The Discipline of International Relations


There are imperative questions that arise in relation to the study of international relations. Roberts (2008) revisits the period after the Cold War to probably establish where the quandary originated. The author contends that the era following the war is the most critical in the scholarly work in international relations. Indeed, this is the time when major theories and scholarly literature emerged, and also the most problematic to elucidate. Rosenau (1974) asks two important questions relating to the challenge facing the study of international relations today; whether the issue is related to the rapid progress or exhaustion of ideas. Whatever the answer to the question, it is a reality that the scholarly arena in international relations is ailing and it is time to pause and rethink the way forward. The theories emerging in the scholarly world are not effective in explaining the contemporary political and policy circles (Barma, Durbin, Lorber, & Whitlark, 2016). At the same time, there is scholarship, but founded on efforts to challenge each other and not assured momentous in the field.

Libraries all over the world are awash scholarly works on international relations. After the Cold War, many scholars surfaced to provide accounts of the events (Roberts, 2008). A sort of pluralism emerged in the field where diverse approaches to investigation emerged. Interestingly, the approaches became acceptable in the study of global politics. Lake (2011) suggests an emergence of a sort of sectarianism in international relations discourse. It was not a kind that would be acknowledged in realist approaches, but one where diversity in opinions and norms characterized the comprehension of events and affairs in the domestic and global politics. The outcome has been a progression of theories, but which are not necessarily applicable to the real-life political arena. The relevance of the current theories is questionable, which creates a challenge because they are expected to provide the direction in policy circles. Hence, the issue is not only evident in the study of international relations, but in the political reality where practice should be informed by research findings.

The effectiveness of the current studies is one of the most questionable areas. The contemporary study relations do not hold the potential of providing objective data on the events such as the collapse of communism (Halliday, 1995). The modern scholars do not appear to come together in order to provide an effective framework for analyzing the events (Hamati-Ataya, 2011). Therefore, the reader is left confused on what model or theory is more relevant to the study of international relations. Conventionally, scientific research is expected to provide solutions and workable answers to world problems. On the contrary, invalid standards and solutions are evident in the study of international relations because of the diversity of ideas and conflicting outcomes (Hyde, 2010). The divergence in theories has an impact on the policies, which are devised to offer solutions in policy. The discipline challenges will possibly persist in the future because there is no theoretical or practical solution in sight. However, the realization that there is a problem is the beginning step in delivering the study of international relations from the current confusion.

There is an evident increase in the knowledge and scholarly work on international relations. However, the implication of the diversity appears to be more detrimental than constructive. More and more scholars are assuming a place in the seemingly autonomous scientific discipline. Sindjoun (2001) presents a reality of the invention of the study as a function of the post-Cold war and globalization. The changes are the outcome of the transformations that have taken place during this period, which have made the scholarly arena highly dynamic and diverse. There has been an emergence of many subfields as well as academic “sects,” most of which are in disagreement (Jahn, 2017). Each of the sects comes up with its exceptional beliefs and practices. The scholars appear to be in a race to outdo each other. Conflicts and tensions are evident in the arena, which hinders the potential of developing an actual theory applicable to the study of international relations and applicable in practice (Lake, 2011). As a result, the international political and policy arena remains in disarray.

Whether the scholars can come to an agreement is yet to be seen. At the moment, they have organized themselves in academic “sects,” which are far from generating quality professional results that can be applied in practice. Lake (2011) elucidates the emergence of a sort of academic religion where each of the theologians seeks to affirm his ideas and norms. The theological debates are evident both in theory and epistemology. The reality leads to further disagreement and confusion in the policy arena. The use of a network analysis in the study of international relations is not effective in providing the solutions necessary for application in practice (Hafner-Burton, Kahler & Montgomery, 2009). However, this appears to be the theoretical approach to the study of international relations. It provides the reason for the confusion and the inadequacy of the modern theories. As long as the approach will be used in the studies, there will never be a contract in the outcome of the studies.

