Steve Smith on bringing International Relations theory to life

Steve Smith on bringing International Relations theory to life


One of the main features of globalization of world politics is that it takes a view of theory … …that helps you understand the world, by treating theories as if they’re different coloured lenses. So to use a simple analogy, if you were to wear yellow sunglasses, the world would look yellow… …if you had red tinted sunglasses, the world would look red and so on. Well that’s how we use theory, that is to say we see the different theories of world politics… …as ways of understanding the same issue from different perspectives, so in that sense… …theories are not something separate from the world that report on the world as it really is… …rather theories are things that construct what we see, so if you take one theoretical position… …you’ll see a certain set of events, if you see it take another theoretical position… …you’ll see a different set of events. So the book outlines the main theories and gives you a
whole series of studies… …and examples that you can then apply the theories to. Let’s just take one contemporary case study, the war, the civil war in Syria. The main theory of international relations, realism, treats the Syrian war in a very simple way. It sees it as a struggle for power, it sees the role of the United Nations as limited… … it sees the various great powers competing for how they will affect a change in Syria… …the Russians and the Chinese vetoing anything in the United Nations… …because they don’t want the United Nations to intervene in the sovereign affairs of a state. ou see the British and the Europeans and the Americans are trying to support the rebels… …but being restricted in their ability to do that because they don’t have the sheer power… …military and political power, to intervene, it would be difficult. So realists see the Syrian con- conflict in a quite specific way. Liberals, the other major theory of world politics, tend to look at Syria… …as an attempt to construct consensus to see how you can get norms and rules and laws and cooperation… …to solve a problem. So they would focus on all those leaders in the world… …who are trying to bring peace to the region and they would see the role of the United Nations as central… …and they would point out that over time, the UN and world bodies… … have a greater opportunity to influence events than they did hundreds of years ago… …so in that sense, liberals look at the conflict in Syria in a different way. If you then turn to a theory such as Marxism, Marxists have a very, very different set of glasses… …to look at the Syrian conflict if you like, than the other two main theories. Marxists look at this, look at Syria as a conflict really, ultimately determined by oil… …by centrality in the Middle East, by ruling classes, by economic power… …and they look at it as a clash of economic interests and they see the Assad regime… …and the opponents as representing different economic interests globally and their concern… …really is not so much with the details of the conflict… … as with the great conflict through history between various competing economic forms. Those who look at ethics, obviously, look at the conflict in a very different way… …they’re concerned with the ethical issues about when should you intervene… …is there a, a duty to intervene? Is there a right to protect? Is there a need to support people who are being killed in other countries? Or should, ethics people would say, should governments stay out of other people’s conflicts? Then you’ve got post structural theories and post-colonial theories as well… … I won’t go into them in detail, the point I want to make is all these different theories look at the same conflict… …but look at it in a different way, what it gives the reader the opportunity to do is to look… …at the information from different perspectives and therefore we ask the reader… …to reflect upon the way in which your view about how the world operates colours what you see… …so we’re trying to make a bigger theoretical point in globalization of world politics… …which there isn’t a simple common sense view of the world that’s right but instead… …what we have are different theories that paint a different picture of reality… …and it’s therefore up to the reader to judge which theory is most suitable, which theory is correct… …which theory they prefer and to know what other theories would say about that issue. We think that’s a unique selling point of the book and all the feedback over the years has been that… …the ability to give different theoretical views is one of the
great strengths of the text.

11 comments

  1. brilliant video about some introduction to the global politics.  look forward to studying this course this semester–

  2. The biggest challenge for international relation is that it help us to understand important issues in our globalized world. As Steve mentioned in his book that theories are not separated from the world as it really is, rather it theories are things constructed to what we see in different set of events. For example, he commented how each theory had the sight on the civil war in Syria.
    Such as, the main theory international relation is “realism”
    The other major theory world politics is “liberal”, those will focus to all leaders to bring peace in the region and they would see the united nation is central role.
    Other theory Marxism, which is different than the other theories they see it as a clash of interest.
    He also mentioned other theories, the whole concept that there are different theories that paint different picture in reality and then to the region judge which theory is prefer and to know what other theory will talk about the issue. 

  3. Globalization helps you understand the world in a different way, in a theoretical way as ways of understanding the same issue in a different perspective, this is what makes a theory for it helps to construct ideas as well as relations, and you apply the theory to the situation. 
    Smith takes the example of the Syrian crisis, and how states are acting where some states are supporting the rebels, the realists see the conflicts the liberals see Syrian crisis as how to cooperate to solve the problem with the help of the UN to coordinate and alleviate the burden, where as Marxist look as a Conflict of centrality, economic interest clashes and the concern is not the conflict but the economy and the ethical issues where should intervention happen.
    Thus all theories take the conflict but look at it on different perspectives, so globalization does not have one theory , but the reader is the one that chooses, which gives great strengths to the field of international relations.
    We can take many examples not just the Syrian crisis , but as the events that are happening in Ukraine and how the nation states are intervening  

  4. I clapped for you when you used the Marxist approach. I think 80% of your explanation about the Syrian conflict using Maxism is true, the rest is rather flimsy.

  5. This is a great book. Very suitable for the interested citizen that wants to attain a deeper understanding of the cesspool that we call the contemporary world…

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