From jihad to McWorld

International Relations Theory and the Third World - The Rise of Asia - The Politics of International Economic Relations - International Relations - Exploring Contemporary Migration - Globalisation and the Nation-State - The Age of Migration - Political Change and Underdevelopment

November 27, 1998

Just as globalisation erodes the significance of state borders and heightens awareness of the interconnectedness of our world, so too are the boundaries between academic disciplines becoming ever more porous. Academics are increasingly migratory creatures, often affording the arbitrariness of old academic domains the same scepticism as they extend to the notion of the pristine "nation-state". The texts under review here, while all falling broadly within the field of international politics, are written by academics from many different backgrounds, and they will be useful to students taking diverse modules on various degree programmes across a range of academic departments.

The most generalised introductory text, aimed squarely at first-year students of international relations (or perhaps slightly higher level politics students, seeking an entree into IR) is Michael Nicholson's International Relations: A Concise Introduction . Shorter than many such texts, Nicholson attempts to introduce students to a broad range of issues that have conventionally formed focal points of academic IR, as well as to some newer concerns. He strays considerably beyond the realist world view - an "anarchical" international stage on which state actors strut and fret - to introduce non-state actors, the international economy, the global environment and various moral issues, including terrorism and human rights. Nicholson offers a brief history of the century and includes a synoptic survey of the principal contending theoretical approaches to international relations - especially useful for new students looking for a compass with which to navigate the field.

For those already versed in international relations or social theory, Robert J. Holton's study of Globalisation and the Nation-State will offer an invigorating reappraisal of a ubiquitous contemporary trope. Holton's nicely historicised account moves away from the binarism that he sees as affecting much "globe-speak" - whereby globalisation is often understood as a homogenising process, provoking fissiparous discontents (jihad versus McWorld, in Benjamin Barber's coinage). Holton's exploration of globalisation weaves together its economic, political, technological and cultural logics, and argues for a nuanced understanding of "glocalisation" in which "global and national, universal and particular interact and are mutually interdependent and self-constituting". Rather than seeing a simple clash between global and national, Holton suggests that globalisation is resulting in complex reformulations of identity, a "revival of ethnicity" and new types of hybridity in which states are far from moribund.

One important feature of the globalised world - the growing prevalence of human migration - is explored in two rather different texts. A second edition of Stephen Castles and Mark Miller's The Age of Migration could usefully be adopted in diverse academic contexts: human geography, international politics, sociology and social anthropology. It includes an historical account of the major migratory trends before the second world war, supplemented by an up-to-date, comprehensive analysis of "new migrations". The outstanding strength of this volume is that its critique of causal explanations of migration is married to an exploration of the impact of immigration on "host" societies, focusing especially on the ensuing formation of "ethnic minorities". Distinct, and usually distanced, bodies of research on migration on the one hand, and on ethnicity and race relations on the other, are combined in such a way as to highlight their contingency.

Exploring Contemporary Migration , written by three geographers, may be less theoretically innovative but offers a lucid introduction to the field, with a number of thematic chapters (migration and employment, "life-course", employment, quality of life, social engineering, culture), all of which are well illustrated with student-friendly maps, graphs, charts and case-study boxes.

Just as Castles and Miller have significantly revised their work in the light of rapid accelerating trends, so too have Vicky Randall and Robin Theobald overhauled 1985's first edition of Political Change and Underdevelopment . The book provides a lucid and critical overview of the development of theories of development, from the crudely teleological modernisation theories of the 1950s, to more recent post-colonial, democratisation and globalisation approaches, many of which problematise the very notion of a third world. Their critique of the literature of development - or underdevelopment - is grounded in examples from diverse countries, satisfying the authors' aim of conveying "something of the nature of politics in less developed countries".

Much writing on underdevelopment has taken the individual state as the appropriate unit of analysis, marginalising what one might call the international relations of the third world. In turn, mainstream IR has generally extrapolated from the behaviour of western "great powers", failing thereby, suggests Stephanie Neuman in International Relations Theory and the Third World , to generate paradigms applicable to the third world. The discipline's map of concerns - its theoretical accounts of state behaviour and systemic models, its normative and universalising claims - have constructed a world barely recognisable to inhabitants of developing states. The contributors to her timely collection argue for their discipline to focus less on the needs and interests of the powerful. IR theory should pay more heed to empirical evidence gathered in regions that are now often of less concern to the first world than they were during the cold war. After all, superpower competition sometimes impelled the wealthy to study the poor, if for no other reason than fear that poverty might catalyse communism.

The Asia-Pacific region, conversely, has been much scrutinised of late as a possible blueprint for how third world states might evade that designation, and indeed what the first world might learn from the Asian "tigers". Frank Tipton's The Rise of Asia was written before boom turned sharply to bust. Fortunately, having concentrated on meshing the political and societal determinants of economic growth with global trends, Tipton's conclusion exhibits the cautious professional historian's disdain for reckless "futurology".

Nevertheless, the rapidity of economic change and likelihood of political transformation in Asia will call, sooner rather than later, for a second edition of what aspires to be a "standard textbook on the subject". New editions are, after all, the sine qua non of standard texts in fast-changing fields, as Joan Spero, author of The Politics of International Economic Relations knows. Now in its fifth edition, this updated version of the volume, which first appeared in 1977, is the product of Spero's fresh collaboration with Jeffrey Hart. Already a core text for students of international political economy, the new incarnation is perhaps rather short on north-south developments since the 1980s. But it provides valuable additional material on post-cold war East-West economic relations, which will ensure the volume's centrality to IPE reading lists into the millennium.

Susan Carruthers is lecturer in international relations, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

International Relations Theory and the Third World

Editor - Stephanie G. Neuman
ISBN - 0 333 731 1 and 73126 3
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £40.00 and £14.9
Pages - 244

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