Global IR and Regional Worlds. Beyond Sahibs and Munshis: A New Agenda for International Studies

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The transformations at play in the contemporary international system are not merely political, they also have echoes in academic debates. Indeed the challenge to the West caused by the rise of emerging powers, not only results in the quest for a new intellectual institutional architecture such as reform of the United Nations and the IMF as well the search for new forms of global governance. It also can be seen in a pursuit of new intellectual tools within the related disciplines of international relations and comparative politics, in order to be able to better understand the contemporary world. By highlighting these double transformations at play in the contemporary world, Amitav Acharya seeks to encourage a movement beyond a Western centrism in the study of international relations and contribute to the development of an international relations discipline which will be at the same time more pluralist and more globally encompassing. The scientific “decentrings” Acharya posits are even more salient for him as they are at the heart of his role as the 2014-2015 president of the International Studies Association, the major professional association for IR specialists.
The first of these centripetal transformations is geopolitical. Rather than scenarios of a continuation of a unipolar world; or a crystallisation into  a kind of sino-american bipolarity or a type of reactive multipolarity, Amitav Acharya posiis another systemic “image”, that of the multiplex cinema. For him the international scene has diversified in ways similar to the possibilities in world cinema: the cinema-goer can choose between Hollywood, Bollywood or a Chinese kung vu movie. In this global context a multi-polar logic is no longer at play with its cleavages between traditional big power plays and the actions of civil society actors. Within this multiplex world various movements towards greater regionalisation have accelerated. These different regional integration frameworks have become testing grounds for new regulatory approaches. While Amitav Acharya recognises that the G20 is an incarnation of the present global transformations, he argues that it is not the central pivot around which changes in global governance revolve. Rather, he prefers to argue in terms of a “G-Plus World” In this changing environment it is incumbent on the West to recognize, and listen to, other voices, not only those of political actors, but also those of academic observers whose voices are now being diffused in the social sciences and humanities.
It is this intellectual transformation that constitutes both a scientific challenge, as well as a scientific opportunity. International relations as a research discipline has been almost overwhelmingly dominated by Western, particularly Anglo-American, thinkers. For a number of years Amitav Acharya has argued that this scientific path dependency has “blinkered” the discipline. The corpus of materials to be studied is much deeper and broader than those produced since 1919… and historic experience is indeed much greater than those offered by modern European states since the Renaissance. We need, therefore, to open our understanding of the world to take into cognisance other historical sequences and other intellectual traditions: a study of international relations that limits itself to inter-state relations neglects vast areas of reality. Rather than concentrating only on structured stato-national entities, we need to extend our study to that of other polities in time and space. Such a research standpoint is integral to a vast research programme that has as its epistemological objective the creation of a Global International Relations discipline.

These exciting ideas were aired during a widely attended lecture given by Amitav Acharya at the CERI on 11th September last. With his kind permission, we propose the transcription, as well as the accompanying dioramas, of his investiture speech as ISA president in Toronto last March. For French researchers the perspectives he proposes strongly resonate with the practice and the intellectual objectives of our scientific output, particularly that from an interdisciplinary centre such as the CERI. Moreover, in its own way the new ERIS (European Review of International Studies) housed by the CERI, has already taken up the challenge promoted by Amitav Acharya, namely a thoughtful pluralist diversification in the thought and practice of the study of international relations.

Global IR and Regional Worlds. Beyond Sahibs and Munshis: A New Agenda for International Studies,
Amitav Acharya
Presidential Address to the 55th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association (ISA), Toronto, March 26-29, 2014

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