The birth of the field of international relations has its roots in specific political and social conditions. It is a well-grounded argument that the discipline is a Western enterprise. The field’s historical evolution and intellectual development are strictly attached to the tradition followed by the Westphalian treaty.  The arguments drawn to understand international politics, termed mainstream IR theories, are “simply abstractions of Western history”, explained by the famous scholar Barry Buzan.

Non-western societies, traditions, and philosophies have little or no space in the process of theorization, on which the building of IR is constructed.

Theory development and its ingredients consist of an environment that is yet alien to non-Western societies. Kees Van der Pijl, in his famous thesis on the origin and development of the field, calls the “mainstream International Relations as a set of theories that translate western supremacy into intellectual hegemony”.

Throughout his work, he explains the capitalistic and imperial forces that funded mainstream scholars to produce academic data to serve their hegemonic interests. Furthermore, the discipline was founded on the legal culture of the English philosopher John Locke, who called it the ‘Lockean Heartland’.

“The heartland is, therefore, best understood not as some massive central island but as a networked social and geo-economic structure comprising several (originally English speaking) states and regulatory infrastructure”, he wrote.

This is not the case in the discipline of international relations which has caught the attention of scholars. However, the approach toward social sciences and its epistemological groundings generally indicates the dominance of Western-style modernity. Around the globe, the domination of English-speaking thought in academia, argues Kees Van “remains locked into the antinomy between (materialist) empiricism and (religious-idealist) moral judgment.”

It is necessary to unravel the inadequacies and shortcomings of Western-centric IR before calling for a non-Western IR theory. Firstly, the Western-led IR theory lacks the capacity to accommodate third-world issues. It could be argued that academically produced literature is dominated by Western theoreticians with the yardstick of realism and liberalism.

These paradigms, oversimplify the complications of the global South and hastily equate the West and non-West. This practice of equating problems leaves no room for indigenous ideas and the historical experiences and cultural values of non-Western people are neglected, decisively.

Secondly, the Eurocentric view of IR provides an ample edge for academicians and practitioners to apply problem-solving theories (realism & liberalism), which are the products of particular social and historical backgrounds. Critical theories are no exception, as they cannot identify, in non-Western societies, to whom they will emancipate the population, the ‘elite’ or the ‘Western hegemony’.

The literature on IR is crowded with developmental phases of European states but the colonial experiences and institutions, which led to destruction, are nowhere to be found.

Finally, the Western-led IR theory gave rise to binary oppositions of ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’, ‘us’ VS ‘them’, ‘west’ and ‘the rest’, and ‘free’ and ‘chained’. These binaries are used as a propaganda tool to address the issues of global politics.

Evidently, the constructivist theory unfolds the ideational factors, but it also has similar epistemological underpinnings and neglects the issues of race and pre-Westphalian civilizations in Asia and Africa. As the renowned scholar Fukuyama argued in his End of History, the West has reached the epitome of mankind. Now, the rest of the world has to follow in the footsteps of democracy and a free-market economy to accomplish what the ‘West’ has accomplished.

Considering the shortcomings of Western-centric IR, numerous well-known scholars have contributed to developing a set of intellectual bases to accommodate what has gone missing. And correct the wrongs and non-conforming attitudes of IR theory.

In 2007, an edited volume was written by Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan named “Why there is no non-Western IR Theory?”, in which they tried to “focus on Asia” for the benefit of both the “Asian Scholars” and further a “balanced IR discipline”. This volume identified the Western bias in theory and proposed solutions welcomed by academia and paved the way for constructing a non-Western paradigm.

Their main arguments were:

  1. Decoupling IR from its Western social and political history.
  2. Applying the “Coxian Injunction” of theory is always for someone and some purpose, for all theories.
  3. Mobilize the non-West for their own political and philosophical resources.
  4. Develop “national schools of IR”.
  5. Making IR global thus “Global IR”.

After this step by Acharya and Buzan, there has been a notable development in this direction, and scholars from other parts of the world, specifically, Asia have initiated publications on the non-Western approach.

It could be surely said that the topic has caught the attention of American and European IR. However, the subject is still contaminated by Western bias. Although the American hegemony is in gradual decline it still dominates in material power and its academic parochialism is crystal clear.

A survey conducted by the Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) in 2014 found that most of its respondents believe that IR is Western-dominated. An overwhelming majority (75%) agreed or strongly agreed that IR is a Western-dominated discipline. In 2017, 24.41% said that they find constructivism and 18.12% said they find realism, as the best approach to study IR. The efforts toward building a global IR require the entanglement of history and theory. Theories are “living archives of events and experiences”, thus the theory couldn’t be separated from the history it contains.

Theories are developed in a particular space and time and must be reassessed and recrafted when encountering new histories.

Therefore, the primary objective for developing non-Western IR theory is not to replace Western history but to include non-West’s historical, social, and political dimensions and then to develop “Global IR” on world history rather than the West.

In the words of Acharya, “Perhaps the best that can be said is that whether it is recognized in the US or not, the global challenge to the epistemologically narrow and self-referential American way in IR is getting stronger.”

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