Introduction to International Relations

This article is a brief introduction to the Study of International Relations from my own perspective. As with all politics its open to opinion and subjection.

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So you’ve decided to study International Relations, or some form of International Politics. Differing to straight politics, IR is an in depth study that is more relevant than ever to our world here in 2018. Looking at origins of war, maintenance of peace, exercise and balance of power and the ever-changing characteristics of nation states when it comes to direction and decision making. This all seems well and mighty interesting but if you’re like me, you may be thinking; Well. Where do I even start?

When we approach the topic of international relations, we do so with a view to making it more intelligible. We ask such questions as: Who are the key actors? What explains their behaviour? Why this world, and not another? In order to begin to answer these questions and the many more that tend to emerge, we must view International Relations like any other academic study and approach it as thus. For this, a great understanding of the following is necessary:

  • The scope of the subject
  • How it relates to other subjects and disciplines in the same area
  • The principle concepts used (In this case theories)
  • Appropriate methods to apply to studying

Usually, the study of IR focuses on the concept and methodology part rather than an overview of scope. This can lead to a spiral, into narrow-minded political convention, which is why an emphasis is needed on the R; Relations.

How do we begin to approach IR? Some look at IR in the sense that we are placed within an empirical realm, looking at the world “out there.” A common mistake is to assume that to understand the world, one must observe the world in all its manifestations. However, if this was true, the creation of theories and hypothesis would be based on the observation of day to day, rather than the creation and use of concepts and applying them to the real world.

Some of the many concepts that you should begin your IR journey with are:

Balance of Power
Anarchy
Liberalism and Neo-Liberalism
Marxism and Critical Theory
Feminism and Gender
Post-Modernism
Realism and Neo-Realism
Social Constructivism

Just to name a few, and within these topics there are more branches to other theories, comparisons to other aspects of the political and philosophical.

Of course there are many ways to begin analysing the theories, and the general consensus seems to say that ideally, the approach to IR is that of a science, using a theory/theories to observe behaviours to compare and contrast. With each theory comes a certain method of analysis. For example with Karl Marx, we would begin with the examination of the economy, whereas Hobbes would regard the political system prior to the allowance economic relations. In this sense we can use the analysis of war as a prime example. The focus is not necessarily placed on all those individuals apparently all too willing to kill others, suggesting instead an evil or aggressive nature. Nor is the emphasis placement on the structure that compels the individual behaviour.

And after you have the basic understanding and knowledge, you can begin to understand the goings on in the world from refreshingly new and sometimes mind altering perspectives. From here you ought be well equipped to begin your exploration of the weird and wonderful within the topic of International Relations.

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