The «Nature» of International Relations, as Seen from Africa, India, Europe: A Cross-Cultural Debate on Theoretical Premises and new Historical Studies of International Relations

Donnerstag, 30. Juni
11:00 bis 12:30 Uhr
Raum M R290

This Roundtable seeks to engage a cross-cultural dialogue between African, Indian, and European historians of international relations about current approaches in the field. In addition, it also cuts slightly across disciplines, by admitting the necessity of dialogue between more empirically and more theoretically grounded disciplines interested in international relations in the social sciences and the humanities. The rationale of the panel is based essentially upon the following considerations.

First, the return of John Mearsheimer’s «tragedy of great power politics», accompanied by the rise of new, subversive forms of violence, has been probably the defining feature of international relations over the last decade. Tantamount to a modern version of the «Hobbesian» reading of international relations as being governed by a «state of nature», this return is increasingly putting into question European scholars’ enchantment with «transnational history» (emphasizing the power of civil society) and constructivism (fostering the belief that more dialogue means improved intergovernmental cooperation).

Second, seventy years after decolonization and thirty years after the end of the Cold War, Europe seems, according to some (but not all) observers, to move more and more to the periphery of international relations. Therefore, one may wonder whether European regional perspectives on international history and politics become more similar to present or recent African or Indian views: Arguably, both have been moving from the «periphery» in the past, to a more equal position since decolonization, even to great power status in the case of India.

For these reasons, we would like to examine and put into perspective modern, contemporary, and recent approaches and research trends in (the history of) international relations, in the light of a possible «return» of Hobbesian thinking. First, which concept of nature did Hobbes propagate? How have international relations been envisaged in modern political ideas according to Hobbes? Second, how have modern perspectives on the «nature» of international relations influenced contemporary regards, and to which degree has the Hobbesian tradition persisted since decolonization and the end of the Cold War, especially in African, Indian, and European scholarship? How have international historians from these regions reacted to the return of great power tensions, subversive forms of violence, annexations and menace? Which conceptualizations are mobilized to understand the history and «nature» of contemporary international relations, and how do they relate to historiographical and other social science traditions? What kind of new methods and sources are mobilized to respond to the new secrecy of international politics? What conclusions can be drawn from comparing those perspectives? While historical scholarly work shall be at the centre of interest, the output of so-called «think tanks», and recent debates between political scientists and historians may also be considered as of interest.