Origins of International Relations

Phil Cunliffe
School of Politics and International Relations
University of Kent

As regards your paper (‘The Origins of International Relations’.) presented recently at Kent, there are several issues that come to my mind.

1) Political multiplicity may be a problem for classical social theory, but not, it seems to me, for Marxist social theory. For Marxism, the rise of industrial capitalism betokens a break in human history with which only the agricultural revolution is genuinely comparable in terms of its historic significance. More to the point, on the scale of the whole of human history, capitalism is the first genuinely universal social formation – free trade is the cannon that batters down all Chinese walls. From this viewpoint, political multiplicity is a phenomenon internal to capitalism, not a historic legacy – which would surely make it a fetter on genuine capitalist development. Another way to formulate this question is, why didn’t capitalism develop as a single universal empire or world state rather than as a set of competing states across the 16-17C? It seems to me that the existence of political multiplicity has to be established logically in relation to the internal development of capitalist social relations, and the historical mediations, vestigial remnants of prior social formations, etc., worked out subsequently.

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U&CD: not (yet) an IR theory…?

Daniel McCarthy
Centre for Diplomacy and International Studies
School of Oriental and African Studies

As pointed out in the ‘Remarks on the Opening Chapter of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution’, Trotsky’s opening chapter, (the fullest statement he made of U&CD), makes no attempt to explain the foreign policy behaviour of the Czarist state. And this is despite the fact that ‘the whip of external necessity’, along with international relations more generally, plays such a central role in Trotsky’s argument. I think this absence is significant  not only for the particular case here, (Czarist Russia); it also points to a more general challenge to U&CD and its applicability to international relations. I will try to draw this out here.

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Why ‘Development’? Why IR?

Michael Rustin: Professor of Sociology at the University of East London, and a founding editor of Soundings.

Hi Justin

Here are some thoughts on your article, ‘Why is there no international historical sociology?’.

As I was reading. I was puzzling about where the ‘Development’ in Uneven and Combined Development was going to come in, and then I got to that section.

Why ‘development’ at all, I was thinking. Why did Trotsky not call his theory Uneven and Combined Change (hereafter by initials) rather than ‘development’, and does it matter?  Well of course it does, because his theory presupposes a Marxist concept of development. What U&CD is counterposed to in his theory is even and uncombined development – an undifferentiated model whose reference point was an idealised version of Western Europe’s trajectory.

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Uneven and Combined Development is a rich and many-sided idea. Its implications and applications have yet to be fully unfolded. Existing debates on the subject have revealed many intellectual gaps and unresolved ambiguities. This page provides a space where those interested in the idea can explore and debate these problems in an open-ended way. To read and contribute to a discussion thread, please follow the links (ordered from newest according to date) provided below.

5. U&CD and World Literature #2 (August 2, 2014)

Wendy Knepper’s (Brunel University) reflections on U&CD and World Literature debate.

4. U&CD and World Literature (May 21, 2014)

The debate following  ‘Cultures of Uneven and Combined Development’ conference that was held at the University of Warwick on June 15, 2014.

3. Origins of International Relations (November 9, 2011)

Phil Cunliffe (University of Kent) raises several important issues on U&CD. Justin Rosenberg (University of Sussex) responds to Cunliffe’s comments.

2. U&CD: not (yet) an IR theory…?  (October 23, 2010)

Daniel McCarthy (SOAS) challenges U&CD’s potential as an IR theory.

1. Why ‘Development’? Why IR? (May 17, 2010)

Michael Rustin (University of East London) raises questions on the concept of development and the discipline of IR. These are followed by a response from Justin Rosenberg (University of Sussex).

How to Contribute

If you would like to contribute to a current discussion please use the ‘Leave a Reply’ option at the end of the relevant post.