Why should we study International Relations today?

Two years ago, I posted this text:
“At the beginning of 2015, the world looks more confused than ever. So one would assume that we do need a lot of good specialists to bring a sense of clarity and transparency to what is happening in Global Politics. Alas, what we see is that a lot of people in most countries give up understanding the chaos, resigning in the face of too much complexity. This includes decision makers who are skeptical re. the interference of self-appointed specialists. Plus, media reporting on global affairs is about as simplistic as the reality is complicated.
So why should young people today start a career by studying International Relations/ Global Politics? What can they expect from such a degree? What can taxpayers expect from such an investment? And politicians from these experts? The postings you sent them, and the resulting debate was one of the most successful in the history of ‘Global Matters’.”

So let me repeat my question in a slightly modified form:

‘Global Politics’ both as a subject and a discipline, looks messy. There is less cooperation between governments and all kinds of actors, plus increased populism (U.S. elections, Brexit, Russia, the Philippines, referenda in the Netherlands and Italy, etc.). The world has not seen this degree of conflict with even slimmer prospects of problem solving, since after the Second World War.

Why should we, and how could we encourage young students to get into this field now?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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  1. Justas Paleckis 1 year ago

    Specialists of Global Politics are needed, especially when the world looks more confused than ever. I would like them to follow the wisdom of Seneca: “Do not rush to judge, hasten to understand”. For the twenty-first century it seems the opposite trend is gaining ground. More and more people tend to judge, blame or demand impossible when they themselves are incapable to comprehend and do not even try to understand. It can be said about everyone: beginning from the man on the street, journalists, political scientists, public figures, to parliamentarians and heads of states. It is too easy to divide into black and white or into the absolutely right ones and totally wrong ones. When at least a dozen deadly threats are hanging over our planet, specialists of Global Politics should focus, I believe, not only on the firefighting of international conflicts or how to block the arrival of populists. These threats are not only a nuclear war, not just terrorism or a terrorist with an atomic bomb in his hand. It is the destruction of nature and global warming as a result of insatiable consumption and profit craving. It is also the growing gap between the richest and the poorest people and countries, conflicts of civilizations and religions, and finally signs of dehumanization, human degradation, etc. Those threats can be realized and gradually eliminated only with the concentrated forces of mankind. But a journey of a thousand miles, as Chinese say, begins with a single step. It is an extremely important and challenging task for young people to go into this field now.

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  2. Dmitri Mitin 1 year ago

    It is unsurprising that the “post-factual” world of populist politicking, talk show punditry, and infortainment media offers limited opportunities for dispassionate expert analysis. But the recent political and media trends should not reduce the appeal of professionalized, theory-driven study of international politics. The value of such degrees is, at the very least, sticky; it may even appreciate, depending on the area of specialization. The conditions, generating demand for expertise in IR (beyond the academe), remain robust. For instance, the national security communities will continue to absorb the specialists with strong fundamentals in policy analysis. Developing such skills requires solid theoretical and methodological training. The more volatile or atypical the international developments become in the future, the greater will be the interest in the professionals, capable of making sense of the situation. Globalization is another persisting trend that creates applications for IR degrees across the national bureaucracies, but also in the local governments, NGO sector, and the corporate world

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  3. Shen Dingli 1 year ago

    With Brexit and Trump phenomena, global politics is increasingly complex. Traditional theories seem less powerful to predict and interpret such “Black Swans”. Then, what is the relevance to continue to study international relations? As I stated on January 27, 2015 here, all social science theories have been abstracted so they have ignored certain “less important” factors that would affect the outcome. Normally, such abstraction would not affect the analysis, as those secondary variables are truly less prominent. However, in reality, there is no single event in social science area that would fit perfectly to be predicted or explained by any single theory. At times secondary factors could not be ignored. For instance, when migration of labors within EU ever affects the employment of Britons inside Britain, and when visa. When the advantage of globalization has been well recognized, its disadvantage, primarily due to uneven distribution wealth within a country or system, tends to be less noticed. Then, such “less important” factors could generate Brexit and Trump phenomena.

