Africa and international relations: a comment on IR theory, anarchy and statehood

Brown, William (2006). Africa and international relations: a comment on IR theory, anarchy and statehood. Review of International Studies, 32(1) pp. 119–143.



It has become rather commonplace to read that, what is referred to as 'traditional, western IR theory', is problematic when taken to the African continent. At best, we are told, IR theory misrepresents or misunderstands African reality, at worst it participates in an exercise of neo-colonial theoretical hegemony. In this article I will seek both to assess this 'Africanist critique' and to mount something of a qualified defence of IR theory. However, I argue that in exploring the relevance of IR theory to Africa we need to distinguish between neorealism - the real target of the critics' fire - and other strands of IR theory. Once we do this we can see that other theoretical standpoints within IR are relevant. Moreover, I argue that while trying to question neorealism, the critics in fact maintain neorealism's conceptualisations of the state and anarchy, simply inverting the picture. I argue that this represents a theoretical step backwards. Problematic issues in IR theory do not simply appear when one moves one's focus to Africa, they are there to begin with.

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