Inequality and Theorizing in International Relations: The Case for Subaltern Realism



I argue that the dominant paradigms in IR fail to explain adequately two of the central issues in the international system: the origins of the majority of conflicts and the behavior of the majority of states. These paradigms fail because they formulate generalizations from data drawn from a restricted universe and because they lack historical depth. Both these flaws are related to inequality in the arena of the production of knowledge in IR, which in turn is a function of the inequality in material capabilities in the international system.

A supplementary, if not alternative, perspective is needed to correct this situation and fill this gap. We can fashion such a perspective by drawing upon classical realist thought, the historical sociology of state formation, and the normative perspicacity of the English School. Combining their insights and applying them to the analysis of Third World conflict patterns and the external and domestic behavior of Third World states is likely to provide more satisfactory explanations for the origins of the majority of contemporary conflicts.

Such an exercise will also shed light on the crucial variables that determine the behavior of the majority of states in the Third World. Moving postcolonial states into the mainstream of theorizing in IR will also help reduce the impact of inequality on the field and open new vistas for theoretically informed scholarly research. I also call for pluralism in international relations theorizing rather than a search for universally applicable law–like generalizations divorced from historical and social contexts.