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  1. Zoltan Eperjesi 1 year ago

    The topic is more newsworthy than ever; – of course, depending on how one looks at it. Nobody can deny that one has to deal now with relevant complexities such as system, game, decision and even time complexity; – these are only some examples. The main question is how the reduction of complexity works at present. IR can offer solid support and viable alternatives in this direction. My point is that IR offers a more comprehensive view on historical data and political ideologies too. International Relations are the outcome of historical change which means that in order to understand one, you must consider the other. It is increasingly important to not to be without feasible alternatives. This is especially true if think on the spread and quality of university education, because experts are coined in this highly sensible setting. Let’s take as example populism (left-wing, right-wing etc.) as crisis phenomena. Populism as harm movement or political program targets the common person, generally by typical contrast with another group or elites. More specifically, the main tool of populist leaders is the basic principle of foreign policy in ancient Rome: “divide et impera” (divide and rule). Populist leaders usually combine the basics of right-wing and left-wing elements by contrasting these with large political, financial or business interests but often also being antagonistically to established labor, democratic and socialist parties. Following this, the term populism can indicate both authoritarian or democratic organizations and actions. Populist movements are commonly critical of entrenched political representation or power and everything else that is able to influence the connection or communication between the people and their leaders or even the government. If one concerns the most democratic form of populism, it can be observed that this kind of movement seeks to protect the interest and to enlarge the influence of ordinary citizens, by radical reforms rather than revolutionary war. However, by taking its contemporary understanding, then populism is most frequently connected with an authoritarian form of politics. Following the notional meaning, it can be stated that populist politics rotates around a charismatic leader who claims to and appeals to represent the will of the people so as to strengthen his own status and power. If this person-centered form of politics occurs, most of the political parties have lost their weight (power erosion is in process) on the basis (electorate) and the occurred “power gap” is filled by more or less authoritarian leaders who are struggling to determinate the “right” direction of their movement. In this new context the elections mainly serve to confirm or reconfirm the leader’s authority rather than to incorporate the various allegiances of the voters. Moreover, people who are staying away from the elections also gain an importance as politically their nonparticipating attitude is calculable. In the United States the term was applied to the political program of the Populist Movement and this gave rise to the People’s or Populist Party (1892). Several of the party’s postulations were later implemented as resolutions, laws or even as constitutional amendments. Such an example is the progressive tax system. The populist demand for more “direct democracy” via referendums and popular actions also become a historical reality in several U.S. states. During the second half of the 20th century, populism came to be associated with the political program and style of Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chávez, Getúlio Vargas and Juan Perón. Ever since then, the word “populist” is most recently used as a pejorative term in order to to pass criticism on certain leaders for pandering to the public; – especially to people’s fascinations and collective fears. Depending on one’s understanding on populism, a populist economic strategy can therefore denote either a movement that searches to reallocate wealth in order to gain more popularity and legitimacy, without regard to the repercussions for the national economy such as inflation or debt; or a common platform that “patronizes“ the interest of the people and the country as a coherent unit. Some keywords in this political process are: protectionism, referenda, direct democracy by plebiscite, patriotism and various slogans (ex. xenophobic, anti-Semite, antifeminist etc.) The main focus in political rhetoric is on ambiguous or personally reinterpreted (distorted) remarks, catchwords, catchphrases and slogans in order to polarize, to divide and to create confusion. The populist strategy ever so often includes power legitimatory elements though every possible platforms (social media etc.), but the most applied principle is “divide and rule”. However, history teaches us that almost all regimes are aware of the power of this ancient intelligence. In the history of Europe