A Discussion of Robert Vitalis’s White World Order, Black Power Politics

A Discussion of Robert Vitalis’s White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations

by Robert Vitalis, University of Pennsylvania

In White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations, Robert Vitalis presents a critical disciplinary history of the field of international relations, and the discipline of political science more broadly. Vitalis argues that the interconnections between imperialism and racism were “constitutive” of international relations scholarship in the U.S. since the turn of the 20th century, and that the perspectives of a generation of African-American scholars that included W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Ralph Bunche were equally constitutive of this scholarship—by virtue of the way the emerging discipline sought to marginalize these scholars. In developing this argument, Vitalis raises questions about the construction of knowledge and the racial foundations of American political development. These issues lie at the heart of U.S. political science, and so we have invited a range of political scientists to comment on the book and its implications for our discipline.

Read the entire review symposium.


  • Neta Crawford, Boston University
    Most disciplines in the sciences and social sciences devote significant effort to socializing graduate students, which includes a recitation of the positions held in great debates. The socialization further defines the proper questions to ask and shows how, by what methods and evidence, the questions must be answered. Read the full article.
  • L.H.M. Ling, The New School
    The Distinguished Professor smiled:The high temple of Westphalianism is in South Korea and Japan, as much as Thailand and Cambodia. In fact, post-Westphalian thought may be more prevalent in Europe. So we return to Europe.We were at a workshop hosted by a first-tier research university in Fall 2015 and I had just presented my paper. It argued for a shift from Westphalia’s definition of power as coercion to a post-Westphalian one of co-creativity. This approach, I suggested, could address territorial disputes like that between China and Japan in the East China Sea by redefining “sovereignty.” The Distinguished Professor guffawed at the notion. “Reality” on the ground, he could barely contain his amusement, would never allow such a shift. Asians are simply too wedded to the international order led by the US-West. Please, let’s move on. Read the full article.
  • Daniel H. Nexon, Georgetown University
    Robert Vitalis’ new book is already sending shockwaves through the community of international-relations scholars. I witnessed its effects in microcosm when I assigned it to my graduate international-relations theory class. On the day we discussed it, the class looked downcast: the history—and by extension, the present—of the field now appeared rather different than what they had understood only a week before. We all left the class with two open questions. First, what does the deeply racist past of our field mean? Second, where do we go from here? Read the full article.
  • Meera Sabaratnam, University of London
    Vitalis has written an indispensable and provocative account of the genesis of International Relations in the US as a discipline expressly concerned with the maintenance and expansion of global white supremacy. This is an enormously significant contribution to the understanding of the past, present and future of how we study world politics, which has thus far ‘disappeared’ racism and racial politics from its foundation narratives. A success of Vitalis’s book is that he strongly suggests this is not simply a historical aberration but had intellectual consequences for how we study and teach the subject. Read the full article.

Perspectives on Politics /  Volume 14,Issue 4 / December 2016 / pp. 1123-1129