On July 12th, College of International Relations hosted the special lecture of visiting professor Amitav Acharya in its 30th anniversary events.
At the beginning, Professor Adachi introduced Professor Amitav Acharya as a distinguished professor of International Relations, the UNECSO Chair in Transnational Challenges and Governance at the School of International Service of American University in Washington, DC and the Chair of the ASEAN Studies Initiative. He served as a President of the International Studies Association (ISA) in 2014-2015 and has been a visiting Professor at Ritsumeikan University for several years. Professor Adachi said that Professor Acharya’s ideas of global International Relations resonated with Ritsumeikan University so much that a joint degree program on global IR was launched with American University. Professor Adachi also mentioned that the title of today’s presentation is also a tentative title of Amitav Acharya’s upcoming book.
Professor Acharya thanked Professor Adachi for his kind introduction and everyone for their warm welcome. He started his presentation by explaining his views on the evolution of International Relations as a discipline. From a global perspective, this evolution can be divided into four main stages. The first may be called “creationism” and starts in the inter-war period. It is characterized by a normative concern about the world war and preventing it from happening again. The second stage is “Americanization” of IR taking place from 1945 to 1989. American dominance in the discipline was so prevailing at that time that Stanley Hoffman even calls IR “American social science” (1977). The period from 1989 (the end of Cold War) to 2008 (global financial crisis) is characterized by pluralization of theoretical approaches. Finally, current period is called “globalization” and is characterized by liberal hegemony and “third founding of the discipline”: while IR is still dominated by American and other Western ideas, there is a growing dissatisfaction and attempts to create a more globalized narrative.
Professor Achariya then proceeded to describe the four stages in detail starting with the so-called “creationism” stage (1919-1939). The term itself is derived from theology and philosophy where it related to the debate between creationists who believe in the creation of the world by God out of nothing and evolutionists who think that the world evolved from multiple factors interacting with each other. Another alternative to creationism: Aristotle’s doctrine of the “Eternity of the World” that was preserved and propagated thanks to Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd who wrote commentaries to the Greek classical philosopher’s work. The doctrine of the “Eternity of the World” is opposed to the “big bang” or one-moment creation. Similarly, IR as a discipline is thought to have derived from multiple sources including Alfred Zimmern’s idealism, E.H. Carr’s realism and resulting “first debate” between the idealists and the realists but also IR thinking and practices from outside Europe such as anti-imperialism from Asia and Africa, Asian regionalism, Pan-Arabism from the Middle East, Pan-Americanism from Latin America etc. Thus, Professor Achariya challenges the traditional “myth of creation” of IR as a discipline at University of Wales-Aberystwyth in 1919 with the creation of Woodrow Wilson Chair in International Politics. One of the reasons why we cannot accept this narrative is that it largely neglects imperialism and racism, issues of major concern to the majority of the world population that was under colonial or semi-colonial rule at that time.
According to Achariya, the second stage of IR development covers the period from 1945 to 1989. After World War II, IR theories have to respond to new important phenomena such as the Cold War, nuclear weapons, European integration, and later energy crisis. Realists point out that the newly founded UN is paralysed by constant disagreement between the US and Soviet Union while liberalists suggest regional integration and interdependency theory as a solution. The second debate between liberalism and realism occurs, this time of more epistemological rather than ideological nature. Arguing over the use of methodology: classical (historical, interpretation) vs. scientific (behaviourist) methods, they eventually reach consensus on anarchy. This central concept for realism is finally accepted by neoliberalism, with the proviso that anarchy can be mitigated by institutions and their monitoring mechanisms. Another consensus between neoliberalism and neorealism is reached upon the concept of rational choice; as a result, IR field starts following the logic of economics rather than philosophy and becomes narrower. This “neo-neo” synthesis is challenged by emerging critical theories (poststructuralism and feminism) and theories from the periphery (dependency theory and postcolonialism).
The third stage of pluralization of IR (1989-2008) occurs in the context of the end of the Cold War and shift of the global power balance as well as ethnic conflicts and emerging powers (China and India). The idea of containment of communism as no longer relevant gives way to the spread of democracy as the latter is assumed to be better for the world peace. This leads to creation of liberal peace theory (Doyle; Russett), offensive realism vs. defensive realism debate, and rise of other theories, among which constructivism concerned with norms and identity becomes the preferred approach for many IR researchers. Other theories include postmodern tradition focusing on language and deconstruction of existing narratives, neo-Marxist and Gramscian approaches discussing issues of hegemony and production, English school concerned with expansion of European rules and institutions, feminism criticising conventional IR for being a largely masculine project, and postcolonialism investigating issues of race, gender and marginality of postcolonial agency.
Finally, the current stage defined by Professor Achariya as ongoing from 2008 is characterized by globalization and major move from the Eurocentric to Global IR. While some scholars develop the theory of liberal hegemony, end of the paradigms and thus the end of theory, others are concerned with the absence of non-Western IR theory. Hypothesis why non-Western IR is absent include: 1) hegemony and continuing dominance of American IR which may marginalize other approaches, 2) lack of visibility, 3) lack of resources for non-Western scholars to develop and publish their work. Possible solutions for bringing non-Western world into IR may involve creative use of non-Western classical ideas, possibly blended with Western knowledge, developing nationalist thinking, Global South scholarship and regional dynamics. According to Achariya, the key trends in the global IR currently include: 1) pluralistic universalism embracing diversity and at the same time seeking common ground, 2) grounding in global history, 3) theoretical and methodological pluralism making global IR distinctly different from post-colonialism that draws only from their local context, 4) combining IR and area studies: insights from the area and knowledge of a particular country, 5) highlighting regional and global dynamics and 6) recognition of multiple forms of non-Western agency. Professor Achariya emphasized that agency is not material nor limited to action; agency can mean creating a context for action locally and exporting it globally. He stressed that many parts of the world that are poor materially are rich ideationally, and ideas can come from everywhere.
The presentation was followed by a Q&A session during which participants asked questions about Buddhist nationalism and its place in the narrative of the global IR, clashes between international and local perspective in the case of ethnic conflicts in Rakhine State in Myanmar, ways to escape binary or categorization explanations in IR, differences between Asian and African IR traditions in their ways to relate and reflect theoretically on their historical slavery.
First, Professor Acharya explained that while Buddhist thinking is a part of the global IR and has an advantage of bringing the common in people very peacefully, we should bear in mind that Buddhist nationalism is a politicization of religion rather than Buddhist thinking per se.
Regarding the contestation between international and local, Professor Achariya stressed that it is a matter of domestic politics that prevents the mutual understanding between the local and the international side. Global IR approach can be helpful here as it seeks understanding social phenomena before attempting to explain them like rational IR theory and attempts to do so in a broader range of reality than a particular geographical or historical context. Seeing a broader reality can also be a solution to avoid a binary approach in IR.
While slavery existed in most societies in different forms and for different purposed and certain forms exist until today, it is also true that African slavery was most brutal, massive and had tremendous impact on the rise of the West, underdevelopment of the African continent and ongoing racial discrimination. Therefore, it is not surprising that Pan-African thinkers – not limited to Africa but also including the US, the Caribbean and other regions – place so much emphasis on slavery and race.
Professor Acharya provided the listeners with further readings on the topic and his social media handles to continue the discussion and reflection on the global IR. The audience thanked the speaker with a warm applause.