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The End of the White Man Theory of History... and IR

Flipping through the Foreign Affairs for March/April 2009, I couldn’t help noticing that the articles, on the whole, reflect the globalization/interconnectedness of our modern world. In addition to the standard articles on the military, diplomacy and politics, there were articles on climatology, religion and culture, and technology.

Two trends have combined to create this new study of foreign affairs. First, academia has expanded its approach to cover more topics using a more sophisticated analysis. The rise of computers have given researchers access to more numbers, statistics and data than ever before, and the increase in computing power and technology allows researchers to manipulate this data in new, unexpected ways. Take this (possibly inaccurate) example of data analysis of casualties form the Iraq war.

This computing power enables researchers to look beyond the traditional position papers, memoirs, and memorandum that defined foreign affairs in the past but the rise of the internet has also expanded researchers access to these materials, thousands of files and papers available at your finger tips. Just look at the recent Twitter revolutions.

Complimenting the digital revolution of accademia was the social revolution in academia in the 1960s, which changed the focus off the single individual (White Men) to societal issues. By the eighties, they looked at the identity, or the group (Black studies, chicano studies or women’s studies). Now we have holistic approaches, (Environmental studies or global studies). As universities have expanded their scope foreign affairs and political science academics and theoreticians have more resources and fellow disciplines with whom to share ideas, finding new solutions to new problems.

Globalization, like it or lump it, is no longer a theory but a reality. The changes in technology, intermeshing of financial markets, and movement of people and goods now influence the policies of every nation. American or Chinese car emissions effect the Island nations of the pacific, East African hackers scam American seniors. This new academic focus is the only way to address these changes.

The only thing left to conclude is whether or not I see this change as good or bad. As far as globalization goes, I haven’t made a decision. As for a more expansive study of foreign affairs, I am clearly a huge fan; it moved from studying the Great White Men to the cultural and social forces affecting humanity. If we are to understand the forces affecting change in our world, contemporary students of foreign affairs must study the interrelated fields of economics, military affairs, globalization, social science and culture.

two comments

I have to disagree with theory of a “white man’s history.” I’d say its more of a distributionist’s history. Of course history is not objective. From the start, that which is available with regards to historical texts for the vast majority is was written with bias to that writer’s point of view. With regards to the white man defining history, that’s only due to the prevalence of technological and informational advances that centered in Europe. With the ability to make the written word vastly available, it allowed those same people with distribution power to define what was important in those times. But prior to that, and even concurrently, other areas were still defining their own history. We learn more about European history in school because there was frankly more written in Europe collectively than Asia or Africa. While Asian cultures have vast religious and cultural histories as well as technological advances, they lacked the distribution capability to have their version of history impact today. With the internet now everyone has the power to distribute history… I’m just afraid it becomes less objective than it ever was. Optimistically though, if there are dozens of different viewpoints on the same event, perhaps with the collection of all the points of view, we come closer to visualizing events as they actually happened.


I’m still unconvinced that globalisation is an undeniable fact.

I would point readers to a chapter of Globalization, Neo-Conservative Policies and Democratic Alternatives (published by Arbeiter Ring, 2005) written by Robert Chernomas and Ardeshir Sepehri, titled “Is Globalization and Its Success a Myth?” The authors offer an analysis of international trade flows, and other measures of global interconnectedness in terms of trade and finance.

Their findings are interesting, in that they argue that states are more likely to be protectionist now than they were a century ago. The current globalisation rhetoric leads one to believe that states and societies are increasing their interactivity with one another, but it’s a compelling and interesting notion that we aren’t actually increasing our global interaction.

A nitpicky point, but one worthy of discussion.