Non-British need read no further

The British Journal of Politics and International Relations
October 6, 2000

The British Journal of Politics and International Relations is a new journal established under the auspices of the Political Studies Association and edited by David Marsh and associates in the department of political science and international studies at the University of Birmingham, the winners of the editorial sweepstake held by the PSA.

The winning entry appears as a kind of inaugural lecture, "Studying British politics", in the first issue. Its tone is assertive, and it contains a number of curious formulations. The BJPIR , the editors note, takes its place alongside Political Studies and Politics in the PSA stable. "However, it will have a strong identity of its own. It is not intended to be Political Studies 2 . Rather, the aim of the BJPIR is to deepen and broaden our understanding of British politics... As such, this is not purely a journal covering British government; rather, the journal intends to examine all aspects of 'Britishness' in its many political guises."

If deepening and broadening imply a certain ecumenism, evidently this should not be taken too far. "The BJPIR will review the contribution that British and European researchers have made, and are making, to the development of political science. Our intention here is clear. Political science and international relations is dominated by the American profession. A rough calculation suggests that about 85 per cent of practising political scientists are working in the United States, so this suggests that the vast majority of the good work in political science, and by extension the vast majority of the bad work, is done by Americans. Our contention is that there is a great deal of good work done in Britain and Europe which needs to be acknowledged, but which can be neglected by the dominant American profession."

The British Journal of Politics and International Relations is, it seems, a very British journal - whatever one makes of that vexatious "Britain and Europe" - written by the British for the British about the British.

There are nods and winks towards something a little less insular. The editors are free-thinkers, they say, hot for epistemology and methodology, and fierce comparativists. Some of their observations on transnational transgression appear calculated to invite textual subversion. British political theory, they remark, "has... become increasingly alive to continental ideas and trends usually associated with postmodernism; in the process often disputing the legitimacy of the prevailing liberal paradigm". For all that, they are welcoming, and only slightly condescending, to "these areas of philosophical cross-fertilisation".

What is more, they make a strong claim for international relations as integral to their conception of the journal. "The title is very deliberately chosen: IR is included not only because IR scholarship has a full place in the journal but also because that place represents the editors' desire to view British politics in its rightful context, which is broad-ranging." Their conception of IR, however, is strictly defined. It is egregiously Anglocentric. "The editors seek to publish material which reflects upon the nature of British relations with the non-British and on the contribution of IR scholarship in the UK." Those non-British. As fine a class of unpersons as one could possibly wish to... avoid.

In its execution, the BJPIR gives strong evidence of editorial diligence. With admirable transparency, the dates of submission and acceptance are indicated for every article: the interval varies from two to 12 months, with publication after a roughly similar period. The usual format is three or four long articles and one or two shorter review articles, with a regular "state of the discipline" survey. Exceptionally, there is room for a "controversy" (responses and replies to a previous article) or even an obituary - here a tribute to Jim Bulpitt by David Marsh, concluding, with splendid incaution for a journal editor: "Jim is one of the few academics of whom I can say with no reservations: I wish he had written more."

Applying this astringent judgement to the contributions thus far, of how many could the same be said? Few enough. Most of the articles fail to catch fire, even the controversy over the utility of "evolutionary theory" in explaining policy change - in this instance in local government finance - which would be better described as a dialogue of the deaf.

The surveys are juicier, especially Mark Bevir and Rod Rhodes on government, and Helen Wallace on Europe, who notes tartly that "comparative politics is not always as richly comparative as one might wish. Too few British political scientists have direct access to the companion literatures on other European countries in other European languages and thus remain heavily dependent on what comes from those other countries into English." Caveat editor.

The reviews are variable, but they include a devastating analysis of politics textbooks by Martin J. Smith, and a trenchant commentary on some recent work in international political theory by Chris Brown. Brown calls the journalist Philip Gourevitch's "stories from Rwanda", We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families (1998), "a book for our time, one that ought to be read not just by scholars of international relations but by all concerned citizens. The moral seriousness of this book poses a question for scholars of normative international theory - do we actually have more to offer?" - a question unanswered by the BJPIR , where not one single article on international relations has appeared.

Editorial protestation notwithstanding, it is hard to see what the BJPIR is for. Its recipe is peculiar, and its flavour is lost in the bouillabaisse of international publishing. But its alter ego is another matter. Non- BJPIR , anyone?

Alex Danchev is professor of international relations, Keele University.

The British Journal of Politics and International Relations: 3 times a year - www.blackwellpublishers.co.uk/static/online

Editor - David Marsh
ISBN - ISSN 1369 1481
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £108.00 (instits); £37.00 (indivs)

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