University of Delhi
The ever more global character of today’s International Relations (IR) is no longer satisfied with one-sided stories about how things have gone with either the West or the non-West. Rather, the ongoing discussions on Global IR persuade both the West and the non-West to squarely unfold their own narratives. As the theories and practices of contemporary international relations have remarkably acquired a ‘Global’ impetus, a lot of premium is being put on a ‘dialogic approach’ – that is, an approach to Global IR that insists upon a deeper two-way communicative-action between the West and the non-West. Although the dialogic approach to Global IR seeks to resolve a wide range of cognitive differences between the West and the non-West, it more often than not remains thwarted by a few unsettled contestations: (i) History vs. Philosophy, (ii) Chronology vs. Covariance, (iii) Language vs. Concept, (iv) Culture vs. Economy, and (v) Single vs. Plural. This paper sets out to shed light on these unsettled contestations in an endeavour to intellectually improve the prospects of a dialogic approach to Global IR.
Descriptions of the state of the art in international relations usually oscillate between the diagnosis of an impoverished present and visions of a better future based on dialogue…If dialogue is so highly appreciated, why is there so much monologue?
In a bid to transcend the barriers of an impoverished present and to carve a better future, the theories and practices of contemporary international relations (IR) have strikingly acquired a ‘Global’ impetus. The intensifying discussions on Global IR seek to dilute the already problematized ‘Eurocentric’ nature of IR knowledge – which is built upon the misconception that Western history and Western political theory are world history and world political theory – by placing it into a non-Western, or broader, Global, context. Against this backdrop, a lot of premium is being put on a ‘dialogic’ approach to Global IR – that is, an intellectual strategy that emphasizes deeper dialogues, two-way communications, and ideational-exchanges between the West and the non-West. Although the dialogic approach to Global IR aspires to ‘reconcile’ a wide range of cognitive differences between the West and the non-West, it more often than not remains thwarted by a few unsettled contestations: (i) History vs. Philosophy, (ii) Chronology vs. Covariance, (iii) Language vs. Concept, (iv) Culture vs. Economy, and (v) Single vs. Plural. This paper intends to not only scrutinize the disruptive nature of these unsettled contestations – which tend to trim down ongoing dialogic drills into disjointed monologues – but also detect possible pathways to improve the prospects of a dialogic approach to Global IR. The paper is divided into three sections. The first section illustrates the conceptual evolution of ‘dialogue’ in Eurocentric IR. The second section articulates how the contextual shift of ‘dialogue’ from Eurocentric IR to Global IR is still problematic: in fact, the potential of a dialogic approach to Global IR remains somewhat under-exploited due to the failure to recognize some frequently encountered hurdles that systematically undermine West–non-West interactions. Finally, the third section suggests some measures to facilitate an effective West–non-West dialogue that could probably strengthen a conscientious pursuit of Global IR.
2.‘Dialogue’ in Eurocentric IR: State-of-the-art
How did the idea of dialogue evolve over time in Eurocentric IR? At the very outset, it is imperative to acknowledge that the term ‘dialogue’ in IR encompasses a plurality of meanings. Deriving from the Greek concept of dia-logos (‘meaning-through’), the myriad implications of dialogue in IR – as collaborative-meaning-making-ventures – have come a long way from Thucydides’ ‘dialectical argumentation’ (as expressed in the Melian dialogue), to Habermasian ‘rational-discourse for strategic-bargaining’ and ‘communicative-action for consent-seeking’, to Bakhtinian ‘avoiding of the two extremes of monologue and war’, and ‘description of the human condition’ or ‘mode for being-in-the-world’, to ‘awareness of the always absent “other” that evades the enclosure acts in conversations’, to ‘interaction between different methodological backgrounds’, to ‘ability to change the regulative idea of science’ and ‘recombine analytic components of competing theories’; to ‘engaged pluralism as a potential remedy to long-enduring knowledge-problems’, and to the discipline’s capacity to share knowledge through ‘cross-paradigmatic or inter-epistemic synthesis’ based upon an ‘endless journey through time and space that, given the unpredictable circumstances we encounter along the way, forces us to adapt on the spot over and over again’.
