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History, Race and Empire in the Study of International Relations


Preliminary course description

The study of International Relations (IR) is currently witnessing a ‘historical turn’. Historians of the discipline are increasingly pointing to its racial and colonial origins. If the ‘I’ in IR was actually Imperial, not International, as this scholarship suggests, how does it affect our understanding of the discipline and the world it attempts to interpret?

Informed by these debates, this course will offer a critical reading of the disciplinary history of International Relations (IR). It will engage with questions of science, race and empire in the study of IR and scrutinize the development of the field of IR as a social science discipline.

In the first part of the course, we will look at the conventional history of the discipline through some canonical texts. We will also discuss the ideas of science in the discipline and examine how the ‘Great Debates’ narrative has shaped not only IR’s understanding of self, but also its understanding of the wider world. The second part of the course will focus on the two major silences of IR history: Race and Empire. We will investigate how central the questions of race and empire have been to IR’s imagination of itself and why they remain understudied. In the final part, we will engage with the scholarship on decolonizing IR and ask whether the new ‘revelations’ about IR’s history might draw the discipline into another direction.

Overall, this course will help students to reflect on the practices of IR as a discipline, debate its various silences, and think through its conceptual catalogue with a critical eye.