Where exactly does ‘International Relations’ begin? American University’s Professor Patrick Jackson and Dr. Rosemary Shinko Guest Lecture at RU
In the form of a degree subject, or indeed in the form of an entire specialist department, ‘International Relations’ is now a firmly established, well-respected standard of the academic landscape. Yet, in comparison to ‘mathematics’, ‘literature’, ‘law’, ‘philosophy’, and even ‘chemistry’ and ‘biology’, it is a relative new-comer.
Encompassing politics, economics, philosophy and other subjects in the field of the humanities, it is said to have begun in its modern form as an academic discipline in 1919; with the passing of the first World War seeing the formation of courses, first in the UK and America, then later in Europe and beyond.
However, more recently, some commentators and academics have begun to question whether these origins have led to the entrenchment of a subject limited in scope and effectiveness by overtly Western-centric approaches. As a result, various alternative International Relations theories grounded in non-western perspectives have been developed leading to a proliferation of discourse, sometimes in direct, critical opposition to more traditional approaches.
Leading the way in responding to these developments with a theoretically, and practically, inclusive approach is Ritsumeikan’s new Joint Degree Program with American University - a brand-new, ground-breaking, four-year, English-based program in: ‘Global International Relations’.
Yet, just what is ‘Global International Relations’, and why not simply ‘International Relations’?
The answers to these questions, together with a good deal more food for thought, were provided on Thursday May 17 in a special one-off lecture by two of the leading figures in the establishment of the program: Professor Patrick Jackson, associate dean for curriculum and learning, School of International Service, American University; and Rosemary Shinko, assistant dean for undergraduate education, School of International Service, American University.
Beginning with a small-group brainstorming session centered upon conceptual associations with the key terms ‘Global’ and ‘International’, students’ own thoughts, assumptions and considerations were skillfully woven into a fast paced and engaging symbiotic lecture, with ample opportunity throughout for active engagement and in-depth discussion.
Assimilating the contribution of students, Professor Jackson then provided a succinct, yet eloquent and inspiring introduction to the meaning and implications behind placing the term ‘Global’ before ‘International Relations’.
Describing ‘The International System’ as a well-defined conceptual space encompassing ‘international politics’, ‘international economics’, and ‘international society’ (represented visually by the three terms bound by an unbroken red circle), the professor asked where the term ‘global’ might ‘sit in such a conceptual space’ (arguably the conceptual domain of more traditional ‘International Relations’ courses):
“My thought about where ‘global’ goes is it goes here (drawing a much larger, green, broken border around the red circle and ‘The International System’). Unlike ‘The International System', which has a nice, firm boundary, you’ll notice that the way I drew the green circle : it’s fragmented, it’s unclear where the edges are. You might call it ‘global social relations’, where to talk about the global is to talk about a broader set of relations and a broader set of actors. If states are the only actors in the international system, clearly they’re not the only actors in the global; because in the global you have people, you have organizations, you have corporations – a variety of things that aren’t part of the international system, that aren’t ‘officially’ recognized, things that can’t show up at the UN and vote, but they still matter a great deal.”
Thus, the ambition behind the new course was revealed: conceptually comprehensive in assimilating and appreciating the traditional fields of ‘International Relations’ study, born in the West from Greco-Roman origins; yet open-minded, daring and dynamic enough to go beyond, to consider different grounds for understanding, to explore new, previously unconsidered perspectives.
The following question, it might be said, led the way in this approach:
Q) What differences and similarities with the west can we notice if we look at world politics from the perspectives of non-western / east-Asian countries?
Largely aimed at cultivating awareness of the Western centric nature of some International Relations theory to date (and, perhaps, how Japanese/East Asian perspectives and experiences can sometimes challenge extant International Relations theory), the question provided a glimpse into the type of difficult, thought-provoking topics participants on the Joint Degree Program will be expected to engage with in the coming weeks, months and years ahead.
As the intensity of discussion and debate increased, the room came alive in equal measure with promise and expectation. The aim of developing globally minded leaders well and truly in sight.
Comments from participants about the lecture and course
Go Kuroki – JDP 1st Year
“It was a pleasure to attend the inauguration ceremony and take a lecture from Professor Jackson (and Dr. Shinko). I am sure that the program will give me the knowledge and skills necessary to live in a global society. It would be great if I could use those skills in an actual international field – for example, in working for the UN in the future.”
Ryoma Endo – JDP 1st Year
“The class given by given by Professor Jackson and Dr. Sinko was amazing. It was interactive, inclusive, and the explanations were really clear and easy to understand.”
“I’m really looking forward to study peace studies, because I’m fascinated by ‘peace’ as a concept. Although I am aware of ideas from Japan, I really don’t know about the US perspective, so I’m really looking forward to studying it as a concept in America at American University.”
Kathy Herland (AU Exchange student and guest participant)
“The course will make the students more competitive in the business and academic world as this is the only degree of its kind.”
Course Information and links:
American University-Ritsumeikan University Joint Degree Program (Ritsumeikan University site):
American University-Ritsumeikan University Joint Degree Program (American University site):
Ritsumeikan University College of International Relations:
American University School of International Service: