/ Published January 14, 2019
International Relations, third edition by Stephanie Lawson. Polity, 2017, 216 pp.
International Relations as a discipline has seen major interventions since its inception. There is a plethora of work from distinct theoretical strands that have enriched the discipline over the years through phases of assertions, refutations, reassessments, and reassertions. This book presents historical as well as a contextual understanding of the subject matter and seeks to simplify otherwise complex and contested concepts. The author provides a simple yet robust understanding of the core concepts and issues of the discipline of international relations. The selective choice of themes and concepts to fit the limited number of pages of the book are of utmost importance and covers most debate around a wide array of issues, from statehood, to the idea of the international and global governance, to the issues of identity. The book situates itself in the normative nature of the discipline and the contestations regarding the scope of international relations.
The first chapter introduces international relations while engaging with various eras and seeks to define and map the domain and the concept of “the international.” It gives an overview of the discipline in an epigrammatic manner and addresses the issues of war and conflict as defining concerns of the discipline. However, the chapter also engages with their changing nature in the current context where the possibility of culture war signifies the break from traditional notions of war and conflict.
The second chapter provides a simplified understanding of the state and traces its evolution from empire systems to the modern form. This chapter brings out the debates around human nature, nationalism, and hegemony that enhances the understanding regarding conceptual underpinnings. It problematizes and analyses the idea of statehood within the context of globalization.
The third chapter is the most eloquent and concise presentation of various theoretical strands within the discipline of international relations. It presents the theoretical premises of liberalism, realism, Marxism, critical theory, English School, constructivism, feminism, gender theory, postmodernism, postcolonialism, normative theory, and green theory. The treatment is concise yet informative.
The fourth chapter looks at the changes in world politics in the twentieth century and presents an analysis of the changing structure while engaging the ideas of order, identity, culture, and human rights. It engages the challenges to the dominant notion of world order from various corners.
The fifth chapter is a concise, yet powerful, interpretation of security and insecurity that engages with conventional approaches, security dilemma, critical security approaches, human security, securitization theory, humanitarian intervention, responsibility to protect, war, terror, and environmental security. The analysis provides an excellent combination of a review of existing literature and their connection to actual happenings in and around the world.
The sixth chapter locates the trends toward global governance by analyzing the role of the United Nations, global civil society and social movements. It focuses on the issues of regionalization and fragmentation of the world order. The chapter further investigates the west-non-west as well as the north-south debate in ascertaining that the evolution of the institutions of global governance has witnessed a change in the idea of the anarchic international system.
The seventh chapter focuses on the economic issues and traces the emergences of capitalism, theorizes the international political economy, and situates the institutions of global economic governance in the context of the North-South divide and the financial crisis.
The eighth chapter presents an analysis of globalization, its historical trajectory, and its relation to the state, culture, and norms. The arguments revolve around the redefinition of the concept of sovereignty, and it touches upon the changing nature of the political community. The chapter also engages with environmental issues and refugee crises and analyses them through debates surrounding cosmopolitanism.
The book concludes by debating the possibility of a post-international world order. It argues that the alternative approaches have merit in their explanation and understanding and the mainstream positivist approaches face the challenge from theories that have normative and broadened orientation and those present multiple ontologies. Overall, the book flows in a logical manner building up the pretext for succeeding chapters in the concluding pages of preceding chapters.
The book serves as an excellent primer for scholars of the disciplines of International Politics and Political Science. The arguments are presented in a simplified manner that makes the book a great entry point for new and early students of the discipline. The initial pages of the book suggest that it is just another textbook on international relations. However, the author, while engaging with the multitude of concepts and issues, presents the possibility of a post-international world order that moves beyond the preoccupation with states and includes multiple ontological claims. The book provides a detailed account of the issues above, concerns, concepts, and conceptions by presenting the ideas of most prominent scholars concisely. That said, it lacks engagement with some issues of prominence in the present global context. There is only a passing reference to issues, such as the changing nature of conflict and violence and the impact of the rise of cosmopolitan ideals. However, the author’s previous work, Theories of International Relations: Contending Approaches to World Politics, published in 2015, does engage with the concepts and concerns in much detail. Given its nature as a ‘short introduction,’ the book is an excellent read.
Abhishek Choudhary, Jawaharlal Nehru University
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