By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Explain Marxism, including its fundamental concepts and possible limitations or critiques.
- Explain feminism, including its fundamental concepts and possible limitations or critiques.
Recall that a state’s policy decisions are grounded in the general way it perceives the structure of the world, its place in the larger system, and what it believes would be necessary to secure and grow its position relative to other states. The perspectives of those in power tend to dominate discussions of international norms and theories of international relations. Those who see the system as fundamentally unjust have developed alternative theories to explain the way states act in the international system.
Marxism51 emerged as a response to the rise of capitalism on the back of the imperial actions of the European powers. Karl Marx asserted that the individuals who controlled the factors of production in a country—the land and physical resources, the labor force, the capital needed for investment in the facilities and processes of an economy, and the entrepreneurship and creativity that drives economic growth and diversification—had too much power over its social norms. According to Marx, over the long term, those in power seek to create institutions that further entrench the stratification of the classes of a population, keeping wealth in the upper classes and leaving the lower classes with significant obstacles to their individual advancement. Marxist states seek to promote equality among all people so that each individual has the same opportunities to further their own wealth and success. These states seek to develop an international system in which societies invest internally to focus on the development of their own power and their own means of production so that the producing state gains the most from those products to the benefit of its own citizens.
Proponents of dependency theory52 argue that the stratification of countries in the international system is based around core countries and periphery countries. This view is known as the core-periphery model.53 Core countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom are more developed than most other countries, with more stable political and social institutions and higher-order economic systems. These states rely on developing, or what were once called third-world, countries—periphery countries—that are rich in extractive resources the core countries need to maintain their status. Earlier, the chapter discussed comparative advantage and trade as the basis for international relations; dependency theory suggests that countries that are able to produce higher-order goods and services, such as technologically advanced products like machinery and computers, are better suited to protect their power in the long term. To entrench this advantage, core states have an incentive to keep periphery countries in positions of political and social unrest so that the core countries may extract the needed resources with minimal costs.
At its core, dependency theory rests on Marxist views that those who control the factors of production have the ability to exploit workers. Marxism argues that the pursuit of equality is more assured if the control of society is given to those doing the work to bring about societal progress.
Feminist theory promotes equality among all people, regardless of biological sex or sociological gender. According to feminist theory, traditional views of international relations consider the state to be the main actor in the international system,54 and the feminist tradition views the state as an inherently masculine institution in that it is and has been dominated by men and the male point of view since its inception. As such, according to feminist theory, international relations has traditionally focused on “hard policy” issues, such as conflict and security, and has concentrated primarily on the actions of men. It has relegated to second-class status issues related to development and access to social programs. The end of the Second World War saw a huge shift in the role of women in society in general, ushering in a corresponding shift in the priorities of state policies toward the inclusion of more social programs. Since that time, the number of women in positions of power within governments has steadily increased. Women such as Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, the first woman to be elected a prime minister, have introduced policies in their countries focusing on the health, safety, and welfare of women and children alongside issues of national security and military engagement, leading to an increased focus on these policies in the international arena.
Issues like poverty, infant and maternal mortality, access to education, and violence against women have become a more central part of the conversation in organizations like the United Nations. As more women become part of the policy-making process, the areas that were once relegated to “women’s issues” are being recognized as issues that affect everyone and that must be dealt with to help support vibrant, growing, prosperous societies.
It is worth noting that the scholarship of international relations as a whole has followed the slow track of progress to include women in the field. Especially in the case of scholarship related to conflict and security issues, women have been left out of the conversation, and the overwhelming perspective of work has been that of the heteronormative White male. This lack of diversity in the contributors to the scholarship has led to a lack of objectivity in the scope and process of the study of international relations. As the body of international relations scholars has incrementally, albeit marginally, diversified, the breadth and depth of the scholarship of the field has followed. As the people working in the field of international relations diversifies, a diversity of new perspectives will emerge that can help the field as a whole meet the challenges of the modern system. Scholars such as University of Wisconsin—Green Bay professor Alise Coen55 and Harvard University professor Maya Sen are bringing their unique perspectives to the study of refugee rights and its associated policies and war, respectively.