(by Eleonora Tafuro)
Does the discipline of International Relations (IR) truly reflect the global society we live in today? Stanley Hoffmann famously described IR as an “American social science.” Is that still the case, or can we speak of a “global” IR today? If so, how can we study it?
The goals of the PRIMO workshop “How to study Global IR”, held at the University of Oxford from 11 to 15 May 2015, were twofold. On the one hand, it aimed at answering these questions about global IR, through a scholarly discussion that involved experts and both the PRIMO and Oxford students. On the other hand, it provided the PRIMO students with an intensive training on interview techniques and fieldwork research, specifically tailored for regional power studies.
During the first part of the workshop, the discussion focussed on the relatively recent and theoretically exciting Global IR movement, giving an account of new vision(s) of global order and of ‘non-western’ views, values and understandings. Professor Amitav Acharya from the American University opened the workshop with a keynote speech tackling such topics as the end of the US world order and the emerging multiplex world order, and with a session on the global study of IR. In his opinion, we cannot define Global IR as a theory, but an attempt to broaden the horizons of IR in order to make it more inclusive.
Global history, area studies and the comparative study of political thought are particularly relevant to the study of Global IR. The following sessions dealt with these issues. In particular, the session “Global IR: History and Area Studies” brought together Professor Louise Fawcett (University of Oxford) and Professor Karoline Postel-Vinay (Sciences Po) to discuss the intersections between History and Area Studies, advocating for the inclusion of a global historical approach when studying IR. In the session “The Global Study of Political Ideas”, Dr Rahul Rao (SOAS, University of London) offered an in-depth analysis of cosmopolitanism and some methodological perspectives that can apply to the study of other schools of political thought. In the session “Re-thinking the Research Agenda for East Asian IR”, Professor Rosemary Foot (University of Oxford) argued that neither the idea of “polarity” nor the notion of “balance” fit the study of East Asian IR, and sketched a hybrid theoretical model where the study of trade and social networks and coalitions play a crucial role. The roundtable “Can the Study of IR be De-centred?” engaged the speakers Professor Kalypso Nicolaidis (University of Oxford), Dr Basak Kale (Middle East Technical University) and Dr Nora Fisher Onar (University of Oxford) and the broad audience, in a lively discussion on the enrooted Western-centric character of IR, its assumed historical narratives and its allegedly universal theoretical categories, suggesting some theoretical approaches such as Feminism or Cosmopolitanism to de-westernise IR.
The second part of the workshop centred on methodological training. Professor Yuen Foong Khong (University of Oxford) shared his experience on doing foreign policy analysis and process tracing using archival and interview data, while Dr Nicola Horsburgh (University of Oxford) tackled archival research, focusing on her experience in China and the US. Professor Leigh Payne and Professor Andrew Hurrell (University of Oxford) offered two training sessions on doing fieldwork and designing and carrying out interviews, especially in unsafe or politically sensitive environments. Dr Beverley Loke (University of Oxford) focused on a practical matter, that is, research ethics and the process of applying for ethical review, which is due in many universities. Giving the relevance of the links between identity and foreign policy making, two sessions were dedicated to this topic. Dr Faiz Sheikh (University of Hamburg) and Dr Kate Sullivan (University of Oxford) dealt with respectively the ideas of an authentic Islam and identity claims in Indian foreign policy.
This workshop tackled a crucial and timely topic; the fact that the 2015 theme of the International Studies Organization (ISA) Annual Convention, held in New Orleans from 18-21 February 2015, was “Global IR and Regional Worlds – A New Agenda for International Studies”, speaks to the interest of the scholarly community in the future of non-Western IR scholarship. The training offered to the PRIMO fellows, who engaged fully in the debates and served as discussants during some of the sessions, was particularly useful because of the relevance of interviews and fieldwork to their research projects, as well as for the networking opportunities that the Oxford environment offered to them.