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18: Crossings and Candles

  • Page ID
    11215
  • ‘It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness’ W. L. Watkinson 1838–1925

    An old lesson teaches that endings are more difficult to write than beginnings. This may be so, but I have found it difficult to even begin writing about the world International Relations (IR) makes without reflecting on a near-fortyyear career in both the theory and practice of IR. This is because my intellectual engagement in IR is indivisible from who I am. To make the same point in a slightly more elevated mode, although trained in the tradition that a scholar’s gaze is objective, my academic pilgrimage has been one of continuous crossings between the personal, the political and the professional. My early professional life was conducted during a particularly nasty period of apartheid in South Africa. Not only was the minority-white-ruled government cracking down on all forms of political dissent, it was also wedded to a fierce anti-communism. In these circumstances it was difficult to exercise academic objectivity when it came to thinking about the world. Those years taught me a valuable lesson in life and learning: to believe that there is a totally objective or value-free view in IR is to call up the old Russian saying that ‘he lied like an eye witness!’ We all come to understand the world through our own experiences. Because of this, even the most objective person has predetermined understandings about the world.

    A standard dictionary definition of international relations runs that the term ‘is used to identify all interactions between state-based actors across state boundaries’ (Evans and about the future or fearful for one’s family. So we ought to require, perhaps, that a definition does something more than simply demarcate boundaries. A more reflective gaze points to what it is that we, the prospective student or emeritus professor, actually do when we ‘do’ academic IR and why it matters to us.Newnham 1998, 274). This is certainly suggestive of the scholarly field of IR but unhelpful in explaining the international relationships that fall between the cracks of the discipline’s many boundaries and the personal anxiety and fear around these issues. After all, at the height of the Cold War there was real fear that the entire planet would be destroyed by nuclear warfare. In these circumstances, it was difficult not to be anxious about the future or fearful for one’s family. So we ought to require, perhaps, that a definition does something more than simply demarcate boundaries. A more reflective gaze points to what it is that we, the prospective student or emeritus professor, actually do when we ‘do’ academic IR and why it matters to us.