one can think on terms as cultural nationalism, in the history of Latin America there is the advent of populism, not to mention fascism, where leaders praised the folk and pandered to populist anti-intellectualism. Furthermore, Nazi art criticism, for example, propagated the populist idea that the common man was the most suitable judge of art and that kind of art or literature, which did not appeal to popular taste, was condemned as decadent. This kind of contra selective thinking is very dangerous because one is just to one step to populist Nazi propaganda. The fact that Hitler was the “new man” who had “emerged from the depth of the people” is a classical evidence of extreme right-wing populist topic area. Unlike left-wing populism, fascist populism did not attribute workman’s’ severities to large landowners and to big business and did not support provisions such as protection of unions, the right to strike, progressive taxation, and higher pay for farm and industrial workers. Commonly it propagated the protection of the wealth of the upper classes, except that belonging to Jews. But even Soviet history and iconography offers several examples in populist directions. The Stakhanovite movement began during the Soviet second 5-year plan in 1935. It was a milestone that signalized a new stage of socialist competition. The movement became its name from Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov, who had mined 102 tons of coal in less than 6 hours on 31 August 1935. The mentioned amount exceeded 14 times his normal work quota (norm), but Stakhanovite followers would soon “break” his “milestone” record. One year later it was reported that Nikita Izotov had mined 640 tons of coal in a single shift (February 1, 1936). The Stakhanovite movement was led and supported by the Communist Party and very soon it was spreading over other sectors of the industry. The first All-Union Stakhanovite Conference took place at the Kremlin (November 14–17, 1935). Participants of the conference stressed the distinguished role of the Stakhanovite movement in the socialist re-construction of the national economy. The plenum of the Communist Party’s Central Committee specifically considered the aspects of transport systems and developing industry with the Stakhanovite movement in mind (December 1935). The resolution of the plenum declared: “The Stakhanovite movement means organizing labor in a new fashion, rationalizing technologic processes, correct division of labor, liberating qualified workers from secondary spadework, improving work place, providing rapid growth for labor productivity and securing significant increase of workers’ salaries”. Accordingly, the decisions of the plenum pointed out that the Soviets organized a large network of industrial training and offered particular courses for foremen of socialist labor. During the year of 1936 a number of technical and industrial conferences overworked the originally projected production capacities of different industries and suddenly increased their outputs. Simultaneously they also introduced Stakhanovite competitions within plants and factories, subdivided into periods of five days, ten days and 30 days. The directions of factories often created the Stakhanovite departments or brigades that permanently reached a higher collective output. Female Stakhanovites emerged more seldom than male ones, but some of all trade-union women were designated as “norm-breaking”. A preponderance of rural Stakhanovites was female: mostly working as fieldworkers, calf tenders or milkmaids. Those who opposed the Stakhanovite movement were labelled with the word “wrecker”. Soviet authorities propagated that the Stakhanovite movement had caused a significant increase in labor productivity. It was reported that during the first 5-year plan (1929–1932) industrial labor productivity increased by 41% and during the second 5-year plan (1933–1937) the official increase was by 82%. During World War II the Stakhanovites applied various methods to increase output, such as combining different professions and by working several machine-tools simultaneously. Stakhanovites organized the two-hundreders movement that meant 200% or more of quota in a single shift and the one-thousanders movement (1000% of the norm in a shift). The movement remained widespread after the war and also influenced the Soviet bloc countries. Simultaneously the press, literature and films propagated Stakhanov and other “model workers”, encouraging the others to imitate the heroic examples. The accomplishments of Stakhanovites served as main reasoning in support of continuously increasing high work quotas. The Stakhanovite movement was also used in the de-Stalinization era, but this time mainly in the opposite direction. As de-Stalinization sought to criticize any achievements made during Stalin’s régime: the movement was discredited as Stalinist propaganda tactic. Where workers get the best equipment and had most favorable conditions, the best results would be…