Retrospectively speaking, most of these implications of dialogue developed as corollaries to the ‘great debates’ in IR. While Thucydides’ Melian dialogue came to be associated with the first great debate (or ‘idealist-realist debate’), ‘dialogue as methodological interaction’ developed into an extension of the incomplete second great debate (or ‘history–science debate’). Likewise, ‘dialogue as engaged pluralism’ carried forward the unfinished business of the third great debate (or ‘interparadigmatic debate’), and ‘dialogue as inter-epistemic synthesis’ advanced as an investigation of the fourth great debate (or ‘positivist–post-positivist debate’). Although it is persuasively argued that the ‘great debates’ are the most established means of telling the disciplinary history of IR (or, for that matter, the conceptual progression of ‘dialogue’ in IR), a few IR scholars have begun to interrogate not only the utility of ‘great debates’, but also the lack of differentiation between ‘dialogue’ and other forms of human communication such as ‘debate’. In fact, some IR scholars have rightly questioned the dominant tendency among present-day IR scholars to prefer ‘debate’ over ‘dialogue’, and ‘pluralism’ over ‘synthesis’.
Noticeably, the varied insinuations of dialogue – which remain interior to the margins of ‘great debates’ – suffer from a habitual Eurocentric bias: for instance, James N. Rosenau conceives a Eurocentric notion of ‘global dialogues’ which omits the Third World as one of the unavoidable major perspectives; and Andrew Linklater imagines a Eurocentric existence of ‘dialogic communities’ which displays an inside-out-prejudice by attributing the West’s development of higher levels of rationalization and morality to its own unique ability to learn and borrow from other non-Western cultures. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that several IR scholars across the world (in both West and non-West) have started to call for an expansion in the scope of dialogue by moving it exterior to the margins of ‘great debates’. It is assumed that a truly Global interdiscipline of international studies – which is free from parochialisms of different sorts (geographical, linguistic, methodological, and political)– is achievable via dialogue between not only ‘subfields and specializations’, but also ‘West and non-West’. While the dialogue between West and non-West aims to grant the academic discipline of IR a Global (read non-Eurocentric) character, it is undeniable that the performance of dialogue in the context of Global IR is also not hassle-free.
3. ‘Dialogue’ in Global IR: Persisting Puzzles
So, what are the enduring dilemmas of dialogue under the ambit of Global IR? From a Global (or say, non-Eurocentric) standpoint, the likelihood of dialogue subsists on numerous platforms – such as ‘inter-civilizational’, ‘inter-cultural’, ‘inter-religious’ (or ‘interfaith’), ‘inter-regional’ and so on. Since all these platforms – which stimulate different trajectories for West–non-West dialogues – are invariably significant, it is convincingly proposed that Global IR is not limited to a single global dialogue. Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan assert:
Global IR is not limited to a single global dialogue as some mistakenly interpret our position…Global IR does not expect that IR community should engage in a single global conversation about theory or method…what matters for Global IR is not how many conversations [about how many theories and methods] are going on, but who is excluded from each of these…[In fact], Global IR cannot resolve, nor is it primarily concerned with, interparadigmatic and ‘isms’ debate in IR…Global IR calls more for synthesis than for choosing one approach over the others.
