The Discipline of International Studies and Facts

The Discipline of International Studies and Facts

In this article, we shall examine the nature of the discipline of International Studies, noting the various nomenclatures or ways in which it has been understood. Sometimes, it has been referred to as International Relations and at other times as International Affairs or even International diplomacy.

In this article, you should be able to:

·  Explain what International Studies is

·  Distinguish between International Relations and International Studies

·  Define International Relations and its various components

·  Explain the link between International Relations and History

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Definition and Nature of International Studies

There is no major dichotomy between international studies, international affairs and international diplomacy; rather it is a matter of nomenclature. 

In most universities in the developed countries, it is either of these captions and they are usually taught in the department of Political Science or History. International Relations is however, more prevalent in the discipline of political science. This is the case in the developing countries.

The same goes for the study of International Economic Relations, though fully within the purview of the discipline of Economics, it is also taught within Political Science or History departments.

Therefore, such study areas or topics of International Law, foreign policy, international trade, international economies, commonwealth studies, regional economic integration, regional studies (Middle East), international organization/institutions, diplomacy, war and peace, or armament or disarmament are taught within various courses in History or Political Science departments.

The main difference between the two disciplines is in the methodology of study. While International Relations studies fall within the discipline of Political Science, it is usually scientific using all scientific tools (Behaviouralism) of analysis like hypotheses testing that usually leads to empirical theory building, with technical analysis verification.

Scholars in history wade through its methodology of historiography, involving themselves in a systematic amount of events without resulting into any theoretical analysis or in any other scientific analysis. This also accounts for the different but similar course content that are often designed. 

Furthermore, while the historian may take a historical study of events with little analysis, the political scientist will not just go into scientific analysis but must first go through a historical reproduction.

This is where we say that history cannot be forgotten and at times history repeats itself.

History does not repeat itself; similar events happen at different times and involve different personalities and places. International Relations is therefore, concerned with the study of the nature, conduct of, and influence upon, relations among individuals or groups operating in particular areas within a framework of the global system, and with the nature of, and the change of factors affecting the interactions among them. International relations may also refer to all forms of interaction between the members of separate societies, whether government-sponsored or not.

International relations include the analysis of foreign policies or political processes between nations, but with its interest in all facets of relations between distinct societies. It would include as well studies of international trade unions, the International Red Cross, Tourism, International Trade, Transport, communications and development of international values and ethics.

In the final analysis, as a student of international relations, you should:

1. Bear in mind that the challenge before them is the study of the international systems, events and processes as well as the behaviour and capabilities of individual “actors” or group of actors.

2. Deal with the relations among the relatively weak and underdeveloped states; relations among the super-powers; among states; and non-state actors and among the allies and prospective allies.

3. be concerned with relations between adversary states, between industrial and non-industrial, between oil producing and oil consuming, between East and West, between North and South, and among states within the same region as well as between those belong to different regions.


Why Study International Relations?

The Discipline of International Studies and Facts

These are exciting and troubling times to study global politics. The world has entered a period of dramatic and confusing change. Many of the institutions that shaped and regulated our world's political life are undergoing rapid evolution or decay, and new institutions are emerging equally quickly.

Events such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon raise concerns about the violent nature of global politics -- even while the globalization of the world's economy accelerates and international cooperation to solve emerging global problems continues to increase.

We are witnessing the sudden and still uncertain transformation of a system of international politics that originally emerged in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in response to the collapse of medieval order.

This "Westphalian system" of world politics, organized around sovereign states, evolved in the eighteenth century to cope with the rise of democracy and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to accommodate industrialization and the rise of nationalism.

Today, however, another revolution appears to be in process. Armed with greater education, with new ways of defining their identity, and with new ways of viewing their world and empowered with new tools, like computers, the internet, and cellular telephones, for analyzing and sharing ideas and data individuals are finding new ways to organize and to achieve their goals.

Many of these changes permit ordinary people to question authority and, for better or worse, to resist hierarchical institutions that attempt to control their behavior and impose order on political, economic, and social interaction.

Paralleling this institutional shift is a transformation in the global agenda and in the meaning of "security." Issues like crime, disease, human rights, economic development, and environmental protection increasingly span national borders and compete for international attention alongside more traditional issues like war and peace. And competing conceptions of identity -- along ethnic, gender, and cultural lines -- create new cleavages in global politics, vying with those based on citizenship or national identity.

