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Historicising the International: Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy

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This paper is based on the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial-Prize Lecture given at SOAS in London, on 27 November 2009. It claims that Marxism remains built around a critique of political economy ('economics') but lacks a parallel critique of international relations (IR). IR naturalises the organisation of inter-state relations along lines comparable to the naturalisation of the capitalist economy by economics. The paper argues that the disciplinary organisation of Western academia is part of the class-discipline in society at large. It was triggered by the abstraction of economics from the field of the broader social sciences. IR, in turn, was codified in the slipstream of Woodrow Wilson's response to the Russian Revolution that followed on from the US-intervention in World-War I. The discipline was built around a founding myth of global liberalism and national self-determination. It served, among other things, to disqualify the claims of the theory of imperialism on disciplinary grounds, and its initial connections with Western hegemony, capital, and the national-security state remain in place today. Distinguishing modes of foreign relations, and specifying the occupation of space, protection, and exchange for tribal and empire/nomad foreign relations, as well as sovereign equality and global governance, on the other hand make it possible to understand the rise and continuing hegemony of the West in its own right, rather than as a superstructure of the transnationalisation of capital.

Affiliations: 1: University of Sussex


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