But then, how would ‘West–non-West synthesis’ become practicable if multiple global dialogues in Global IR fail to encourage non-Western narratives to at least ‘speak to’ (if not resolve) the prearranged ‘isms’ debate foundational to Western IR? One way out can be traced in those non-Western approaches that show a willingness to ‘speak to’ the ‘isms’ debate (and the associated perceptions of ‘objectivities’/‘subjectivities’) in Western IR, albeit on calculated terms and conditions of retaining the ‘West–non-West cognitive gap’ (read ‘parentheses’). Walter D. Mignolo comments:
Inter-cultural dialogue, or inter-epistemic dialogue between epistemologies, based on the premise of objectivity without parantheses, could prove deadly when agencies defending opposite objectivities [or scientificities] without parentheses confront each other. Dialogue becomes unsustainable. Objectivity in parentheses, on the other hand, opens up the doors for true inter-epistemic (and intercultural) dialogues.
While ‘objectivity in parentheses’ keeps the choice of multiple global dialogues open, its near-compulsory preoccupation with the ‘West–non-West binary’ quite reasonably raises a few eyebrows. Kimberly Hutchings warns:
There is a politics to the West/non-West distinction that is bound up with predominant models for dialogue in IR; rethinking these models of dialogue implies a new politics, and therefore also, I will suggest, a move away from the West/non-West binary as a way of characterising the participants in dialogic exchange oriented towards the expansive transformation of disciplinary imaginaries.
Most certainly, a dialogic exchange oriented towards the expansive transformation of disciplinary imaginaries demands a move beyond colonial/post-colonial/de-colonial binaries of ‘all-powerful West vs. powerless non-West’, or, for that matter, ‘non-Western silence vs. non-Western defiance’. To be sure, the binary style of global dialogues – situated upon ‘subject-object dualism/s’ – remain ever-ready to invent and include new ‘subject-positions’. However, scholarly competition among these ‘subject-positions’ – which claim to unleash multiple binary styles of global dialogues – leads to a greater or lesser degree of ‘sameness’. Kamila Pieczara explains:
Some resemblances of dialogue are based upon pressures produced by competition, which through selection lead to sameness. Like in Waltz, competition produces a tendency toward sameness of the competitors…It is because of competition, spurring imitation, and ultimately leading to sameness that makes for – in the words of Thomas Biersteker  – ‘intellectual reproduction’ in the field…Although [many] non-Western scholars see the reality of their regions differently, they [more often than not] strive to squeeze their observations into existing [‘dualist’ Western] IR frameworks [that promote ‘binaries’].
And even if the non-Western scholars do not strive to squeeze their observations into dualist Western IR frameworks, their observations are still interpreted through customary binaries: for example, the non-Western expressions such as China’s tribute system, guanxi or tianxia are recounted using the customary Westphalian binaries wherein ‘China’ directly connotes the People’s Republic of China, rather than seeing the method as a holist governing system of the world. Thus, by design, the binary style of global dialogue/s reinforces dualist Western IR frameworks and, in so doing, inclines toward ‘solidifying existing stereotypes’ and ‘fuelling narcissistic turf war’. Alternatively, the non-binary style of global dialogue/s – which sometimes speaks back to the West, and at other times occurs for reasons ‘Other-wise’– plans to avoid undesirable self-perpetuating divisive labelling mechanism that accentuates (not synthesizes or reconciles) disciplinary boundaries. Indeed, it is this non-binary-style of global dialogue/s – for instance, the one that hunts for a reconciliation of ‘Eurocentric dualism’ with a few up-and-coming models of ‘non-Eurocentric monism’ – that suitably stands to leverage a conscientious pursuit of Global IR. But then, it is crucial to recall that the non-binary style of global dialogue/s too faces some problems. The next section methodically foregrounds these often unidentified problems that regularly obstruct an effective West–non-West dialogue.
4.Toward an Effective West–non-West Dialogue: A Conscientious Pursuit of Global IR
The problems that hinder an effective West–non-West dialogue (including non-binary style of global dialogue/s) are mostly rooted in a few unsettled contestations: (i) History vs. Philosophy, (ii) Chronology vs. Covariance, (iii) Language vs. Concept, (iv) Culture vs. Economy, and (v) Single vs. Plural. Since it is held that the ‘problem functions as its own solution’, in what follows, an attempt has been made to expose each of these unsettled contestations, so that the problems inherent in them could, then, work as their own solution.
