Theme Panel: Racism and International Relations

Racism and International Relations

Full Paper Panel

(Chair) W. R. Nadège Compaoré, University of Toronto; (Discussant) D.G. Kim, University of California, San Diego

Session Description:
We propose a panel under the conference theme “Rethink, Restructure, and Reconnect: Towards A Post-Pandemic Political Science” on the topic of racism in international relations. Scholars have increasingly called attention to the neglect of race in international relations scholarship (Anievas, Manchanda, and Shilliam 2014; Bhambra et al. 2020; Zvobgo and Loken 2020). Critics argue that core international relations theories were developed from “white” perspectives rooted in structural power asymmetries and racist assumptions about concepts like anarchy and sovereignty (Rolim 2021; Sabaratnam 2020). Racist ideas played an important role in early 20th century international relations scholarship, illustrated by The Journal of Race Development, which was renamed to later become Foreign Affairs, a leading journal for policy-oriented international relations scholarship (Vitalis 2017). These legacies came to be neglected as explicitly racist theories fell to the wayside and the subfield increasingly sought to portray itself in objective, scientific terms.

It is time to take racism in international relations seriously in line with the conference theme of rethinking and restructuring political science. Our panel will feature three papers that reassess conventional, race-neutral narratives of international relations and seek to push forward a new research agenda on how race continues to shape important aspects of the world order and IR scholarship. As the conference theme notes, the discipline is in dire need of research on “pressing societal issues related to equity, inclusion, and social justice in democracies to a peaceful international order.” Our panel directly addresses this gap and moves the discipline forward.

The papers in our panel reflect remarkable theoretical and methodological pluralism which are nonetheless unified in emphasizing the importance of accounting for race and racism in international relations scholarship. The Andrews paper tackles white supremacy in the study of international relations and the persistent erasure of non-Western perspectives. Chu, Schwartz, and Blair examine the intersection of racist beliefs and the use of weapons of mass destruction using novel survey experiments. Lipscy and Zhou argue that institutionalized racism has been a neglected feature of the architecture of international institutions and use statistical analyses and case studies to demonstrate persistent bias in favor of white-majority states. Our participants reflect diverse perspectives in line with the conference theme and the substantive topic of the panel. Among other things, six out of eight participants are BIPOC and originally from five different countries. Current academic institutions in three different countries are represented.


Legacies of Empire and the Erasure of Non-Western Contributions to IR
Nathan Andrews, University of Alberta

Over the past few decades, there have been intense debates around the lack of diverse perspectives and approaches in International Relations (IR). Some of these discussions have critiqued the permanence and privilege of certain ideas propounded primarily by Western (Anglo-American) scholars that have become central to both IR theory and practice while others have examined the blatant amnesia, erasure, and racism that result in the neglect of non-Western perspectives as useful contributions to knowledge. This paper undertakes a thematic review of these existing contributions to critically reflect upon some of the reasons why IR has maintained a distinct characterization as a Western discipline. In particular, the reflection is broken down into three key themes that emerge from the existing scholarship which cut to the core of why we are still exploring avenues for a discipline that needs to reflect diverse worldviews and become representative of the world it attempts to explain. These themes include 1) the issue of knowledge validity in IR; 2) the problem of white supremacy, racism and the challenge of black internationalism; and 3) the repetitive motif that informs IR pedagogy. Considering that these three identified themes have been discussed in the extant scholarship and yet with limited success in substantially transforming the ‘state of the field’, the novelty of this contribution lies in further synthesizing and foregrounding them as part of ongoing discourses on the non-Western IR movement. Also, the paper explores some ways through which the momentum gained on the potential diversification, pluralization, and decolonization of IR can be sustained over time.

Race and Public Opinion on Nuclear Weapons
Jonathan Art Chu, Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania; Joshua Schwartz, Harvard Kennedy School; Christopher William Blair, University of Pennsylvania

When considering the possibility of a nuclear conflict with China in the context of the Vietnam War, Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, “Many Asians seemed to see an element of racial discrimination in use of nuclear arms; something we would do to Asians but not to Westerners.” How does variation in the public’s racial views and the racial identities of targets impact support for nuclear use? Although extant literature has analyzed a myriad of factors that impact support for nuclear use, there is a notable gap when it comes to the impact of racial identity and beliefs. We hypothesize that people will be more supportive of nuclear use against out-group and non-white racial targets. We also expect individual-level racial resentment and attitudes will moderate this dynamic. To test these hypotheses, we utilize survey experiments embedded in public opinion polls fielded in the United States in two studies. The first study examines the black versus white target identity in a hypothetical scenario relating to nuclear development in Angola. The second study examines how Asian resentment may potentially affect opinions about a hypothetical conflict between the US and Russia versus China. Our results will contribute to the literature on the nuclear non-use norm specifically and humanitarian norms more broadly.

Institutional Racism in International Relations
Phillip Y. Lipscy, University of Toronto; Jiajia Zhou

The role of race in international relations has received increasing attention, but it has been challenging to measure racism or its variation over time. We examine institutional racism in international relations by considering how international organizations structure and perpetuate racial hierarchies. We do so by examining racist language and membership patterns in international organizations. The data and case studies suggest a decline in formal racism but persistent informal racism. Based on our original data, racism expressed openly in the founding charters of international organizations is both relatively uncommon and has declined over time. However, membership patterns suggest a persistent bias in favor of white-majority countries: 1) white-majority countries continue to be overrepresented as inception members of newly formed organizations; 2) even after controlling for a variety of potential confounders, organizations that overrepresent white-majority countries tend to admit new white-majority members and face disproportionate exit of non-white-majority members. The findings suggest that scholarship on international organization, regime complexity, and institutional contestation need to pay greater attention to race.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.