Peripheral possibilities: revealing originality and encouraging dialogue through a reconsideration of ‘marginal’ IR scholarship

Abstract

This article presents a framework for revealing the original contributions of certain forms of ‘peripheral’ IR scholarship and for encouraging dialogue between ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ scholars. Often, peripheral research is dismissed by the core for being, presumably, a ‘mere copy’ of ‘core scholarship’. Our framework, however, provides a means of re-evaluating peripheral scholarship that, at first, may seem ‘similar’, in order to reveal the differences and, at times, even resistant scholarly moves. We apply three abstract propositions (hybridity, mimicry and the denationalisation of ideas) that help spell out the original character of these ‘similar yet different’ peripheral contributions. What results is an affirmation of the potential for novelty on the periphery of IR, a perception that, firstly, restores agency to marginalised subjects; secondly, it highlights the relevance of their contribution to the discipline; and thirdly, it encourages dialogue with the core. The article examines how the framework presented here can operate as a series of possibilities to be adopted by peripheral scholars in order to generate dialogue and intellectual exchanges with the core, with the hope that such exchanges may begin to alter the present asymmetrical power relations.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For the purposes of this article, the term ‘American’ is used to refer to the United States of America. We have avoided using the term North American for we see this designation as referring to the US, Canada and Mexico. While the term enables a distinction between North and South America, it muddies the conceptual terrain in terms of our aims to locate and critique ‘the core’.

  2. 2.

    For example, see Biersteker (2009), Jordan et al. (2009), Kristensen (2012). For heavily cited articulations of ‘IR is an American dominated discipline’, see Smith (2000), Tickner (2003), and Wæver (1998).

  3. 3.

    The body of scholarship that addresses either whether or not IR is an American-dominated discipline or investigates the possible existence of a radically pure non-American ‘home-grown theory’ is often guilty of employing the notions of ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ in a vague way. For example, many writers conflate America with the West in their definition of the ‘core’. The ambiguous use of the term means that it is not always clear whether the core is being made coterminous with the US, the US and Britain, or the West as an entire entity. As a result, defined by difference from the ‘core’, ‘periphery’ is an equally vague concept. To avoid such conceptual confusion, the core here shall refer, in analogy with Galtung’s theory of structural imperialism, to the American IR academy. This is due to the fact that the US is most commonly referred to as the core due to the multiple claims of the US dominance made in the literature. ‘Periphery’ shall refer to the regions of South America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Once again, this claim has been formed on the basis of the literature and the repeated way in which scholars conceptualise the composition of the periphery. Further, this category has been formulated due to the ways academics from these regions identify themselves and their work as ‘peripheral’. For Galtung’s use of the terms see Galtung (1971).

  4. 4.

    The formula ‘almost the same, but not quite’ or, in other words, ‘similar but different’ is taken from Bhabha (1984: 126).

  5. 5.

    Or what Friedrichs refers to as ‘triangular reasoning’. For his definition and various examples of it at play, see Friedrichs (2004).

  6. 6.

    For more on constructivism and the so-called ‘middle ground approach’, see Adler (1997), Checkel (1998), and Wendt (1999), whereas for more on the label ‘reflectivism’, its origins and political use, see Kurki and Wight (2007), Wendt (1999), and Wight (2002).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Iver Neumann, Kimberly Hutchings, Colin Wight, Felix Grenier and Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard for their helpful and constructive comments on earlier drafts of this article. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers and editors for their equally valuable suggestions and support during the process.

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Correspondence to Helen Louise Turton.

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An erratum to this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/jird.2015.17.

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Turton, H., Freire, L. Peripheral possibilities: revealing originality and encouraging dialogue through a reconsideration of ‘marginal’ IR scholarship. J Int Relat Dev 19, 534–557 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2014.24

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Keywords

  • core
  • dialogue
  • hegemony
  • hybridity
  • mimicry
  • periphery