Global International Relations (IR) and Regional Worlds: A New Agenda for International Studies

Does the discipline of International Relations (IR) truly reflect the global society we live in today? Stanley Hoffmann (1977: 41) famously described the field as an “American social science.” That no longer holds in a physical or geographic sense. Over the past decades, IR schools, departments, institutes, and conventions have mushroomed around the world. But the discipline still needs to overcome a central challenge related to its British and North American roots. To elaborate on this challenge, let me turn to an event over two centuries ago. In the year 1800 AD, the Marquis of Wellesley—the Governor-General of British India—set up a college in Fort William, Calcutta (known today as Kolkata), then the hub of the British Empire in India. Underlying the idea of such a college was his belief that the officials of the company were no longer to be regarded as “the agents of a commercial concern,” but as “the ministers and officers of a powerful Sovereign” (Roebuck1819:iv). Hence, they needed education that was “requisite for the good government and stability of the British Empire in India, and for the maintenance of the interests and honour of the Honourable the East Indian Company…” (Roebuck 1819:Introduction, xvi).1

The Fort William College acquired a potential for becoming the “Oxford of the East” and its faculty the “interpreters of oriental civilization” (Islam 2012:para. 3). Among its activities were a series of public “disputations” (debates) featuring its European students and faculty. These covered such topics as “The Asiatics are capable of as high a civilization as the Europeans,” and “The natives of India under the British Government enjoy a greater degree of tranquility, security and happiness than under any former government” (Roebuck 1819: No. II,14–19). But its faculty fell into two categories: the British Sahibs and the Indian Munshis (Das 1978:xiii; Cohn 1996:51). The College needed the Munshis—a Persian designation for Muslim Indian teachers—principally to teach local languages, as well as the history, customs, and antiquities of India. Wellesley deemed their teaching methods to be “desultory, unmethodical,” in contrast to the “regular system of instruction” the Sahibs provided (Roebuck 1819:6). The College paid the Munshis—and their Hindu counterparts called the “pundits”—between 30 to 200 Rupees per month; European teachers and professors received between 1,000 and 1,500 Rupees at Fort William (Das 1978:11,15). ...

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