-sum quest for power and advantage. Yet, however different the two approaches may be, both tend to assume, on the U.S.’s behalf, a right to impose and maintain U.S. hegemony to the maximum feasible extent. While international relations has unquestionably produced work that’s scrupulous, generative, and original, its close connection to power and historical complicity with imperialism, colonialism, and white supremacy raise fundamental questions about not only the meaning of international relations, but also the very nature of theorizing about world politics. What kind of knowledge does international relations produce—and for whom? What does it reveal about the world, and what does it obscure? And, is it possible to rethink how we think about international politics? What does a critical “IR” look like?
In this course, a critical introduction to international relations, we will read the classics of international relations theory alongside critical accounts that challenge some of the discipline’s most enduring assumptions. We will examine, and historically contextualize, the discipline’s key concepts and theoretical frameworks: realism, liberalism, state sovereignty, hegemony, and balance of power—all the while interrogating the discipline’s fundamental premises. Finally, we will ask: how can we think about world politics without reinscribing the very power differentials that enable aggression, exploitation, and domination? Can, and should, international relation be repurposed to bring about a more equitable world? Readings will be drawn from works by Immanuel Kant, Hans Morgenthau, Rosa Luxemburg, W.E.B. Dubois, Cinthia Enloe, and Cedric Robinson, among others.
Course ScheduleSunday, 3:00-6:00pm ET
April 11 — May 02, 2021