International Relations from Below

David L. Blaney and Naeem Inayatullah

in The Oxford Handbook of International Relations

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199219322
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:


 International Relations from Below

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This article discusses the concept of ‘international relations from below’. ‘International relations from below’ reminds us that conventional international relations — whether structural realist, liberal institutionalist, or constructivist — treats states or groups as parts that are logically independent of the larger systems of capitalism or modernity, and that this methodological device serves political purposes. In the guise of ‘science’, ontological individualism works to deflect our attention from the co-constitution of times and places. While one hand severs holistic threads in order to present states as monadic entities, the other hand pedagogically asserts that the present of the advanced states is the model for those that lag behind. In revealing this sleight of hand, ‘international relations from below’ suggests that contemporary international relations is an expression of the Western theory of progress. It brings our attention to the relation between wholes and parts — to whether development occurs within the boundaries of states or for the system as a whole, and to the unproductive separation between economics and the analysis of capitalism, on the one side, and representational strategies and cultural analysis, on the other. In so doing, it takes advantage of its status as ‘constitutive other’ to foreground international relations' potential as that aspect of social theory that dedicates itself to studying relations of self and other. And it offers us resources for imagining the future beyond those offered by both conventional and critical ‘international relations from above’.

Keywords: international relations; states contemporary institutions; modernity; progress; social theory

Article.  5153 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations ; Comparative Politics

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