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The discourse of anarchy in IR

  • Jack Donnelly (a1)
Abstract

Contemporary International Relations (IR) typically treats anarchy as a fundamental, defining, and analytically central feature of international relations. Furthermore, it is usually held that IR since its inception has been structured around a discourse of anarchy. In fact, however, until the 1980s anarchy was rarely employed as a central analytical concept, as I show by examining 145 books published between 1895 and 1978. The conceptual and analytic centrality of anarchy is not imposed on us by international reality. Rather, it is a recent and contingent construction. Given the shortcomings of standard uses of ‘anarchy’ – especially the facts that there is no clear, generally agreed upon definition, that ‘the effects of anarchy’ are not effects of anarchy (alone), and that anarchy is not the structural ordering principle of international systems – I argue for returning to earlier practice and putting anarchy back in the background of IR.

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E-mail: Jack.Donnelly@du.edu
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Sources with authors printed in small caps indicate books in Appendix 1, 2, or 3. Numbers in square brackets at the end of the entry indicate the occurrences of ‘anarchy’ or ‘anarchic.’

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