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Q2. What do English School arguments about the existence and character of an anarchical society add to our understanding of international relations?


English Schools introduces a new area in International Relations theory, offering a middle ground between the opposing views of realism and liberalism. Barry Buzan succinctly outlines the English Schools’ primary goal: to uncover the nature and functioning of international societies and trace their historical development (Buzan, 2001:476). This essay seeks to understand how the English School adds to our knowledge of international relations, focusing on the idea of an anarchical society. We’ll explore its thoughts and principles to see how it helps us make sense of the complex world stage. So, let’s embark on this journey to understand the English School and understand its role in shaping how we see global affairs.

Analytical Framework

English School ideas about the existence and nature of an anarchical society help us understand international relations better. They suggest that in the world of countries, there’s no central authority, but there is a shared system and certain rules. This concept adds a middle ground between the strong power-focused ideas (realism) and the cooperation-oriented ones (liberalism). English School recognises that countries exist in a kind of disorder but highlight the chance for them to work together based on common values (Buzan, 2001:476). This viewpoint deepens our understanding of how global affairs work, considering both the power struggles and the potential for teamwork among nations.

The analytical framework guiding this study is rooted in the influential work of Thomas Kuhn, particularly “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Kuhn’s ideas, although initially formulated for the scientific domain, have proven to be very helpful when applied to political science, as highlighted by scholars such as Guilhot (2016:3-4). In this study, we draw upon Kuhn’s concepts of normal science and paradigm shifts to gain a valuable perspective on the evolution of International Relations (IR) theory, a field characterised by diverse perspectives and ongoing debates.

Kuhns’ criteria for assessing theories which include accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness provide a structured and comprehensive framework to evaluate the English Schools’ arguments about an anarchical society. These criteria are invaluable tools for dissecting the intricate layers of International Relations (IR) theory and providing insights into the strengths and limitations of the English School. Accuracy, which is a critical component in Kuhns’s framework (1977:356), emphasises the importance of theoretical conclusions aligning seamlessly with empirical evidence. Essentially, this criterion highlights the essential need for a theory to accurately depict observed phenomena. The significance of accuracy cannot be overstated, as the effectiveness of a theory in predicting and explaining real-world events depends on its fidelity to empirical realities (Kuhn, 1963). However, it is crucial to acknowledge the inherent variability in precision across different domains, requiring a thorough evaluation (Bird and Ladyman, 2012).

Consistency, according to Kuhn, includes both internal coherence and alignment with accepted theories in the broader field (Kuhn, 1977). Regarding the English Schools arguments about an anarchical society, internal consistency ensures that different components of the theory harmonise, creating a cohesive framework. External consistency, on the other hand, requires alignment with other established theoretical frameworks in International Relations (IR), highlighting the interconnectedness of the English Schools arguments within the broader landscape of IR theories.

Scope, as the third criterion, highlights the theory’s capacity to go beyond specific phenomena, regulations, or sub-theories, advocating for broad applicability (Kuhn, 1977:357). When assessing the English School, this criterion encourages exploration beyond localised issues to evaluate how effectively the theory addresses a range of global challenges. Additionally, Simplicity, as outlined by Kuhn (1963), underscores the preference for straightforward and refined theories. In periods of conventional inquiry, such as those within the acknowledged paradigm of the English School, simplicity contributes to clarity and coherence. The analysis assesses the theory’s ability to offer clear explanations within the established paradigm, avoiding unnecessary complexity that might hinder understanding, especially for those encountering International Relations theory for the first time.

Fruitfulness, the criterion of generating new research, assesses the theory’s ability to unveil previously unnoticed connections or phenomena (Kuhn, 1977:358). This criterion highlights the dynamic and progressive nature of the theory, pushing the boundaries of existing knowledge. In the context of the English School, this involves evaluating the theory’s capacity to reveal new insights into the dynamics of international societies and their development over time.

However, it’s quite important to recognise Kuhns’s reduced emphasis on discursive representation, especially when contemplating socially meaningful patterns of action in International Relations (IR) (Adler and Pouliot, 2011:6). This perspective guides the assessment of the concept of an anarchical society within English schools, ensuring a comprehensive analysis that considers both theoretical intricacies and practical applications.

Explaining the Theory Overview

The English School of thought, led by Martin Wight, offers a distinctive perspective on global politics. It breaks down global politics into three main ideas that include Realism, Rationalism, and Revolutionism. Barry Buzan explains this using a triad, similar to a three-part process for understanding how countries interact with each other (Buzan, 2001:474). The first component of this process revolves around Realism. This notion suggests that countries engage in a power game without a central authority dictating their actions. Drawing inspiration from Thomas Hobbes, it envisions an international system where countries focus on power politics, existing in a world without a global authority (Buzan, 2014:28-29).

