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UNIT-1 What is IR and, its Contested Origins Notes

Updated: Apr 12

a. What is IR

b. Reading the Big Bangs

c. Bringing in De-colonial Accounts

d. Understanding the genealogy of IR discipline in India



International Relations (IR) is the study of how countries and organizations interact in various fields. It originated in the West, but has been dominated by Western values and theories, with little attention given to non-Western perspectives. Non-Westerners have been seen as passive subjects and students of the West, despite extensive interactions. There are ongoing debates to make IR more diverse, equal, and inclusive of non-Western perspectives.

What is IR ?

  • International Relations (IR) is a branch of Political Science that deals with the relations among nations and non-state actors.

  • IR encompasses a range of topics such as international security, foreign policy, globalization, international terrorism, the environment, and area studies.

  • Hans Morgenthau's book "Politics among Nations" characterizes IR as a struggle for power among nations.

  • Conflicts and their causes, handling, and settlement are central to the study of IR.

  • Harold and Margaret Sprout define IR as interactions among independent political communities with some element of opposition, resistance, or conflict.

  • IR focuses on how states adjust their national interests to those of other states.

  • The state system is a crucial aspect of international politics, according to Palmer and Perkins.

Scope and Nature of International Relation

  • The study of international relations (IR) has evolved over time and has a comprehensive scope today.

  • The major focus of IR is the activities of nation-states, but non-state actors like multinational companies and international NGOs are also important.

  • Power and security are central concerns in IR, and the foreign policies of major powers like the US, Russia, China, and the EU are studied.

  • The study of international political economy examines how markets and politics interact.

  • Globalization, the increasing interdependence of economies and cultures, is a key area of study in IR.

  • Environmental issues, terrorism, and international health and medicine are also important areas of study within IR.

International relations refer to the study of interactions among states, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other actors in the international system. It encompasses a wide range of issues, including global security, international law, trade, human rights, environmental policies, and diplomacy. Understanding international relations is essential to comprehend the complex nature of the international system and the challenges it poses.

1. Scope of International Relations

A. Actors in International Relations

International relations involve a diverse range of actors that participate in global politics, including states, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), multinational corporations (MNCs), and individuals. These actors have their interests, values, and perspectives, which shape their interactions in the international system.

B. Issues Addressed in International Relations

International relations address various issues that affect the global community, such as international security, economic development, human rights, environmental policies, and global governance. The field examines the causes and consequences of these issues and offers solutions to address them.

C. Types of Interactions in International Relations

International relations involve different types of interactions among states and other actors. These interactions can be cooperative or conflictual, and they can be manifested in various forms, such as diplomacy, economic relations, military alliances, and cultural exchanges.

2. Nature of International Relations

A. Anarchy in the International System

International relations take place in a system characterized by anarchy, where there is no central authority to govern states' actions. This condition creates a power vacuum that leads to competition and conflict among states seeking to secure their interests and survival.

B. Power Relations

Power is a critical element in international relations, as it determines the ability of states and other actors to influence global politics. Power can be exercised in various forms, such as military, economic, diplomatic, and cultural, and it can be used to promote cooperation or domination.

C. Interdependence

Interdependence refers to the mutual reliance of states and other actors on each other for their economic, political, and security needs. It creates a web of relationships that bind actors together and makes them vulnerable to each other's actions.

D. Cooperation and Conflict

International relations involve both cooperation and conflict. While cooperation aims to achieve shared goals, conflict arises from divergent interests, values, and perspectives among actors. Conflict can be manifested in various forms, such as wars, economic sanctions, and diplomatic tensions.

Evaluation of IR in Academic Discourse

  • International Relations (IR) is an applied and interdisciplinary discipline focused on politics at the international level.

  • IR deals with foreign policy issues, international security, international political economy (IPE), and trade and financial relations among nations.

  • The study of IR aims to examine important global issues such as terrorism, climate change, human trafficking, migration, poverty, and evolving international cooperation and conflict.

  • The background of globalization has led to the inclusion of numerous new problems within the purview of IR, such as human rights, environmental problems, and gender issues.

  • IR has been seen from various levels of analysis, including state systems, physical boundaries, and the interdependent manner of modern society.