4.1. History vs. philosophy
Lately, the non-Western parts of the globe have contributed several IR theories that emanate from their ancient/medieval/modern ‘philosophical heritage’: for instance, Tianxia (‘all-under-heaven’) from China; Advaita (‘non-duality’) from India; Basso Ostinato (‘recurrent underlying motif’) from Japan; Ubuntu (‘collective personhood’) from Africa; Dhikr, Takrar and Tawil (‘repetition, lack of repetition, and interpretation’) from Turkey etc. However, whenever a non-Western philosophical heritage is activated to comprehend contemporary realities of IR, its capabilities are more often than not restrictively evaluated on the basis of its ‘historical limits’: that is to say, a philosophical heritage is considered fertile only to the extent that it succeeds within the temporal-spatial boundaries of its origin. As such, history is mobilized as a tool to truncate philosophy. Nevertheless, the historical readings of a philosophy have their own limits: supposedly, if a philosophy works at a particular temporal-spatial point (i.e. historical juncture), it does not mean that it would work forever; likewise, if a philosophy does not work at a particular temporal-spatial point, it does not mean that it would not work ever. Hence, whenever ‘History vs. Philosophy’ dispute crops up to distort an effective West–non-West dialogue, the question that one needs to ask is this: why should we accept ‘history’ (or records of the past) as a natural limit to human future potential?
4.2. Chronology vs. covariance
Since ‘history’ normally acts as a guide to examine the present, it inadvertently gives birth to another perplexity – namely, the perplexity pertaining to ‘chronological battle’ over who came first in (re)producing a particular idea/concept/method/theory. An example of this chronological battle can be found in confrontations over the actual ‘pioneer of realpolitik’ in IR: because the realpolitik of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra (2-4th century CE) appeared much before the realpolitik of Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532), it is considered appropriate to label Machiavelli as ‘Italian or Mediterranean Kautilya’, not Kautilya as ‘Indian Machiavelli’. However, such a chronological battle is unfruitful in terms of its ability to support a West–non-West dialogue: although it revitalizes the status of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra as a potent non-Western device to attack the Eurocentric roots of contemporary IR, it encourages a narrow re-reading of the extra-ordinarily comprehensive ‘eclectic philosophical foundation’ of this classical text which neatly goes beyond Machiavelli’s The Prince. Clearly, such a chronological battle demonstrates how ‘competition produces a tendency toward sameness of the competitors’. Besides, it occasionally creates a flawed impression that a particular idea/concept/method/theory has to always historically travel from one place to another before showing up at both the places. In fact, whenever a chronological battle tries to circumscribe a West–non-West dialogue, one can start to rethink through Helmuth Plessner’s concept of ‘covariance’: since the concept of ‘covariance assumes that intrinsically (or genetically) related ideas can be generated in historically and culturally distant spaces’, anybody located at any temporal-spatial point could concentrate and capture the freely floating ideas which are provincially neither Western nor non-Western. So, instead of ‘provincializing’, an effective West-non-West dialogue must insist upon the task of ‘non-provincializing’ a particular idea/concept/method/theory.