Thus in today's world, three sets of fundamental questions about global politics has simultaneously been reopened.

First, questions of what "security" means and what institutions will be responsible for providing it questions that were resolved in the seventeenth century by the development of the "state" are again being debated.

Second, the central political question of the eighteenth century how to create democratic political institutions that empowers individuals and yet permits the achievement of collective purposes is back. And third, the question of "who we are" that is, the issue of identity which bedeviled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has returned with a vengeance.

Whether the twenty-first century is an age of unprecedented human achievement or a dark interregnum depends in no small measure on the answers we can construct to these questions. Ultimately, of course, this is why it is so exciting to study international relations today.

It is not simply that change is all around us. It is that we can influence, if not completely control, that change, and by doing so move the world down different, hopefully better, paths.

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Theoretical Background to the study of International Relations

International Relations, as a course, provide theoretical tools and frameworks of analysis that permit us to better understand the international system in which the countries operate and the global political setting in which we as individuals act.

Such an understanding serves two immediate functions. In the first place, it enables us to make more sense out of our Newspapers every morning, to carry out our democratic and civic obligations more wisely, and to deal more effectively with those aspects of our daily lives that are affected by world political, military, and economic events.

By the end of the semester, you should be able to understand and participate intelligently in ongoing public debates about the major issues of global politics and foreign policy. You should be able to recognize and articulate why these issues arise, how they affect your life and the lives of others around the world, what the range of possible solutions looks like, what moral dilemmas are raised by these issues, and what criteria for moral judgment might be used in attempting to evaluate or resolve these dilemmas. 

In the second place, this class acts as a foundation for upper-level courses in international relations. It does so in three ways.

First and most obviously, it provides a background for thinking about topics like international relations theory, strategies of international relations, defense policy, and the causes of war, foreign policy, and international political economy.

Second and more broadly, it exposes you to the distinctive social scientific approach to gaining knowledge - an approach shared not only by political scientists but also by economists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists.

At times we will be self-conscious about asking ourselves why we believe a particular argument or theory to be true, and about how we could go about improving our understanding of some phenomenon or pattern of behavior.

Third and most fundamentally, this class will try to inculcate habits of critical reading, reasoning, writing, and speaking.

The differences between these two approaches are by no means so sharp or as absolute as these statements would suggest. The study and practice of International Relations require a variety of methods and techniques, as well as a framework of theory and theories, most of which, if properly used, will draw upon “classical”, “scientific” and many other approaches.

Although the current emphasis is increasingly on interdisciplinary approaches, much of international relations teaching and research is still weighted heavily in favour of some more established discipline, notably history, political science, law and economics, and to an increasing extent sociology, social psychology, and cultural anthropology.

Even today many courses in the subject are hardly more than courses in political geography, human ecology, international organizations and institutions, comparative political systems, or political behaviour. 

Some critics of the “new look” in the subject complain that the most “far out” of the new courses in international relations deal almost exclusively with such esoteric approaches as general theory or quantitative methodology, often presented in statistical and mathematical terms. Supplementing the general approaches is a variety of more specific ones that give a distinctive flavour to almost every basic text in the field.

The study of international relations is not a science with which we solve the problems of international life.

At its best it is an objective and systematic approach to those problems. Students of international relations must always strive for objectivity, balance, and perspective.

They must carry on their work in the face of obstacles of prejudice, ignorance, emotionalism, and vested interest, often including their own.

Since the world is their laboratory, and since a healthy combination of realism and idealism must underlie their approach to the subject, they must beware of “simple” solutions to complex problems, and they must also shun the thesis of the “inevitability” of war, the “wave of the future” approach, and all such encouragements to disaster.

They must look with understanding on the world as it is, and at the same time keep their eyes on the world as it should be; but they must never mistake the ideal for the actual, or conclude that what “must” be will in fact occur.

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Conclusion on the Discipline of International Studies and Facts

International relations students are therefore to learn not only about the history and events within the international system and how to analyze them but also their processes and the means or mode or operation as well.

There is little difference between the use of the terms – International Affairs, International Relations, diplomatic history and diplomacy. What basically differs is the method of analysis, and the amount of emphasis placed on a particular aspect of the subject.

We have discussed the subject matter of International Affairs, its relation to international relations, history and other humanities. International Affairs is therefore, basically a broad and living subject of enquiry, and is best appreciated from a multidisciplinary perspective.

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