  • The goals of IR include understanding the causes of conflicts, preserving peace on an international scale, comprehending the nature and exercise of power, and understanding the evolving nature of state and non-state actors.

  • Foreign cooperation is growing, and regional-level organizations also play a crucial role in everyone's lives.

  • IR scholars and students now place great importance on studying IR.

Level of Analysis

  • The level of analysis is a key idea in IR that helps evaluate international relations.

  • Eurocentrism perspective typically uses three levels in IR to assess foreign policy decisions.

  • Kenneth Waltz proposed three levels in his book "Man, the State, and War" to highlight the behavior patterns of states and their choices regarding war.

  • The three levels of analysis can be used to examine the causes of conflict.

  • The level of analysis explains how different levels of foreign policy instruction are understood.

1. Individual Level of Analysis

  • The individual level is the first level of analysis in IR.

  • Conflicts arise due to patterns of human nature or the personality of a specific political leader.

  • Human nature is the centre of analysis at the individual level.

  • Foreign policy instructions are primarily influenced by the political leaders of various countries.

  • The character and behavioral patterns of man are the main subject of analysis at the individual level.

  • Self-interest, impetuous misdirection, and ignorance are the causes of conflicts.

Examples of individual-level analysis:

  • An analysis of the personal beliefs, values, and decision-making styles of political leaders, such as how the personality and leadership style of President Trump influenced US foreign policy during his term in office.

  • A study of how socialization and cultural factors shape the preferences and actions of individual citizens and groups, such as how different religious beliefs and cultural norms affect attitudes towards issues like immigration and human rights.

2. State Level of Analysis

Second level of analysis in IR according to Waltz are as follows:

  • This level of analysis focuses on how a state's internal characteristics, such as its form of government, mode of production, and distribution of power, influence its foreign policy.

  • Conflicts primarily result from internal structures of states, according to Waltz, and capitalist states' pursuit of opening new markets is a significant cause of conflicts.

  • Democratic and non-democratic states may exhibit different attitudes and behaviors towards conflict and alliances.

  • The failure of internal democratic institutions and state machinery may lead to war and unstable government.

  • The US has pursued idealistic foreign policy goals, such as promoting democracy and human rights, and has intervened in various state affairs to establish these values, including in Iraq.

Examples of state-level analysis:

  • A study of how domestic political factors in the United States influenced its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

  • An analysis of how China's domestic economic policies and development strategies shape its foreign policy decisions, such as its Belt and Road Initiative.

3. System Level of Analysis

  • The global level system is examined by system-level analysis in IR.

  • The anarchic character of the international system directs the state.

  • The strength of a nation-state is the key factor at the world level.

  • The US and the Soviet were both parties to the Cold War, impacting the actions of all other nations.

  • The world is now considered unipolar, with one strong country determining the course of other countries in the international system.

  • The US, as the superpower, tries to impose order on nations that pose a danger to it.

  • The US wants to maintain its status as the best, so it will fight anyone who stands in its way.

Examples of systemic-level analysis:

  • An examination of how the global distribution of power, particularly the rise of China, affects the balance of power and security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region.

  • A study of how the globalization of the world economy, including the increasing interconnectedness of financial markets and trade flows, affects the economic policies and strategies of individual states.

Reading the Big Bangs

  • The ontology of IR begins with the Treaty of Westphalia, which brought an end to religious wars in Europe and established the territorial state as the cornerstone of the modern state system.

  • The years 1648 and 1919 can be considered "big bangs" in IR as they set a formative tone for an anarchical, sovereign state system.

  • The idea of sovereignty recognized in the peace of Westphalia represented an essential element in the creation of the modern nation-state and developed a notion that a state being sovereign recognizes no higher authority.

  • Eurocentrism in IR has established the importance of realism (Classical realism by Morgenthau) and the idea of a new anarchic set up of self-help, and security dilemmas opined by Waltz and others.

  • E.H. Carr distinguished between realism and utopianism in his book "The Twenty Years "Crisis" (1939) and employed the realism that underlies Machiavelli's works as his starting point for IR.

  • Carr insisted that history is a chain of events that can be expostulated through intellectual as well as self-serving means, politics produce praxis, not theory, and morality and ethics have no bearing on politics.

  • Power, rather than morality and ethics, is the driving factor behind international relations (IR).