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  2. Zoltan Eperjesi 1 year ago

    achieved. Stakhanovitism was replaced after Stalin’s death (March 1953) with the brigades of socialist labor. Komsomolskaya Pravda argued (1988) that the largely publicized personal achievements of Stakhanov were lavish praise because he had used a number of helpers on support work, while the flow-rate was distributed only for him. However, according to the Soviet state media, Stakhanov’s propagandized approach had after all led to the increased industrial output by means of a more efficient organization of the work, including specialization and task sequencing. Now we are just one step from the “Soviet Man” and other notions as cult of personality and showmanship.

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  3. Zoltan Eperjesi 1 year ago

    In my former comments I was focusing on historical examples to catch the occurance of certain “popular” movements, which became strong parties and sooner or later state power was dominated by them. Examples of totalitarian regime strategies to gain control of the nation include: development of a nationalist party; targeting of specific religious or political populations; controlling reproduction of the population (either in hopes to increase or to decrease); increasing role of secret police forces; mandatory military sign up; criticism of state power is prohibited; censorship of free media and the emergence of an official media; party propaganda in media, government speeches and through education (indoctrination); rule through dissipating fear within society; employing only one ruling party; and having a dictatorship. There are certain paralelisms between the interwar period and today. Certain catchwords are: worldwide economic crisis, political and economic protectionism; the emergence of totalitarian dictatorships; and demagogy etc. The difference between authoritarian regimes and totalitarianism is important to note. While authoritarian regimes place all of the power into a single dictator or group, that power is only political. Within totalitarian regimes, the party elites are controlling nearly all aspects of the apparatus of state from economical to political to social and cultural spheres. Totalitarian regimes take control over private lives of residents, science, education, and art to the degree of paternalism based on a proper and idiosyncratic morality. The influence of the government is limitless. As we can see there is a narrow but easily exceedable boundary between authoritarian regimes and totalitarianism. The direction is given and this should be treated as an exclamation point of history. A question is arising: what is the role of history within IR? History does
    not belong to a single theoretical approach, thus, it is is not of importance just to historical
    sociologists in IR. Rather, it is one with wide-ranging ramifications for the discipline as a whole. But yet, history comes to the fore in plural modes rather than in singular form within IR. In line with this, one can state that history is, in several directions, the lowest common denominator of the multiplex paradigms within IR. Taking this approach as starting point in the discipline it becomes vital to define more precisely what one means by the role of history within IR. Given this maxim as a process, one understands that there is not only one but there are more different application possibilities of history within IR. Accordingly, the scholar’s option of a specific manner of history becomes creative of the internalized way in which one understands and approaches IR; – as much as, the other way round. Therefore, given that we are all historians now, all of us is differentiated not only by our choice of theoretical approaches, but also by our rezeption to select a particular historical method in order to catch cause-effect relationship or to give various explanations to certain events. In sum, beyond simple binaries such as “British vs. American IR” or “mainstream vs. non-mainstream
    theories” and “critical theory vs. problem-solving theory”, there is a many-faceted network of complex interactions, intermingled linkages, and item synergies, as well as certain strong differences, that interweave the various histories within IR. Disclosing the mentioned models of history in IR it delivers a heretofore shadowed organising size of the discipline. However, it is to point out that by applying such a method, this will inevitably complicate our conception of
    IR, overstepping the limitations given by antinomies of pure reason, which frequently coin the boundaries and edges of the discipline’s self-interpretation attempts. In aggregate form, consequently by discerning a more eclectic review of history witin IR makes possible to main directions: it allows for more constructive dialogue between IR scholars and facilitates the discipline to be re-invented much beyond some of its more dimming structures and binding elements. By doing this, the broadening of the mind is catched in a circle of continuous progression. Moreover, it becomes possible both to better understand and to potentially overstep some of the instant constrictions of the international faculty of imagination. The point is that all relevant historical puzzles and even universal history constructs its bigger picture from trans-regional issues where ultimately certain regional subdivisions generatet data material. Thus, it would be helpful for the future if national and local histories stay in dialog with IR and universal history in order to not to walk right into a trap of the past as sometimes the historical and mentality gaps between regions and regions were reaching critical dimensions. The two world conflagrations and the Cold War era are complex historical lessons in this direction. These arguments are clearly showing the importance of IR and history as academic disciplines. As motivation to study let me close with an old Chinese saying: “When the wind of change blows, some build walls and others build windmills.”

