Looking beyond Westerncentric International Relations theories

Dialogue and discovery: in search of International Relations theories beyond the West

From Millennium – Journal of International Studies,

It is recognized that the International Relations discipline is currently Westerncentric. Its theories and methods often neglect voices and experiences outside of the West. An important challenge is to find some agreement on how to redress this problem and move forward.

The goals of this article are to discuss some of the issues of contention that have arisen in the vaguely articulated and highly diversified project of making the study of IR more inclusive of non-Western worlds and also to identify areas where further reflection and research could significantly advance the project. It concludes that by uncovering the assumptions and power structures that obscure IR theory’s global heritage we can move from dissent to dialogue and then dialogue to discovery.


Scholars of International Relations (IR) increasingly realise that their discipline, including its theories and methods, often neglects voices and experiences outside of the West. But how do we address this problem and move the discipline forward? While some question whether ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ (or ‘post-Western’) are useful labels, there are also other perspectives, including those who believe in the adequacy of existing theories and approaches, those who argue for particular national ‘schools’ of IR, and those who dismiss recent efforts to broaden IR theory as ‘mimicry’ in terms of their epistemological underpinnings. After reviewing these debates, this article identifies some avenues for further research with a view to bringing out the global heritage of IR. These include, among other things, paying greater attention to the genealogy of international systems, the diversity of regionalisms and regional worlds, the integration of area studies with IR, people-centric approaches to IR, security and development, and the agency role of non-Western ideas and actors in building global order. I also argue for broadening the epistemology of IR theory with the help of non-Western philosophies such as Buddhism. While the study of IR remains dominated by Western perspectives and contributions, it is possible to build different and alternative theories which originate from non-Western contexts and experiences.

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Article details
Acharya, A. (2011). Dialogue and Discovery: In Search of International Relations Theories Beyond the West Millennium – Journal of International Studies DOI: 10.1177/0305829811406574

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