Field Seminar Global/IR

Term: Spring 2013

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 6299

This course is an advanced graduate seminar in global politics and international relations. It provides a critical survey of this field, in order to prepare PhD candidates for the qualifying exam and their doctoral research. 

As a sphere of social relations with its own character and effects, the ‘international’ is undervalued in the organization of social and political inquiry. Classically, the social science and humanities disciplines make the assumption of ‘methodological nationalism’: that the world is composed of bordered, sovereign entities such as the nation-state or its functional equivalent. These disciplines study what goes on ‘inside’ borders, making possible objects of knowledge such as ‘German literature’, ‘French history’ and ‘US politics’. The only discipline explicitly concerned with the ‘international’—International Relations (IR)—makes a similar assumption: the international is conceived primarily as a space of strategic interaction between sovereign states. In Raymond Aron’s view, it is populated mainly by diplomats, soldiers and businesspeople. Even when other IR scholars ‘add’ NGOs, international governmental organizations such as the IMF, ‘norms’ such as human rights, etc., the international remains a relatively ‘spare’ or thin social space in comparison with domestic societies contained behind sovereign borders. 

This course begins with the claim that this understanding of ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ social spaces is inadequate and misleading. It makes a contrary assumption: that there are larger patterns or ‘fields’ of social relations within which states and societies are situated and out of which they are constituted, reproduced and transformed. All spheres of the social—culture, economy, history, society, politics—have irreducibly ‘international’, ‘world’, or ‘global’ dimensions, and cannot be adequately understood without taking these dimensions into account. 

Crucially, the world or global dimensions are not recent phenomena that arise from communications technologies, as in much work on ‘globalization’. Rather, the ‘international’ is always already a constitutive domain, one which helps produce and transform any bordered polities or societies that populate the world at a given time. This means that the core social science and humanities disciplines have to be rethought with the global or international in mind, as many scholars realize.

This course is an introduction to and a survey of such thinking. It takes the form of seminars based on book length texts, each of which tries in some way to think through the international dimensions of the social. 


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