Introduction: Southeast Asia in Global IR--A Reflexive Stocktaking in Research and Teaching.

AuthorEun, Yong-Soo

The time when critical International Relations (IR) scholars had to fight to assert a case for going beyond "West-centrism" and "American parochialism" by more actively embracing the voices and experiences of the non-Western world in the discipline of IR has certainly long passed. (1) Since the late 1990s, scholars have taken issue with the value of mainstream IR theories, commonly grouped under the headings of realism, liberalism and (conventional) constructivism. One of the key charges levelled against these theories has been the West-centrism--more specifically, Euro-North American-centrism--that cuts across their conceptual, theoretical and normative foundations. (2) This criticism was especially endorsed by IR scholars interested in the international relations of Asia, who shared the view that IR theory "derived from an extended series of case studies of Europe, has become notorious for falling short of accounting for the richness and particularity of Asia's regional politics". (3) In short, critics have long noted that theoretical or conceptual baggage derived from European and North American experiences and norms "misrepresent[s] and misunderstand[s] much of the rest of the world". (4)

Critiques of this kind have naturally led to calls to broaden the theoretical or discursive horizon of the discipline beyond its long-standing West-centrism. One of the early responses was to draw renewed attention to non-Western societies' histories, cultures and philosophies and theorize international politics in ways that are finely attuned to those local thinking schema and experiences. Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan's engagement is worthy of note here. In their special issue and extended edited volume, they asked: "Why is there no non-Western international theory?" (5) This starting question was premised on the view that "the sources of international relations theory conspicuously fail to correspond to the global distribution of its subjects". (6) With the help of a group of scholars that examined the status of IR theory and theoretical studies in various countries and sub-regions in Asia, Acharya and Buzan's contributions show the reasons for "the marginalization of non-Western voices and histories" in IR (theory) and what needs to be done to mitigate the issue. Since Acharya and Buzan's intervention, many studies have been conducted to develop new theories and concepts based on the perspectives and experiences of non-Western states and societies.

Assuredly, the contemporary rise of Asia, particularly China, has contributed to the development of non-Western (or indigenous) theories and concepts. Advocates of Chinese IR and, by extension, non-Western IR theory building often point out that "Asia has histories, cultures, norms, and worldviews that are inherently different from those derived from or advanced in Europe and the United States." (7) The scholarly practices of building an IR theory "with Chinese characteristics" are a case in point. Although no consensus has been reached on what "Chinese characteristics" actually are, many Chinese scholars hold that the establishment of a Chinese IR theory or a Chinese school of IR is desirable. In this pursuit, Confucianism, Chinese tributary systems, (Chinese) Marxism and the traditional Chinese philosophical ideas of Tianxia (all under heaven), Zhongyong (Chinese relationality), Wang Dao (Kingly way) and Guanxi (interpersonal relationships) are all cited as theoretical resources.

However, these interests and attempts have not been without critics. The nativism of some non-Western IR knowledge production has been the target of much of the criticism. More specifically, critics allege that although theory-building enterprises in non-Western contexts commonly begin by problematizing the present Western-dominated IR, their ongoing scholarly practices and discourses can also entail (or reproduce) the same hierarchic and exclusionary structures of knowledge production which can fall prey to particular national or regional interests. For example, in his discussion of Chinese visions of world order, in particular that of Tianxia, William Callahan argued that it can serve as a philosophical foundation upon which "China's hierarchical governance is updated for the twenty-first century". (8) A caveat is that sceptics do not deny the importance of going beyond IR's West-centrism; they acknowledge that "culturally specific" ways of understanding the world "undoubtedly encourage greater pluralism" and thus contribute to addressing the problem of West-centrism. (9) Nonetheless, they note that "culturally specific" ways can also lead to a national and regional "inwardness" that works to reproduce the very "ethnocentricities" that are being challenged. (10) Such concern about the potential nativist undercurrent in Chinese and/or non-Western IR theory-building enterprises is shared by several IR scholars sensitive to the problem of the West/non-West binary, as well as to the West-centric landscape of IR. The sophistication of the relevant debate has developed apace, and Global IR is worthy of a lengthy note in this regard.

The idea of Global IR was first introduced by Amitav Acharya in his presidential address at the annual convention of the International Studies Association in 2014. His background assumption was that IR does "not reflect the voices, experiences... and contributions of the vast majority of the societies and states in the world, and often marginalize[s] those outside the core countries of the West". (11) However, instead of arguing for a counter (i.e., "anti-Western") approach, he called for a global discipline that transcends the divide between "the West and the Rest". In his view, IR should be a "truly inclusive" discipline that recognizes its "multiple and diverse foundations and histories". As such, Global IR sets out to safeguard against "a tug of war" between Western and non-Western IR and the subordination of one of them in favour of the other. The Global IR project aims to render the discipline more inclusive and pluralistic, particularly in the geo-cultural or geo-epistemic contexts, (12) while being wary of both the problem of "the current West-centrism of IR" (13) and the potential danger of the "nativism of non-Western IR theorization". (14) In this respect, "pluralistic universalism"--which views the world of IR as "a large, overarching canopy with multiple foundations" is proposed as the epistemological underpinning of Global IR. (15)

In short, IR scholars have devoted a great deal of attention and research to the problems of West-centrism in IR since 2014; few scholars today dispute the importance of broadening IR projects, such as Global IR. Although Global IR is not without its critics and scholars practise it in a variety of ways, (16) the intention shared by both advocates and critics alike is to promote greater diversity in IR knowledge and knowledge production by embracing a wider range of histories, experiences and perspectives.

Do We Practise What We Preach?: Self-reflexive Stocktaking

A key question, then, is if and to what extent the calls for a more pluralistic and inclusive discipline have been realized. This special issue addresses this important question by looking at our scholarly communities and their practices. More specifically, we bring together six critical scholars to take stock of how IR is researched and taught in their own IR communities. Academic communities...

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