Home > Uncategorized > Theoretical traditions: Sociology vs political theory vs IR

Theoretical traditions: Sociology vs political theory vs IR

It is striking at how different the narratives of the historical forefathers of different disciplines are. This came to the front particularly when I took the theories of society course and I was amazed at the different claims different disciplines make on different historical theorists and philosophers.

For sociology the great three forefathers of the discipline are Marx, Weber, and Durkheim. Polisci talks about Marx and Weber, a lot less about Durkheim, but they are not seen as theoretical ancestors, particularly puzzling since these scholars have amazing insights to provide. It is true that Weber and Marx are often cited in Polisci, but never in a systematic way, at least as compared to sociology the inclusion of these two scholars is perfunctory. Sociology also goes from turn of the century thoerists to mid 20th century theorists like Bourdieu and Foucault. They do go through Parsons and Goffman but they are less of a theoretical forebearer than great practitioners.

For Political theory the theorists go back to Plato and run through to contemporary writers. There is a jump from the Greeks and Romans (infrequently) to Machiavelli, then Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesqieu, then another jump into (sometimes) Marx, Freud, Lakan, and then a jump to the 1960s and 70s with Foucault, Derrida …

For IR theory literature is disturbingly recent. As elicited from Syllabi, most cite Thucydides, then jump to the first world war. IR theory is a particularly young affair that fails to link up to older discussions. This is particular for IR because of its commitment to the state system and the birth of the discipline as a state oriented one as opposed to political theory that is linked to the aristocratic elites. IR plays the role anthropology did for the birtish empire. There may be some discussion of Hobbes but not much.

It is worth mentioning that all these literatures are Western centric. Forging an imagined bond to the greeks and staying pretty strictly within the confines of Western Europe. The explanations of this is mainly sociological rather than the absence of serious scholarship from outside of Europe.

In the way of going beyond rambling, the philosophical origins of a discipline create certain limits to the directions in which the discipline can go. I am surprised at the absence of Durkheim in IR particularly because he was my favorite of the sociological forefathers. I am interested in why sociology disregards Hobbes through Rousseau and wonder if perhaps such disregard may be warranted. On the other hand it is an interesting insight as to where the distinction between the political and the social lies.

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