The science of all sciences?

Experts discuss if it is still worth studying International Relations on Global Matters

News from Jan 28, 2015

Group discussingSource: ITU Pictures/ Flickr/ Creative Commons


At the beginning of 2015, the world looks more confused than ever. Terror in Paris, the rise of fundamentalisms, nuclear threats, poverty caused by the way the international system works, streams of refugees, a war in Europe. It was said a while ago that if the human race is wiped out in the next 50 years it will not be because of disease or an asteroid hitting the earth, but because of foreign policy and international relations. That´s why one would assume that we do need a lot of good specialists to bring a sense of clearness and transparency to what is happening in Global Politics. But is that really the case?

This week on “Global Matters. Bits and thoughts on World Politics”, the Center for Global Politics asked its experts if it is still worth studying International Relations. We received some interesting answers.

Shen Dingli, Professor and Associate Dean at Fudan University’s Institute of International Studies, China, reminds us that political science and international relations appear complicated or even confusing because they are not “science”. “Sciences”, Shen writes, “are defined as patterns repeatable under the same condition. However, international relations or global politics cannot be measured as science with the latter’s “scientific sampling or measuring”. As a social science, it doesn’t have exactly the same samples so the patterns could never be understood with perfection. For instance, history will never repeat exactly itself.”

Despite this, IR should still be studied. Shen reminds us of Aristotle, who once stated that "political science is the science of all sciences", as it is the subject that affects all dimensions of our life. But, he argues, international relations need to be further integrated with other disciplines, such as statistics, psychology etc. But while modern international relations are increasingly intertwined with other disciplines, politicians, political scientists and journalists are increasingly less capable to command all disciplines and all information to qualify as a master scholar, he continues. “This may partly explain why the world is more confusing, but it exactly demands us to conduct more pertinent study so we won’t be confused.”

Alexei Voskressenski, Dean of the School of Political Science at MGIMO University in Moscow, Russia, also believes that there is a need to reformat the discipline. “To de-Westernize it, to infuse new methods and to make it really interdisciplinary.” In his view, it is wiser for taxpayers to spend money on this purpose than on armor, rockets and guns.

Join the debate here.

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