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    1. Sandra Miller 1 year ago

      Reality, crisis, change, identity, difference are important terms in the theories of Global Politics. Indeed, there is no better place to look through those notions than in the wide variety of International Relations theories.
      Over the last decades humanity encounters crises of different sorts. Journalists, scholars and individuals all over the world are talking about disorientation and chaos in the fields of global changes that seem to be unanswerable; what is reality? How can we influence the transformation of reality? How are we transformed by global political social and technological changes?
      The answer to these questions is perhaps a complicated task, but these questions have long history in theories of International Relations. Thus, different discourse theories of Global Politics can help to find answers to these questions. The term “Global Politics” as a replacement for “IR” seems in this context to be more appropriate, as the focus on the “inernational” may be restricting to formulate questions to the very nature of social and political tranformations.

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  4. Atieh khatibi 11 months ago

    In a world, we are facing with a lot of challenges such as application of nuclear weapons against people, suicide terrorist strikes come without warning, increasing poverty, war crime among the people across the world where the leaders do not consider others benefits and also cooperation principle and respect other states. studying international relations will provide a great opportunity for anyone to be aware of what is going across the world? what are the leader’s attitude? we are all part of international relations because of our interest in watching news, because of our participation in any elections which could makes democracy understandable for the other states, because of the resources we posses, because of our religion, culture and where we live on. the simplest way to understand international relations is understanding war and peace, cooperation and conflict, poverty and wealth. being aware of different attitudes about the topics mentioned above among different actors in different levels could consider as a result of studying international relations. also, studying international relations make a great opportunity in some extent to study about different kinds of cultures, religions,norms, attitudes of people and governmental leaders regarding to the crucial topics such as gender equality, poverty and so on. it will develop our skills to respect differences and looking for a peaceful way to resolve disputes.

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  5. SONG Yao 9 months ago

    As a student who shifted her major from Journalism to International Relations, I would like to say that Global Politics is a worth-studying major and deserves much efforts of young students to explore more. The world seems to be more confusing than ever – it is true but this situation will not last for so long. After the worst-ever World War II and the Cold War that had a long-term impact on the world, we human stepped into a peaceful time: countries varying in levels of development was embarking on their own way – for instance, The United States have tried to led a new framework and coordinated international affairs; Europe explores and improves its cooperation by the form of EU; China gradually opened its trade and goods and set up multilateral relations with others. All these efforts come along with the golden times of peace. However, since it is also a process of recovery and endeavor, any actor in global politics sometimes may take the wrong paths, and change must bring turmoils to current structure and order as well. We should accept this normal unrest and turbulence as it is temporary until the next powers to emerge as the leader to hold the order. There is no strong evidence for the moment that USA would be replaced, but more voices should be heard across the world. Potential changes require expertise in global politics to understand and give reasonable explanations for the complexity. That’s why students should get into this field now.

    But personally, students are likely to receive professional training for their own job in the future. They are encouraged by the prospect of shouldering some responsibilities to solve problems and create values. As for global politics, career paths may not sound so bright as business-related subjects. In my opinion, schools and media are welcome to provide more information on this part so that students may know that what they are studying now is worthy.

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  6. Sarah Abu-Arafeh 8 months ago

    From my experience as an Arab student of International Relations; I faced obstacles when I chose this field. I think that the stereotype is that they be-little the value of such fields of study. They would prefer more solid fields such as business, accounting, law and others; they believe that such fields promise good jobs and fine incomes in the future. As such, they miss the value of the subjects and information introduced through an IR degree. I personally believe that IR combines different topics together which enables you to comprehend the world from different perspectives and as such give birth to professionalists who can professionally deal with global current issues such as; bombing attacks, violations of human rights, inequalities and unfair distribution of resources. Also, IR provides you with the tools and information to understand the multi-cultural world that we live in and be able to find the accurate methods to deal with it, and make profit of it rather than disputes and conflicts. Henceforth, I urge countries to introduce a general view of the importance of this field in their curricula and give it more space. I believe that media should be more directed towards enlightening people about the value of having specialists of IR world wide and what beneficial results we can receive accordingly. Finally, I believe that if influential and important sides such as schools, universities, media, journalists don’t excel in every field to encourage people to study IR, people will keep asking for a change that they do not truly understand which will not change the reality to a better reality; but rather we will face more bitter reality.

