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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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Understanding International Relations
Chris Brown

Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave
(2nd Edition) 296pp inc index, ISBN 0-333-94849-1



Chris Brown's 2nd edition of "Understanding International Relations" represents a concise but wide-ranging introduction to the subject. It includes a short history of international relations in the twentieth century, followed by an overview of contemporary theory. Thus, it introduces the reader to the main theoretical approaches, i.e. liberal internationalism, realism, behavioralism, neo-realism and neo-liberalism, complex interdependence, pluralism, fuctionalism, constructivism and postmodernism and applies them to central questions of war and peace, poverty and wealth, economic management, global management.

The different theories are backed up by works written by prominent writers and scholars of the relevant period of time and the key assumptions of each and one of the theories are considered. After introducing the main topics and concepts representative for each main theory the author contributes to a better understanding of the different theories applying them to past and present incidents on the international arena.

Moreover, when relevant and appropriate the author contrasts one theory against another. The account of the different approaches adopted by supporters of the different theories towards issues such as the formulation of foreign policy, cooperation between states, the importance of the state and the role of power in international relations are good examples of the method adopted in this work.

The work at hand is an excellent introduction to the subject of international relations since it also encompasses the issue of international political economy identifying it as a key part of the structure and process of contemporary international politics. Moreover, the author dedicates the last chapters to the topic of economic globalization, the question of North-South relations seen from a structuralist perspective.

Last but not least, the author addresses the issue of global politics in the twenty-first century under the umbrella of globalization, focusing on the question of international environment, human rights and border issues as well as the implications of the new technologies in global politics.

The author tries throughout the book to maintain a neutral position, examining each and one of the above-mentioned theories seriously, avoiding allowing a privileged position to any of them. Nonetheless, it is easy to recognize the author's own views when the different theories are being examined but in no way does he impose them on the reader, who instead is given the possibility to form his own view.

As a student of International Relations I appreciated the concise form of the book to a certain extent. I sometimes missed a more complete and deep examination of the issues at hand and the quick switch from one theory to another made it a little difficult to grasp for example their relevance in the topics discussed under the new politics of the twenty-first century. A discussion, rather than just a description of the new items on the agenda of international relations, could have provided the reader with a wider understanding of these, allowing for a further discussion outside the framework of this book.

Nevertheless, keeping in mind that the author's intent with this book is to "present an overview of the current state of International Relations theory" (p. ix), I believe that he has reached his goal.


Madeline Moise, MA Student, John Hopkins University



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