Qin - Relational Theory.pdf - International Studies...

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ANALYTICAL ESSAY A Relational Theory of World Politics Y AQING Q IN China Foreign Affairs University Culture matters in social theory construction because the metaphysical component of the theoretical hard core is primarily shaped by the back- ground knowledge of a cultural community. Individual rationality, a key concept abstracted from Western culture, constitutes the nucleus for much of mainstream Western International Relations Theory. This arti- cle proposes a relational theory of world politics with relationality as the metaphysical component of its theoretical hard core. It conceives the International Relations (IR) world as one composed of ongoing rela- tions, assumes international actors as actors-in-relations, and takes pro- cesses defined in terms of relations in motion as ontologically significant. It puts forward the logic of relationality, arguing that actors base their ac- tions on relations in the first place. It uses the Chinese zhongyong dialec- tics as its epistemological schema for understanding relationships in an increasingly complex world. This theoretical framework may enable us to see the IR world from a different perspective, reconceptualize key ele- ments such as power and governance, and make a broader comparison of international systems for the enrichment of the Global IR project. Keywords: background knowledge, relationality, meta-relationship, zhongyong dialectics, immanent intersubjectivity Mainstream Western International Relations Theory (IRT), especially its expres- sion in America, has largely dominated the disciplinary discourse. Acharya and Buzan ( 2007 ) initiated a project asking the question “Why is there no non- Western IR theory?” so forcefully that International Relations (IR) as a discipline must answer in a world of “multiple actors, traditions, and practices” (Katzenstein 2010 , 23). More recently, Acharya has put forward the concept of “Global IR,” stressing the significance of IR’s evolution toward an inclusive discipline and “rec- ognizing its multiple and diverse foundations” (Acharya 2014 ). The Global IR project has necessarily raised the question about the role of culture in IRT, be- cause a “pluralistic universality” inevitably involves the multiple cultures that coex- ist in the world. This article argues that culture matters for social theory construction because it provides the important background knowledge that shapes the hard core of a social theory. Based upon this argument, I will sketch what I term a “relational theory of world politics,” centered around the concept of “relationality,” which is embedded in Confucian cultural communities and at the same time has intellectual value-added beyond its cultural origin. Qin, Yaqing. (2016) A Relational Theory of World Politics. International Studies Review , doi: 10.1093/isr/viv031 V C The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association.
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