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  7. Hadeel Jafar 8 months ago

    In my opinion, many people who turn to study International Relations are the ones who are affected politically, or who have been suppressed by a political party or even a government. Therefore, an unstable political situation serves best as a motivation for others to inter the field of International Relations.
    Nonetheless, in order to encourage young people to study this field, they have to be open to their country’s political situation in the international arena in their early years . In my opinion, parents have a great role in teaching their children the different fields of life, and the field of politics is one of them. Additionally, media has a significant role in putting light on important political events to which people will turn to examine and search. In other words, it encourages young people to interact with what is going on in politics.
    Once these young people are encouraged to study International Relations, they would want to know, out of curiosity, how allies and enemies are formed, and what are the political incentives that push countries to attack one another. Moving forward, I think that a stressed international situation needs an intervention by diplomatic people who have the proper political background to make significant political decisions since global politics is always changeable, which raises many questions and the curiosities of the student as well. Consequently, by entering IR field, students would be able to deepen their knowledge in this field, and to increase their activities in political institutions in attempt to understand further the complexities of the political arena .
    Thus, from my personal experience where my major field is International Relations, I think that one who has stressed political background like I am, is motivated by the oppression has been made by an occupation for example, or by a political party or even by a government. In addition, parents construct a major role in encouraging young people to study IR and to widen their children’s horizons to think not only about their country’s situation but also to think globally. Furthermore, studying IR may increase one’s capacity to activate his political sense in a way to benefit the global arena and to be efficient and effective in political decision-making, because any change in the international globe requires a change in person’s mentality. It is known that peoples’ mentalities differ from each other, as long as there is a number of different political mentalities, the more the political situation changes and becomes more efficient.

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  8. Hanadi Khateeb 8 months ago

    As long as the world is moving forward, the political situation always in change so every country needs to interact with other countries and the international relations are an important part of this interaction. While this field allows you to understand the politics of each country and have stronger strategic relations. To add on this field keeps improving day after day so its a good field to study although it might take you to a higher level.

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  9. Rakan Naber 8 months ago

    In the recent situations of the world , every country needs to examine the role of states and the international alliances with other countries, and it is indispensable for understanding how the world changes.
    We are in times of hunger, terrorism and economic turmoil, and international relations are the communication key between governments and politics which are the most powerful forces operating on people, communities and societies who are directly facing the global change of the world.

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  10. Pannharath Chhiv 2 months ago

    Two of the common reasons why we should learn International Relations is International Relations can let people gain a logical and rational insight of what happened between state and state. To see why one state act aggressively toward the issue meanwhile another state settles the dispute peacefully toward the same case of issue. People can also see the motive behind state actors why some certain states support disputes that are disadvantaging the prestige of their countries and why some state actors decide to attack other states when they, geologically, aren’t affect to their states’ condition. We also can understand state’s behavior by apply the IR theories and ideologies into the disputes. For instance, liberalists can’t explain what were the rise of WWII and why WWII happened in the first place, however, realists can explain this war logically and rationally. In contrast, liberalist can explain the collective security movement during the end of WWI and WWII whereas realists can’t. As result, International Relations helps people to understand and extend of their perspectives to all dimension of the world’s issues.
    Secondly, International Relations affect individual’s living condition indirectly via various of factors. Generally speaking, although it might seem like international relational only directly affect interaction between states, its influence simply affects to individual via states because the changing of states’ condition will make a change in individual. For example, in 2008, there was an economic crisis of USA and since USA is superpower country, it economically affected any countries that has relation with US in term of trade and economic benefit. Many developing states encountered limited of aids and investments since US has financial difficulties. This factor will decrease the financial flow of developing states and any individual will face inflation or unemployment within their own states since their foreign aids and investors has been cutting off. In this certain condition, if people don’t understand or awareness of world’s events, they might encounter some difficulties whereas people who understand the condition are more likely prepare for the consequence of the world’s situation. In conclusion, international relations do affect indirectly toward individual, if one state has difficulties, its affect will influence other interacting states and their citizens as well.

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