International Debate

“Is international relations still ‘an American social science’?”

June 7, 2011 1284

Stephen M. Walt asks in a Foreign Policy blog-post whether the field of international relations is still dominated by scholars from North America. He broadens this to the Anglo-Saxon world, and considers the relative dearth of ‘big thinking’ on global affairs from people outside ‘the trans-Atlantic axis’. The gap may be caused by social networks, with global distribution systems dominated by English-language journals and book publishers. But he doesn’t believe that this is the whole story.

Walt offers a two-part explanation for the anomaly. The first is that major powers (Britain in the past, the US in the present) spend a lot of time thinking about global affairs, and the rest of the world inevitably pays attention to what the major powers are saying and doing. The second part of the explanation is based on the politics and sociology of the scholarly community itself. Authoritarian societies like Russia or China or Saudi Arabia are not going to be very good at social science, for the obvious reason that these governments cannot permit wide-ranging thought and debate and must constantly channel discourse in politically permissive directions. You might have first-class mathematicians or doctors or engineers in such a society, but you aren’t going to generate many (any?) world-class social scientists.”…

Read the full blog-post here.

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