1. What's the Contestation over the idea of Big Bang??

  • European formulas of peace and conflict can't be applied universally to regions like Africa, Latin America, or South Asia

  • Universal application of IR theories is not feasible

  • Westphalian concepts of sovereignty and state-centricity are contested in the framework of globalization

  • States try to respond to difficulties by redefining and honoring some laws while accommodating and upholding others

  • The interdependence of states is growing, making it more possible that a disturbance in one area will have an impact on other territorially defined areas

  • Emergence of various categories of non-state actors calls into doubt the state's authority.

2. Myth of Westphalia

  • The Treaty of Westphalia is often seen as the foundational starting point of interstate relationships based on peace in the discipline of IR.

  • It brought an end to the religious wars in Europe and established the principle of sovereignty, territory, and other issues related to international politics like trade and transport.

  • However, the universal application of theories of IR is not practically feasible as all the European formulas of peace and conflict cannot be applied universally to regions like Africa, Latin America, or South Asia.

  • The Westphalian concepts of sovereignty and state-centricity are most often contested in the framework of globalization by two groups of actors - multinational companies driven by the desire to make money and transnational actors who believe in upholding fundamental human rights.

  • The idea of Westphalian sovereignty appears to be inconsistent with the shifting context, where the focus is now on internal conflicts within states rather than fighting states.

  • The emergence of various categories of non-state actors calls into doubt the state's indisputable authority.

3. Many dimensions of IR

  • Democracy and increasing interdependence of states limit the idea of unrestricted, total sovereignty.

  • The concept of shared sovereignty has evolved through regional and international organizations such as the UN, NATO, ASEAN, WTO, and the EU.

  • Nation-states will coexist with non-sovereign entities such as MNCs/TNCs, NGOs, terrorist groups, regional and international institutions, banks, and private equity firms.

  • Sovereignty will suffer from the continuous and accelerating flow of people, ideas, greenhouse gases, products, money, viruses, and weapons within and across boundaries.

  • Sovereign governments will increasingly assess their vulnerability to the forces of globalization outside of their sovereign authority.

Bringing in De-colonial Accounts

  • There is a need for decolonial accounts of the creation of modern nation-states in IR.

  • The eurocentrism in IR is ill-equipped to handle the new challenges of post-colonial states and their global governance.

  • Universality, or plurality of the universe in IR, suggests that there can be many narratives of IR, maybe from many regions.

  • IR scholars across the globe are seeking to find out their voices and reexamining their traditions, and their specific challenges.

  • Pluralism in IR theorizing is valuable and instrumentally required to constantly engage scholars and academia to indulge in dialogue making.

  • We need to engage constantly to find out a theoretical methodology (either rational or reflexive) which can effectively produce an indigenous theory on IR.

  • The decolonial account in IR highlights the need to address the specific experiences and relationships of post-colonial states with imperial powers and the existing state setups of colonial powers.

  • The Eurocentrism in IR reflects a rigid, statist ontology that is not well-equipped to handle the challenges faced by post-colonial states and their global governance.

  • Plurality of the universe in IR is a concept that suggests there can be many narratives of IR, and that there is no grand narrative that applies universally to all nation-states.

  • IR scholars across the globe are seeking to find their voices and re-examine their traditions and specific challenges, which leads to a push for pluralism in IR theorizing.

  • Bhartiya Darshan, or the Indian worldview, is being codified and theorized in an attempt to produce an indigenous theory of IR, but this process should not be rushed, and a theoretical methodology should be established to produce an effective indigenous theory.

Understanding the genealogy of IR discipline in India

The study of International Relations (IR) as a discipline in India has a unique genealogy that can be traced back to ancient times. However, in the modern context, the emergence of IR as a separate academic discipline is often attributed to the colonial experience of India. Some key points in understanding the genealogy of IR discipline in India are:

  1. Colonialism and the emergence of Western thought: The British colonial experience in India played a crucial role in shaping the discourse on international relations. The British introduced modern education in India and this led to the study of Western thought, including the works of Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes. The colonial administrators relied heavily on the idea of the nation-state and the Westphalian system of international relations.

  2. The nationalist movement and the search for indigenous theories: The Indian nationalist movement in the early 20th century called for a revival of indigenous knowledge systems and the search for indigenous theories of IR. The nationalist leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, emphasized the need to develop an Indian perspective on international relations.