4.3. Language vs. concept
As of now, the tactic of ‘provincializing’ has been seen as a remedy to the problem of Eurocentrism in IR. However, the ideas/concepts/methods/theories originating from the ‘non-Western provinces’ are many a time recognized merely as ‘linguistic’, not ‘conceptual’, additions to the already existing body of Eurocentric IR knowledge. In other words, the supplementary influx of Chinese, African, Indian or Arabic linguistic terms is hailed as a sufficient proof of the enhanced ‘globality’ of IR; it is barely assessed if this enhanced globality (resulting from the influx of alien terminologies) is capable of offering novel concepts to deal with the challenges of contemporary global politics. In a way, it is presumed that the Eurocentric IR knowledge ‘knows it all’; what non-Eurocentric IR knowledge could do is to inclusively participate in ‘politics of knowledge’ which, in turn, would lead to the awakening of non-Western linguistic resources to offer a ‘derivative discourse’ (or conceptual imitation/replication) of the same Eurocentric IR knowledge, thereby manufacturing nothing more than ‘analogies’. Although the Western curiosity surrounding the non-Western linguistic additions (or ‘analogies’) is appreciable, an effective West–non-West dialogue requires a different kind of intellectual temperament: such an intellectual temperament not only presupposes that the same concept can possess different meanings in different milieus, but also confesses that there are different concepts (in both Western and non-Western traditions) that presently remain denigrated and, therefore, prohibited from the mainstream Eurocentric IR knowledge. As such, the entrance of a non-Western ‘vocabulary’ to IR knowledge is not essentially about ‘linguistics’; it could also be about ‘concepts’: even if these non-Western concepts presently remain at the outskirts of formal IR knowledge, they, nonetheless, continually affect the mind-set of various actors who keenly shape the realities of today’s IR.
4.4. Culture vs. economy
Similar to the trend of delimiting non-Western IR knowledge to ‘language’ (not ‘concept’), there is an obvious propensity to compartmentalize non-Western IR knowledge as ‘cultural’ (or ‘spiritual’), not ‘economic’ (or ‘material’). Arlene B. Tickner writes:
[The] non-Western experiences with nationalism have been premised upon opposition and difference to imported models. However, Partha Chatterjee  explains that anti-colonial nationalism in the African and Asian contexts is also characterised by a fundamental contradiction entailing imitation and rejection vis-à-vis modernity and tradition. At the same time that the bearer of modernity, the colonial power, is to be rejected, it is also to be imitated by way of its ‘universal’ methods; similarly, traditional practices considered to pose an obstacle to progress are rejected, while they are also revered as the bearers of national identity. In consequence, such [non-Western] experiences…are characterised by a dual process consisting of: (1) replication and emulation of those material practices (law, statecraft, economy, etc.) imposed by the coloniser, in order to erase difference; and (2) careful guarding of spiritual practices, where cultural identity resides, in order to preserve cultural distinctiveness.
This stereotypical post-colonial/de-colonial way of putting the ‘cultural/spiritual’ and ‘economic/material’ domains in separate boxes (which, in turn, implies preventing the non-Western experiences from uniformly intervening in both the boxes) is highly detrimental to an effective West–non-West dialogue,especially in the era of Global IR which witnesses both the ‘culturalization of the economic’ and ‘economization of the culture’. As Global IR – specifically after 2008 global financial crisis – confronts the ‘economy as a cultural system,’ the economic undertones of non-Western cultural voices must be readily affirmed and proactively incorporated in the dialogic approach to Global IR.
4.5. Single vs. plural
As global dialogues deal with divergent Western and non-Western voices while making efforts to resolve different sorts of political-economic-cultural-crises within the prevailing neoliberal world order, they inevitably face a core unresolved tension: that is, the tension between ‘single’ (read ‘universal’) and ‘plural’ (read ‘particular’). Friedrich V. Kratochwil illustrates:
[Q]uite different from the philosophical argument that we are part of just another episode of the [single] relentless historical process leading to ever more inclusive forms of political organization, the spread of universalism [by Eurocentric IR] is strongly counteracted by the equally strong assertion of particularities [or non-assimilative pluralities by non-Eurocentric post-colonial and de-coloinal IR]. Precisely because the packed imagery of the visionary global culture [involving the conceptualisations, mechansisms, and policies of ‘dialogue’ in Eurocentric IR] is either trivial or shallow.