The modern-day scholars do not agree on the most effective method or methodological approach to use in their area of study. Hyde (2010) presents a critical question relating to the study of international relations; whether the field can be effectively studied using field experimental models. The study of international relations so far uses the cross-national data, detailed case studies, or a blend of the two. There is one more method which is not common, but used in evaluating causal hypotheses, randomized field experiments. While the methods have been effective in the past, it is possible that they are not providing the bigger picture. In fact, they are also not providing effective findings that can be applied in the international relations practice (Rios-Aguilar, 2014). Just like the network analysis has failed to provide quality outcomes in research and policy arenas, the use of those methods remains contemptible (Blagden, 2016). Potentially, a time has come for the methodological approaches to international relations studies to be reinvented.

The audience is seeking an understandable and useful model and theory of international relations. Therefore, it is necessary to have a methodological approach which is applicable to the learning of international relations (Hyde, 2010). The outcome is not only useful in the policy arena, but also in academic work. Hence, in the current confusion, the two arenas suffer. The academic sectarianism is causing confusion and less comprehension of the modern international relations (Lake, 2011). The reality is that as long as the modern student of international relations is being trained within the flawed framework, there will be continued confusion. Additionally, the modern scholarly field will be characterized by more diversity, thus, more misperception. Lake (2011) proposes the need for a more contingent, mid-level theory based on the study of particular occurrences. It is a reality that while the phenomena have taken place during the same age, they have divergent causes and proceed differently. In addition, their outcome also differs. While there could be a number of valid explanations, an agreement in their relevance must be present. In this case, the legitimate scholars in international relations should seek the point of agreement.

One of the areas where the challenge in the study of international relation emerges is public diplomacy. The field is useful in establishing the problems in the models and frameworks applied in international relations. Investigating the public diplomacy discourse will provide the reality of the modern scholarship, its limitations, and the way ahead (Gregory, 2008). Like other areas of policy-making literature, public diplomacy literature has become vast and utterly confusing. Scholarship has been affected by the manifold events, including the advance in technology, network structures and globalization (Hafner-Burton, Kahler & Montgomery, 2009). Using the public diplomacy discourse and literature, it is possible to establish what is wrong with the globalization scholarship and potentially establish a solution. Evidently, the solution lies in coming up with a consensus among the conflicting scholars to devise an agreeable framework (Murray, Sharp, Wiseman, Criekemans, & Melissen, 2011). Outside the reality, the problem will become even worse as more scholars and a diverse framework rise in and globalization studies.

The challenge appears to be founded on the modern theories, particularly as conceived after the Cold war and in the wake of globalization. Hence, it is possible to go back to the roots of international relations to establish a workable solution. Ward (2006) portends a move back to the theoretical analysis of international relations such as Locke proposes. The proposed model analyses international relations away from the discourse of sovereignty and natural law. The author suggests the need to consider self-government and international society as the new discourse in the study of international relations. The idea is to come up with a model that brings together the dissenting views of international relations. It is helpful to go back to the point where the disagreement emerged in order to define a workable solution to the theory and practice of international relations. Ward (2006) revisits the point of the replacement of the principle of sovereignty by the right of self-government. The reflections of Locke will provide one of the viable solutions to the challenges facing the international relations discourse.


The outcome of the international relations studies should provide the critical understanding of the events that have transpired in the world. The end of communism and the rise of globalization are among the events that the international relations scholars have focused on. They have also been the subjects for the greatest controversy in international relations studies. Previously, scholars in this field came up with workable theories, which effectively explained the reality of the time. However, the diversity in the scholarly work, today, has rendered it implausible to explain the events. Many scholars emerged in the post-Cold War, each with a different theory of the manifestations. In the end, the outcome is a sort of confusion without meaningful evidence, which can be applied in real-life. In fact, the modern international relations field is marred by confusion and disagreement. Whether there is a way to turn back to the workable accounts of the events is a subject that needs to be investigated, but from a point of agreement.


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