Sinan Chu

Fantastic Theories and Where to Find Them: Rethinking Interlocutors in Global IR

Millennium: Journal of International Studies | 2023

  • Abstract

    How can we appreciate non-Western agency in theorising world politics without reintroducing parochialism and exceptionalism, thus reproducing the very problem that motivated global international relations (IR) in the first place? In this article, I explore an alternative approach to engaging with non-Western IR theories, which I refer to as the embedded observer approach. First, taking the scholarship on Chinese IR as an example, I argue that the present predicament of global IR is in part attributable to the way scholars engage with non-Western political thought. Drawing from discussions in critical IR and Comparative Political Theory, I propose a methodological adjustment for the study of non-Western theories. Specifically, I argue that by shifting focus from isolated scholars and texts to critical dialogues among autochthonous intellectuals, the researcher has the chance to learn about and appreciate the clashes of ideas, analytical perspectives, and methodological tools that together constitute the living intellectual tradition in a non-Western society. As a demonstration, I analyse the People’s Republic of China (PRC) scholars’ critical reaction to Zhao Tingyang’s Tianxia System through the lens of three key topics in the debate over the thesis. The discussion highlights the need to rethink interlocutors in global IR and the utility of an embedded observer approach for engaging with knowledge traditions beyond the West, both in IR and beyond.

    Research Project


    Millennium: Journal of International Studies








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