Schools of Thought in the School of Global & Public Affairs


SEGOVIA – “School of Thoughts in IR” Workshop and Professorial Follow-ups, October 2nd, 2019

If you’re a new BIR student at IE, you’ve probably noticed that International Relations is very broad and complex area of study. Tariff impositions, geopolitical strategies, NGO actor influences – with everything going on in the world, it can be tough to make sense of and explain current issues.  To help students better understand the field of IR and the process of interpretation, Professor Balder  Hageraats led an informal workshop on October 2nd on the “IR Schools of Thought” where he analysed the seemingly abstract theories of IR (International Relations). Intrigued by the workshop, the Stork then went to find out the preferences and opinions of some other professors of the IE School of Global and Public Affairs, and how they thought those theories were being applied/taught at IE.

To any of our readers who were unable to attend the event and/or are unfamiliar with the topic(s), Balder offered us his own simple definition of what is meant by a “School of Thought in International Relations.” Breaking it down, he first explained that a “School of Thought” is an intellectual tradition held by experts in a certain field of study. He then reminded students of the definition of International Relations; the study of global affairs and its underlying systems. Thus, “IR Schools of Thought” refers to the various intellectual traditions held that focus on understanding global affairs.

The fundamental difference between the schools of thought in IR is what they consider to be core actors: systems, groups (states) or individuals, and dynamics. There are currently three mainstream schools of thought in IR: Realism, Liberalism, and Constructivism. Realism focuses on states and power dynamics, and is generally associated with the philosophies of Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Thucydides. Liberalism focuses on the institutions within IR and inclinations towards mutually beneficial, peaceful resolutions, and can be associated with the works of Kant, Locke, and Smith. Finally, Constructivism focuses on the historical and socio-cultural aspects affecting international affairs, with notable pieces pioneered by the likes of Nicholas Onuf and Alexander Wendt.

As Professor Balder mentioned, the other IR schools of thought (the English School, Green Theory, etc.) are often referred to as “post positivist” – i.e., “after the three main positivist schools,” and are either criticisms or adjustments of those schools. Prof. Balder added that some of these other theories of IR aren’t wrong in questioning the pillars and assumptions the main schools of thought, as flaws exist in all of them.

After discussing the different theories with of some other IR professors, the Stork observed that theoretical preferences vary widely among professors –some could easily be labelled hardcore realists while others tend to side with Marxist ideals. Professor Balder noted that IE, as a business school, tends to lean towards neoliberalist values. However, this ideology is far from being the overall focus of the IR courses. According to several of those professors interviewed, the curriculum proudly remains comprehensive in its teachings. Professor Henry Pascoe added that professors of the IE School of Public & Global Affairs share a partiality for positivist rather than normative approaches to the IR schools of thought – this meaning they  use tools such as large amounts of data and statistical programs (like “R” software) to validate their IR hypotheses.

Finally, although some professors may hold strong intellectual beliefs, they encourage all our fellow students to delve deeper into their understandings all the different schools of thought, to always keep a critical mindset, and to not hesitate in challenging professors’ opinions and claims. Open conversations and deliberations over these theories is what makes them so interesting and keeps academia alive and well.

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