International relations ignores South, says scholar

The academic field of international relations ignores the Global South and is limited by its reliance on the English language, a South African humanities scholar has argued.

March 17, 2013

The academic field of international relations ignores the Global South and is limited by its reliance on the English language, a South African humanities scholar has argued.

Peter Vale, professor of humanities at the University of Johannesburg, made the argument in a memorial lecture at Aberystwyth University on 14 March.

The discipline does not see the world outside of Europe and the United States as “having an independent role or agency in the [global] system”, he explained to Times Higher Education after the lecture, which commemorated the historian and international relations scholar Edward Carr, who once held a professorship at Aberystwyth.

The subject of international relations developed within what Professor Vale called the “knowledge courts” of the Global North, and so “its universe was Europe and the US,” he argued.

It is “totally preoccupied with the European state system. Everything else is seen as peripheral,” he said.

However, with the rapid economic growth of the so-called Bric nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) this might be changing, he continued.

Professor Vale also argued that international relations, as a subject, was mainly conducted in English, but this meant it could be missing out on different sets of assumptions about the world that were embedded in other languages.

“English is a terribly hierarchical language. I think English…is increasingly a technical language,” he said, and as a result the discipline had itself become technical, which “turns international relations into a series of contractual relationships between people.”

The lecture is set to be published in the journal International Relations later in the year, Professor Vale said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Seems to be fairly banal to me. International relations is primarily about power. As the good professor himself notes, as others i.e. the BRICS get more power, the subject is / will change. Moreover, IR is full of scholarship on non-western states, the role of the 3rd world, developing powers like China and so on. If the good professor decides to glance at an IR journal, he'll also see endless 'theoretical' articles our need remain aware of the 'other'. The entire european IR project is based on a critique of 'dominant' US ways of doing IR and more broadly American power. Indeed, the good professor need only read the scholarship coming out of Aberystwyth itself. Seems to be-as usual- a fairly cheap shot, based on the usual 'the west is evil, we are bad, let's whip ourselves' liberal trope.

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