This ‘single vs. plural’/‘universal vs. particular’ tension – that unrelentingly circumvents the dialogic approach to Global IR –provokes an intellectual tussle between ‘Eurocentric IR’ and ‘non-Eurocentric post-colonial and de-colonial IR’. Deepshikha Shahi simplifies:
In an effort to challenge the universalist claims of Eurocentric IR, the non-Eurocentric post-colonial and de-colonial IR present a holist view of reality: a holist view that emphasizes upon combining the ‘missing particularist narratives of/from the non-Western parts’ with the ‘provincialized particularist narratives of/from the Western parts’ for seizing the whole/holist reality of IR. However, this holist view of reality presented by post-colonial and de-colonial IR recommends the same Eurocentric dualism: while Eurocentric IR maintains the separation between the West and the Rest, the non-Eurocentric post-colonial and de-colonial IR reverse this knowledge-situation and retain the separation between the Rest and the West.
While the West claims universality and, therefore, conveniently confines the non-West to a ‘local’ domain, the non-West too eagerly appropriates for itself the ‘local’ domain as a reaction against the West’s arrogant claim to universality. However, this reactionary reduction of non-Western intellectual projects into a ‘regional’ discourse applicable only to a ‘local’ domain is exceedingly problematic: in fact, a few post-Western intellectual projects (e.g. the ones inspired by non-Western philosophies of Sufism, Advaita etc.) generate a ‘universalist’ discourse that is capable of explaining/describing the general realities of international relations (as applicable to the entire Globe), without suppressing the ‘particularist’ realities of international relations (as applicable to a ‘local’ domain). Thus, whenever ‘single vs. plural’/‘universal vs. particular’ tension disrupts an effective West–non-West dialogue, one needs to make the following twofold observation: (i) the West does not exhaust the universalist explanations/descriptions of international relations; in fact, the non-West does (and can) add to the universalist explanations/descriptions of international relations; (ii) the dialogic approach to Global IR must not compulsorily subscribe to ‘universal vs. particular’ or ‘single vs. plural’ tension; it could, rather, transcend this tension by inculcating an intellectual attitude that upholds ‘universal along with particular’ or ‘single along with plural’.
5. Concluding Remarks
Principally, the complexities of a dialogic approach to Global IR are offshoots of a broader ‘politics of knowledge’. As the pioneer of this politics of knowledge, the West had self-assigned a ‘white-man’s burden’ which, in turn, eventually manifested into its legitimized role as a conventional knowledge-producer in IR (and other social sciences). On the flip side, this meant not only the subjugation of the non-West as a valid knowledge-producer, but also the allocation to the non-West the fixed role of a knowledge-consumer. For a prolonged period, both the West and the non-West (un)critically moved ahead with this status-quoist ‘knowledge-power equations’. However, lately, both the West and the non-West have deliberately entered into a polemical mode which allows an unprecedented opening to heterodox IR theorizations stirred by alien knowledge-forms. In fact, this opening to heterodox IR theorizations is motivated by the need to pursue the ‘Global’: the main challenge facing contemporary IR is how to make it Global by extending its theoretical-practical grounds beyond Eurocentric biases. And one of the most treaded pathways to address these Eurocentric biases has been the inclusion of non-Western worldviews. But it is pertinent to bear in mind that the greater inclusion of non-Western worldviews – for instance, the incorporation of Chinese, Indian, or Brazilian voices in global dialogues – cannot make IR less Eurocentric or more Global if the following slippery slopes are ignored: (i) if non-Western voices nurture a ‘derivative discourse’ of the same Western IR (e.g. if Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra is uttered as the Indian version of the same Western Realism); (ii) if non-Western voices foster an ‘exceptionalist discourse’ which is narrowly applicable to the experiential realities of a native time-space zone (e.g. the post-colonial and de-colonial debates that sanction a rigid division between the particularist politico-experiential realities of the colonizing and colonialized worlds). Although the politics of knowledge was imposed by the West on the non-West in a binary fashion, a conscientious pursuit of Global IR today calls for a fresh politics of knowledge wherein an effective West–non-West dialogue cautiously plays out on non-binary, or say non-retaliatory, terms and conditions.
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