  3. The post-independence era and the institutionalization of IR: After India gained independence in 1947, the study of IR gained prominence in the universities. Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of India, was a strong advocate of a non-aligned foreign policy and this further fueled the study of IR.

  4. The Cold War and its impact: The Cold War had a significant impact on the study of IR in India. The Indian government adopted a policy of non-alignment, which meant that India did not align with either the United States or the Soviet Union. This led to a unique perspective on international relations in India, which emphasized the importance of peace, disarmament, and cooperation among nations.

  5. The globalization era and the search for alternative perspectives: The emergence of globalization and the increasing interdependence of nations have led to a renewed interest in alternative perspectives on international relations. Indian scholars are increasingly looking at traditional knowledge systems, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, to develop indigenous theories of IR.

1. Need for Indian (Indigenous/Original) IR Theory

  • Decolonization: The existing theories of IR are largely derived from the experiences and perspectives of the Western powers. They may not be adequate to explain the complex realities and unique experiences of postcolonial countries like India. Developing an indigenous theory of IR can help decolonize the discipline and give voice to non-Western perspectives.

  • Cultural Specificity: India has a rich and diverse cultural heritage that shapes its worldview and understanding of international relations. An indigenous theory of IR can take into account the cultural specificity of India and provide a more nuanced understanding of global affairs.

  • Policy Relevance: Developing an Indian IR theory can have significant policy relevance. It can inform and shape India's foreign policy, help the country navigate complex global challenges, and contribute to the development of a more just and equitable world order.

  • Intellectual Autonomy: Developing an indigenous theory of IR can also contribute to India's intellectual autonomy. It can help the country break away from a dependence on Western theories and develop its own unique approaches to understanding and engaging with the world.

  • Global Significance: India is a rising global power with a significant role to play in shaping the future of international relations. Developing an indigenous theory of IR can contribute to India's global significance and influence, and help the country become a more active and engaged participant in global affairs.

2. Role played by Civilizational value in IR

  • The incorporation of civilizational values into International Relations (IR) is gaining increasing attention in recent times, and it can provide a significant contribution to the discipline. India, with its rich and diverse cultural heritage, can contribute significantly to this endeavor.

  • The inclusion of civilizational values into IR would enable a broader perspective and provide a more nuanced approach to the study of international relations. It will move beyond the dominant western-centric view that has long characterized IR, and create space for alternative voices and viewpoints. This approach can lead to a more holistic understanding of global issues, grounded in cultural traditions and historical experiences.

  • India's civilizational values have been shaped by its ancient and diverse culture, and can contribute positively to global governance, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. Some of the values that can be incorporated into IR are non-violence, ahimsa, karma, dharma, and seva. These values have shaped the Indian society for centuries and can provide valuable insights into addressing the contemporary challenges of global politics.

  • Incorporating civilizational values into IR would also provide an opportunity to engage in a dialogue of civilizations. This approach can help to break down the barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice that often exist between different cultures and civilizations. It can lead to a more inclusive and participatory approach to global governance, where multiple voices and viewpoints are heard and considered.

  • Moreover, the incorporation of civilizational values into IR can help to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Civilizational values are grounded in practice and can provide practical solutions to global challenges. By integrating these values into the study of IR, scholars can develop more practical and effective strategies for addressing global issues.

In summary, the genealogy of IR discipline in India can be traced back to the colonial experience, the nationalist movement, and the post-independence era. The unique perspective on international relations in India is shaped by factors such as non-alignment, the search for indigenous theories, and the increasing interest in alternative perspectives in the globalization era.


  • India is seeking to find its civilizational and cultural genesis of IR.

  • Values from various sources such as Sanatana Dharma, Advaita philosophy, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Gandhism can be combined to form an indigenous IR theory.

  • Contemporary knowledge production should focus on self-development with indigenous role models and be clear, consistent, and compact theoretically.

  • The collective interest of the globe that we all share should be considered in knowledge production.

  • India's demand for creating world brotherhood (Vasudeva Kutumbakam) or one nation, one culture, and one people can be a foundational value for future IR theorization.

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Jul 05
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

amazing notes.


Jun 04
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👏 amazing


Jul 09, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

It's very helpful

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