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Is “Non-Western Theory” Possible? The Idea of Multipolarity and the Trap of Epistemological Relativism in Russian IR


  • Viatcheslav Morozov acknowledges financial support for this research from the European Social Fund's Doctoral Studies and Internationalization Program DoRa and the Estonian Research Council. An earlier draft of this article was presented at the workshop How International Relations Became and Is What It Is? at the University of St. Andrews on June 19, 2012. We would like to thank the organizers and participants of the workshop, and in particular our discussant Karin Fierke, for their comments and suggestions. We are also grateful to the editors and reviewers of the International Studies Review for helping to develop our argument.


An important recent development in the discipline of International Relations (IR) has been the growing interest in the national schools and “non-core” theorizing. Even though this interest is fully justified, we argue that the tendency to describe all such schools as invariably promising and helpful in overcoming the Eurocentrism of the discipline is misguided. It originates in the false assumption that the infinite diversity of collective experiences throughout the world can only be approached on the basis of epistemological pluralism. We explore the confusion between the ontological and epistemological aspects of the problem by looking at the state of international studies in Russia. The development of Russian IR is defined by a controversy between pro-Western transitological approaches and the dominant relativist position centered around the doctrine of multipolarity. The latter is translated into the epistemological domain, leading to a totally counterproductive assertion that “Western” science is unable to understand Russia's specificity.

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