Towards the Global Study of International Relations – an interview with Andrew Hurrell, by Isabela Nascimento


International Relations tends to appear as a global field by its nature. However, when we take a look at its theories, methodologies, subjects and approaches we saw a reflex of Western ideas – mainly European and American. And even this western pattern is recognized and debated in the academia, Professor Andrew Hurrell pointed that “little seems to change”.

Bearing this in mind, Hurrell affirms that the current challenge is “to find a productive basis and a shared language” that makes possible to move toward the global study of International Relations. For this purpose, in his article Towards the Global Study of International Relations, published at the special issue Many Worlds, Many Theories? of Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (Volume 59, N. 2), he revisited some of the most important elements of the abovementioned critique and proposed how to move forward the debate. Some of the subjects discussed by the author could be seen here in this interview produced by Isabela Nascimento.

1) Professor, you pointed out extremely interesting points to move forward a global studies in International Relations, including the development of “concepts and conceptual frameworks that emerge from particular regions and contexts but that then have more general application and relevance”. How the Western academia is dealing with this concepts and frameworks that come from outside?

The crucial point of my article is the need to overcome what has become a rather repetitive and often frustrating dialogue of the deaf. On one side we have those within the Western academic and political mainstream, taking their political agenda from the concerns and interests of western governments, and seeking to universalize a particular set of methods and theoretical approaches. On this view, empirical social science is about universal or at least generalizable knowledge. Why not travel the world taking with you the most sophisticated tools and the latest methods available? On the other, we have an impressive amount of work that demonstrates the extent to which the established traditions of thought, all of the major paradigmatic debates and all of the discussions of methodological innovation within International Relations focus on western traditions of thought and on models and ideas derived predominantly from western experience. The challenge now is to look beyond critique. We need to understand that the supposedly universal is always cultural, historical and political; but at the same time that the subject matter of International Relations has been driven by sets of global and systemic forces and dynamics. These dynamics – major power geopolitics, global capitalism, and transnational social mobilization – were historically constituted by the rise of western dominance but are now subject to change and challenge on a global scale. Of course increased understanding of non-western ideas and theories is very important. But so too is the need to recognize that western intellectual categories, theories, methods and approaches are, to quote Chakrabarty, ‘inadequate but indispensable’. 

2)  In your considerations about the perception of the state in International Relations, you pointed out about “non-western political formations that have very deep-rooted hegemonic self-perceptions; states that see themselves as ‘region-states’; and states that see themselves as ‘civilizational states’ or the bearers of particular religious values”. How do you think that looking at these political organizations could help us to understand some contemporary challenges, as ISIS?

The global system is moving towards greater instability and probably greater conflict, with the return of geopolitics, the structural instabilities and inequalities of global capitalism, and new patterns of social and political mobilization.  Certainly within the English School tradition, order is about the creation and sustaining of rule-governed interaction amongst states and societies that share common understandings about the nature and limits of their respective interests and values and about the means of conducting international affairs. It is not about the absence of conflict but rather about the rules and understandings within which that conflict takes place – whether there are agreed parameters of conduct short of outright violence, and how far cooperation in other areas may be pursued in spite of the outstanding conflict. So, if we take, for example, the laws of war, the problem is not just the way in which ISIL violates the laws of war; it is about the reasons and justifications that lie behind their action and the way in which the justifications and understandings of violence directly challenge the core presuppositions of the laws of war as a shared social institution. So, for example, the way in which radical Jihadism has explicitly rejected the traditional Islamic justifications for restraints on violence, or notions of how war is differentiated from non-war. In terms of the debate on emerging powers, we are often told – both by liberals and realists – that greater power will bring a greater degree of socialization. As you rise, so you will internalize the dominant practices of international society – whether these are power-political practices as for the classical realist, or global liberal norms as for the liberal theorist. But the paradox of emergence is that more power provides greater scope to stress the exceptionalist character of your own society – why it represents particular sets of cultural, religious or national values, often embodying a self-proclaimed right to exercise a hegemonic role within a particular region. So rather than stress the exceptionalism of the United States, we should see exceptionalism as something that accompanies greater power and as an analytical category that should be compared across space and time.

3) You mention the democratization as “an increasingly uncertain foundation stone or modernizing narrative that can reinforce the sort of legitimating values (…) that many have adopted as central to their preferred model of global order”. Can you give us some examples of this process?

Those who have taken an optimistic view of global order have often relied on a long-run view of how democratic liberal modernity would develop. Yes, of course the spread of liberal modernity will be difficult and disruptive, challenging ‘traditional’ states and societies, and leading to backlash or rejectionism.  But, for someone like John Ikenberry, the western global liberal order is different from any previous order in that it is easier to join and harder to dislodge than any previous international order. And democracy plays a crucial role in this argument, giving weaker states some greater voice in US policy and making the power of the US more acceptable to others. Or, to take another liberal example, Etel Solingen explains nuclear proliferation in terms of the uniqueness of western modernity and its global spread. Here the expectation is that there will be a strong and clear relationship between structural changes in the global economy, particular kinds of state and particular patterns of domestic coalitions underpinning those states. As the incentives of countries to integrate increase and as actual integration increases, so democratic and liberalizing coalitions will increasingly come to predominate over nationalist coalitions in a generally self-reinforcing process – a process that holds in particularly powerful ways in the nuclear domain. But these sorts of views are obviously under immense challenge — in part because of the growing strength and self-assertiveness of illiberal or non-democratic states such as Russia or China; in part because of the increasing number of ‘hybrid’ states and regimes that are integrated into the global economy, but, as against Solingen, are at the same time nationalist and confessional; and in part because of the growth of populist democracy in the core of the western world which is both highly illiberal and strongly nationalistic.

4) You mention the Johnston’s quotation that says “area studies is not about the exotic and the esoteric”. Is it possible to build an area studies’ field out of the traditional Western patterns? Why or why not make changes in the current field instead of creating a new one?

The idea is not to create a new field. It is rather to draw area studies into closer contact with International Relations and with the study of global IR. This means both comparing across space and time; thinking systematically about how different regions are connected to global forces; and, crucially, trying to understand how comparison and connectivity are related. Global IR is not a theory or method, but a framework or field of enquiry and analysis of international relations in all its diversity, especially with due recognition of the experiences, voices and agency of non-Western peoples, societies and states that have been marginalized in the discipline of International Relations. As Amitav Acharya puts it:  “Global IR draws from a broad canvass of human interactions, with their multiple origins, patterns and distinctions, to challenge IR’s existing boundary markers set by dominant American and Western scholarship and encourage new understandings and approaches to the study of world politics”.

Read the article:

Hurrell, Andrew. (2016). Towards the Global Study of International Relations. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 59(2), e008. Epub November 16, 2016.

Andrew Hurrell is a Professor of International Relations at the Balliol College of Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom (

Isabela Nascimento, graduate student at the Institute of International Relations of the University of Brasília – iREL-UnB (

Como citar este artigo:

Mundorama. "Towards the Global Study of International Relations – an interview with Andrew Hurrell, by Isabela Nascimento". Mundorama - Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais, [acessado em 29/11/2016]. Disponível em: <>.

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