Concepts, ideas and methodologies in the interpretation of Latin American international relations, by Raúl Bernal-Meza

International relations studies and analyzes foreign policy in Latin America during much of the first half of the twentieth century were dominated by the influence of international law and the visions of diplomatic history. The first scientific analytical approach was structuralism, based on the thought Prebisch-ECLAC. From there a debate between the new influences of American thought in international relations and the efforts of Latin American thinkers to study international relations from the perspective of political economy. In some ways, this debate, after sixty years, still continues. The drafting of a Latin American line of thinking on international affairs also had to face the influence of –and dependence on – foreign (mainly Anglo Saxon) theoretical and methodological reflections.

Authors from within and outside the region note that this is an issue of concern to any policy making that aim at a more autonomous international insertion. In Latin America there are currently three major lines of work on thinking in international affairs. The first one, whether having an own thinking in order to interpret reality and nature of the international insertion from our own perspectives make any sense; the second one is about the appropriateness of applying theories that are produced by the epistemic thinking of the “North” in the interpretation of the international system and in the analysis of foreign policy, given its higher level of sophistication; and the third issue is whether the theory produced in the core countries should be replaced by concepts developed by Latin American epistemology, according to the idea that they would better explain the nature of our foreign relations. In recent years there has been an interesting discussion between those who consider the use of theoretical and methodological tools from schools and lines of Anglo-Saxon thinking is right and positive, and those who rather consider that theoretical, epistemological, conceptual and methodological tools produced in Latin America should be used.

In Argentina, the socio-historical, structuralist political economy, and autonomic lines of interpretation participate, and in Brazil, with a predominance of history are the main representatives of the second group, in which influences of the English and French schools of international relations are also observed. Among the main criticisms that this group addresses the followers of Anglo-Saxon theories, it is argued that the US theory –for example, realism and idealism- replace the historical investigation of the facts for prescriptions and foundations of the theory. The authors who followed this line subsequently argued that the theory produced in intellectuals scenarios outside the region, when being incorporated in the interpretation of international relations in Latin America, reproduced the dominant ideology of the producing sources, and therefore an analysis of the international insertion and foreign policy from our own interpretations was needed, thus rejecting the theories developed in the core and implementing concepts that would enable substantiate and explain foreign policy.

In this debate, scholars influenced by the conventional American thought, criticize Latin American production because they assume that it does not claim to universality.

There are two errors in the view of academics who follow only American thought. The first is to believe that Latin American contributions do not claim to universality, which is false if we review structuralist ideas, the exemplary construction core-periphery (updated the global system at the stage of capitalism of the 1970s by Arrighi, and Wallerstein, which added to the semi-periphery analysis) and interest for autonomy against the hegemonic power, which is a concern with global reach. The second mistake is to assume that those who follow the political economy approach reject the entire American theoretical thought, which is also false, because many authors take the “institutionalism” and “constructivism” to better understand processes of international cooperation and integration economic and regionalism.

In the current context of international processes and against the rise of China as a great power, but especially by the structure of economic, trade, financial and political relations between the powerful and Latin America, the Latin American thought precedent still has much to contribute to better understand the new realities between the rising centers and peripheries and semi-peripheries. This also extends to the understanding of relations between the hegemonic power and decision-making autonomy. Recent Latin American contributions contribute to this goal, with new concepts, analytical categories, theoretical reflections and methodological contributions.

The transition from economic hegemony between new “cores” and the old peripheries, and the challenges imposed by the new political and security of the international system point out that the search for new theoretical and methodological approaches should follow scenarios to be a priority for analysts in international relations. Because all the international dynamics it leads to a permanent challenge between change and continuity.

This is the discussion presented in the article Contemporary Latin American thinking on International Relations: theoretical, conceptual and methodological contributions , published in the issue 1/2016 (Volume 59, N. 1) of the Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional.

Read the article:

BERNAL-MEZA, Raúl. Contemporary Latin American thinking on International Relations: theoretical, conceptual and methodological contributions. Rev. bras. polít. int. [online]. 2016, vol.59, n.1, e005.


Raúl Bernal-Meza – Universidad Arturo Prat, Instituto de Estudios Internacionales, Santiago, Chile (
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