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THE TROUBLE WITH TEXTBOOKS

This post is not meant as a criticism of textbook authors and publishers. By and large they put in long hours to make sure that they produce a quality product. They also fulfill a very real need. Textbook authors are often driven to write because they are not happy with the current offerings, and the project is usually inspired by their own teaching needs. Yet, there are problems with textbooks that occur despite the best intentions of those who write and publish them. In this blog I lay out the growing problems I have had with textbooks. The focus is on my field of International Relations (IR), although I suspect that many of these problems are common across other fields.

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INDUSTRIALISATION, IMPERIALISM, AND RAW MATERIALS.

The Russo-Japanese War now gives to all an awareness that even war and peace in Europe – its destiny – isn’t decided between the four walls of the European concert, but outside it, in the gigantic maelstrom of world and colonial politics.
– Rosa Luxemburg

Industrialisation does not get much of a look-in during introductions to International Relations (IR) courses. In fact, outside of International Political Economy, IR seems happier ignoring the nineteenth century. There are, of course, exceptions, of which Mitzen (2013) and Buzan and Lawson (2015) are good examples. In this blog I want to look more closely at one aspect of the way that industrialisation shaped the global order: how its creation of raw material needs fed into imperialism.

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PLANET POLITICS IN EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS. DERWENT WHITTLESEY’S ENVIRONMENTALIST POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY

In 2016 five scholars published a paper on planet politics that criticized International Relations (IR) for not taking the Anthropocene and environmental concerns seriously (Burke et al, 2016). Written in the form of a manifesto, their criticisms of IR were timely. Since the 1950s IR, especially in its US form, was driven by immediate Cold War concerns of security and relations between great powers. Yet this IR of the later twentieth century superseded a more materialist IR that had flourished in the first half of the century. Part of this materialist tradition can be found in works of international political economy written by the likes of Norman Angell, H. N. Brailsford, Mary Parker Follett, Paul Reinsch, Helena Swanwick, and Thomas Parker Moon. Another part is made up of the international political geographers that were inspired By Ellen Churchill Semple’s imaginative adaptation of the work of Friedrich Ratzel.

Political geography in the interwar period was one of the major sources of thinking about the international order. Premised on the importance of human interactions with space and the physical world, political geographers pondered questions of technology, raw material spread, land use, and the effects of state-building and imperialism. In this sense there was a planet politics in IR before 1950. Perhaps the best example of this comes from the work of the Harvard-base political geographer Derwent Whittlesey. Continue reading “PLANET POLITICS IN EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS. DERWENT WHITTLESEY’S ENVIRONMENTALIST POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY”