Author: Peter Oppenheimer, Christ Church, Oxford
A lot happens in forty years. Before pondering how the world has changed since 1975, compare for a moment a similar period 200 years ago, starting in 1775. The next four decades led off with the loss of Britain's American colonies – not, of course, including Canada, and not before the modest foundations of a new Empire in India had been laid by the likes of Robert Clive and Warren Hastings. Anglo-French rivalry in these events was conspicuous. In 1789, however, the French Revolution broke out, to be followed by the Napoleonic generation with its wars and political ferment across Europe, lasting until 1815, forty years on from 1775.
‘The past is a foreign country’… and that was certainly true of international studies at the birth of the British International Studies Association.
In the early 1970s international studies was a small and fragmented discipline. Cohesion was maintained by the British Coordinating Committee for International Studies (BCCIS) which organised a biennial conference (the Bailey Conference), at which assorted luminaries enlightened the assembled conferees in a series of plenary sessions. The commanding heights of the BCCIS were occupied largely by London School of Economics (LSE) staff and alumni. By 1973, however, it had become clear to a number of the discipline’s leading lights that the steady expansion of the subject area meant that international studies now required a more open and less masonic-like organisation.
The discipline’s intellectual penchants and inner organisation have become important research objects in recent years. Indeed, enquiries into the social and material structures of IR knowledge production and dissemination turned into a veritable research agenda: Whether it is the debunking of the great debates narrative, in-group citation, pedagogical penchants, publishing patterns or hiring practices – works on the sociology of IR have contributed significantly to fostering a more comprehensive and reflexive understanding of the discipline. And considering the authority that IR has over world politics as practice, i.e. its influence on students and policymakers, this is a rather good thing to observe.