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The Global Transformation
History, Modernity and the Making of International Relations

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Part of Cambridge Studies in International Relations

  • Authors:
  • Barry Buzan, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • George Lawson, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Date Published: February 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107630802

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About the Authors
  • The 'long nineteenth century' (1776–1914) was a period of political, economic, military and cultural revolutions that re-forged both domestic and international societies. Neither existing international histories nor international relations texts sufficiently register the scale and impact of this 'global transformation', yet it is the consequences of these multiple revolutions that provide the material and ideational foundations of modern international relations. Global modernity reconstituted the mode of power that underpinned international order and opened a power gap between those who harnessed the revolutions of modernity and those who were denied access to them. This gap dominated international relations for two centuries and is only now being closed. By taking the global transformation as the starting point for international relations, this book repositions the roots of the discipline and establishes a new way of both understanding and teaching the relationship between world history and international relations.

    • Provides a concise history of how the nineteenth century revolutions of modernity shaped the main contours of international relations during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, both materially and ideationally
    • Challenges IR's convention that the modern world came into being in 1648 as well as questioning IR's orthodox 'benchmark dates' (1500, 1648, 1919, 1945, 1989), finding them arbitrary and dysfunctional as a way of organizing teaching and research
    • Offers a balanced and truly global history that covers both the West and other parts of the world in equal measure
    Read more


    • Co-Winner, 2017 Francesco Guiccardini Prize, Historical International Relations Section, International Studies Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "This hugely ambitious and engaging book should immediately establish itself as a foundational text for the study of international relations. Whatever scholarly debates may arise regarding matters of emphasis, interpretation, omission and commission, Buzan and Lawson have achieved a grand synthesis that would have been impossible in less capable hands. Their work presents the nineteenth century as a sort of Rosetta stone for understanding our contemporary world, and we are emphatically reminded that modernity has not yet released us from its grip."
    Mlada Bukovansky, Smith College, Massachusetts

    "In this ambitious work, Buzan and Lawson do nothing less than tell us how our global modernity came to be. But they also tell us why the discipline of international relations has failed to understand this transformation before, and how we should analyse and theorize global modernity in the first place. Partly a concise history of modern global power, partly a sustained critique of, and programme for, the study of international relations: this is among the best that global social science has to offer."
    Julian Go, Boston University

    "In this highly impressive book Buzan and Lawson make a strong case for locating the origins of modern international relations to the long nineteenth century. Most important is that this is no mere historical argument that is relevant only to historical sociologists in IR but, in providing an alternative temporal benchmark to the conventional moments, they are able to take on many of the taken-for-granted assumptions (and heroic myths) that continue to permeate the discipline."
    John M. Hobson, University of Sheffield and author of The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics

    "Buzan and Lawson’s The Global Transformation is a colossal achievement. Drawing from an incredibly broad-ranging body of literature from political science, historical sociology, world history and economics, the authors advance a lucid and compelling argument about the global transformation’s nature, and its seismic impact on international relations. This is a landmark intervention in international relations, and should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in understanding the global order’s origins, its contested constitution and its likely future."
    Andrew Phillips, University of Queensland

    "Some claims are so compelling, persuasive, and simply correct that, upon reading them, we say to ourselves "Of course! How could anyone have ever thought differently?". Buzan and Lawson provide just such an argument: that the contemporary international system originated in the configuration of processes, developments and events that marked the long nineteenth century. Anyone interested in the critical debate about the origins and future trajectory of world politics should read this book."
    Dan Nexon, Georgetown University and Lead Editor, International Studies Quarterly

    '… this is a rich, well-researched, properly argued, provocative and ground-breaking work. In short, it is a wonderful piece of scholarship. Buzan and Lawson have set the pace for a new scholarly programme that finally takes the nineteenth century transition seriously within IR.' Lucian M. Ashworth, E-International Relations (

    '… it is also a tribute to the scholarly rigour of the text that theorists across intellectual traditions will find in the work ample material with which to frame complementary and critical interventions alike. As a result, the work is very likely to spark a long-overdue interest in the nineteenth century as an epoch of social transformation, and, in doing so, recast many core assumptions of both IR and Historical Sociology.' Luke Cooper, Journal of Historical Sociology

    'That world politics remain a work in progress is the foundational premise for Barry Buzan and George Lawson’s splendid new book, The Global Transformation: History, Modernity, and the Making of International Relations. A tour-de-force, the volume locates the origins of modern international relations in the material, political, and ideological upheavals that the Industrial Revolution ushered into being.' Daniel Sargent, New Global Studies

    'The synthetic power of the book is immensely impressive, and the coherence of the story that it presents will force others to rethink their own view of the making of modern international society. Although it suggests - perhaps rather too insistently - that academic international relations has ignored or downplayed the nineteenth century (compared, say, to Westphalia or Paris 1919), it builds on a considerable body of work that has been developing over the past twenty years not only in global history, the history of international law, and historical sociology but also within academic international relations itself.' Andrew Hurrell, Ethics and International Affairs

    'In this monumental book, Barry Buzan and George Lawson provide an outstanding synthetic history of the nineteenth-century roots of contemporary international relations. Drawing on economic history, world history and historical sociology, they produce a dynamic and highly readable grand narrative that is destined to achieve canonical status in the field of international relations (IR).' Ann Towns, European Political Science

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107630802
    • length: 421 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 153 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.68kg
    • contains: 11 b/w illus. 8 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. The Global Transformation and IR:
    1. The global transformation
    2. IR and the nineteenth century
    Part II. The Making of Modern International Relations:
    3. Shrinking the planet
    4. Ideologies of progress
    5. The transformation of political units
    6. Establishing a core-periphery international order
    7. Eroding the core-periphery international order
    8. The transformation of great powers, great power relations and war
    Part III. Implications:
    9. From 'centred globalism' to 'decentred globalism'
    10. Rethinking international relations.

  • Authors

    Barry Buzan, London School of Economics and Political Science
    Barry Buzan is Emeritus Professor in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, a Senior Fellow at LSE IDEAS and a Fellow of the British Academy. Among his books are International Systems in World History (2000, with Richard Little); Regions and Powers (Cambridge, 2003, with Ole Wæver); From International to World Society? (Cambridge, 2004, with Ole Wæver); The Evolution of International Security Studies (Cambridge, 2009, with Lene Hansen) and An Introduction to the English School of International Relations (2014).

    George Lawson, London School of Economics and Political Science
    George Lawson is an Associate Professor of International Relations in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research focuses on the interface between international relations and historical sociology, and on processes of radical change, most notably revolutions. He is the author of Negotiated Revolutions (2005) and editor of The Global 1989 (Cambridge, 2010, with Chris Armbruster and Michael Cox).


    • Co-Winner, 2017 Francesco Guiccardini Prize, Historical International Relations Section, International Studies Association

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