Analyse the key features of the study of International Relations. How does the subject differ from other academic disciplines?

Authors Avatar by liesleichholz (student)

16 APRIL 2012

TO:                HANNAH GRAY

FROM:        LIESL EICHHOLZ – 5530503

RE:                POLS104 ESSAY QUESTION ONE

NOTE:           When capitalised, International Relations refers to the study itself.

                      Otherwise, it refers to international relations in a real life situation.

Analyse the key features of the study of International Relations. How does the subject differ from other academic disciplines?

The study of International Relations (IR) can be broken down into a number of significantly different features, the key ones often noted as being realism, idealism, liberalism, constructivism and gender. International Relations, as a subject, differs from other academic disciplines in many ways, such as its relative youth, meta-theoretical approach and specific nature.

Realism is a key feature of the study of IR and possesses a set of very particular views. The theory of realism promotes a constant state of antagonism and anarchy, where “politics is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature.” It is an “old and well-established theory” in the field of IR, and has “emerged gradually” due to the diverse work of analysts of the theory. It is generally agreed by scholars that realism’s “primary assumptions have been expressed in earlier writings” than post-WWII, when it became formally recognised. A key example of early realism is Otto von Bismarck’s term “balance of power”.  This meant avoiding arms races using political practitioners to keep the peace. In its more recent post-WWII form, an example of realism in International Relations is North Korea following the collapse of the Soviet Union, who began to create their own nuclear programme in the absence of communist allies. This, and other similar ideology, uses the theory of realism to maintain the constant security and power of the state, even in a state of antagonism and anarchy.

As a feature of the study of IR, idealism promotes peace as the most effective form of relations. The theory “holds that a state should make its internal political philosophy the goal of its foreign policy.” For example, an idealist belief would be that conservation in local forests should be expanded to include conservation abroad. This results in a mutual gain from international co-operation, and creates a peaceful atmosphere, rather than the destructive element of war. Idealism promotes progress, and states that past international relations are “capable of being transformed into a fundamentally more peaceful and just world order” and can be learned from, rather than regretted. Accompanying this ideology is the compulsion to “overcome the ignorance, the prejudices, the ill-will, and the sinister interests” standing in the way of successful international relations. Many attempts (and some successes) at this can be seen in relations throughout history, emphasising idealism as a key feature of International Relations.

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Liberalism, as a feature of the study of IR, is similar to idealism, in that it addresses the “problems of achieving lasting peace and co-operation” in International Relations. In order to address these problems, the theory looks for methods to contribute to the achievement of lasting peace. A key way of succeeding in this goal of liberalism is by formulating and utilizing a variation of peace theories, which provide a guideline for achieving peace in different areas of the world, both geographically and politically. For example, the ‘democratic peace theory’ states that “democracies do not go to war with one another.” The ...

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