The second part, which is associated with Rationalism and attributed to Hugo Grotius, goes into international society (Cutler, 1991). It moves beyond mere power dynamics, suggesting that countries can collaborate effectively if they adhere to shared rules and values. This implies the existence of common norms, rules, and institutions, reflecting a deeper comprehension of international society (Cutler, 1991).

The third part which is concerned with Revolutionism and named after Immanuel Kant, introduces the concept of a global society (Hurrell, 1990). It expands beyond the focus on countries and asserts that individual people and everyone worldwide are the central actors. In the English School, they maintain a distinction between “institution” and “organisation” (Buzan, 2014:28).

Therefore, the English Schools approach revolves around three significant concepts: the international system, international society, and world society (Buzan, 2001:474). The international system explores how countries depend on each other, even without a shared culture, acknowledging some chaos and competition but without a central authority dictating actions (Bull, 1977:9-10). In contrast, international society focuses on countries collaborating, emphasising the importance of shared rules and principles beyond power struggles (Dunne and Little, 2013:91-97). World society expands this perspective, emphasising that it’s not just about countries; it includes people globally, considering global identities and everyone’s role (Bull, 1977:21; Hurrell, 1990). When the English School discusses an anarchical society, it means countries coexist in a world without a central authority but follow shared rules. It suggests that despite the challenges, countries can work together if they adhere to common rules (Zoppo, 1979). Thus, these three key ideas form the foundation of the English Schools’ understanding of international relations, acting as a toolkit to comprehend how countries navigate the game of global politics.

The Debate and Evolution

After World War II, people’s view of International Relations (IR) drastically changed. The usual views, especially the differences between liberalism and neoliberalism, couldn’t fully explain the complexities of the 20th-century global situation. In the later part of the century, discussions became more interesting as people started focusing on methods. This shift was influenced by a more professional approach in developed countries like the United States and England, where they began using methods similar to those in the natural sciences. The academic world was changing, and this new approach emphasised looking at real evidence and facts, moving away from just talking about theories (Zoppo, 1979).

This shift brought with it a significant change. Earlier debates focused more on grand ideas and theories, but now scholars were delving into real-world data and facts to gain a better understanding of international relations. Picture it like this: before, discussions revolved around how things should ideally work, but now the question became, “What is truly happening out there, and how can we be certain?” It marked a transition from big ideas to tangible evidence. This change occurred because the academic communities in these countries became more professional. They took inspiration from the natural sciences, such as physics or chemistry, where it’s not just about discussing theories as they conduct experiments, gather data, and make conclusions based on your findings. This change was similar to putting on a new pair of glasses; scholars began to perceive things more clearly, concentrating on the finer details of how the world truly operates.

In simpler terms, it’s like moving from discussing how a perfect society should look to going out there and figuring out how societies behave. It’s a shift from idealistic thinking to getting your hands dirty with the messy, real stuff. This approach, in the context of International Relations, started to dominate the conversation, and it showed that scholars were keen on understanding the real dynamics of the world, backed up by solid evidence (Zoppo, 1979). So, this shift in the debate was not just about ideas anymore; it became a hands-on, evidence-based exploration of how countries and international systems functioned. It’s like moving from talking about the recipe for the perfect cake to actually baking one and tasting it. The evolving nature of academia during this period led to a whole new way of understanding and studying international relations.

Hedley Bulls “Anarchical Society” (1977) has significantly reshaped our understanding of International Relations (IR), challenging the traditional dominance of realism perspectives. Bulls main idea is quite revolutionary: instead of seeing states as independent entities always in a power struggle, he suggests that they come together to form a society. It’s not a typical society with a central authority, but rather an anarchical one where no single entity is in charge (Ivory Research, 2018). In this setup, states agree to follow certain rules and participate in shared institutions, creating a more civil and cooperative international political environment (Bull, 1977:4).

Bull identified five key normative institutions in this international society: the balance of power, international law, diplomacy, warfare, and the management of great powers (Groves, 2012). Here, institutions don’t just mean organisations but instead includes a set of customs and behaviours that all states commit to for the greater good of the international community. It’s not about specific entities or administrative structures (Bull, 1977:74). Bull argued that, even though states act in their self-interest, they still contribute to maintaining international order, which in turn enhances their security and prosperity (Ivory Research, 2018). However, Bull faced a significant challenge in reconciling justice and order within his anarchical society, a challenge that remains unresolved in contemporary global politics (Vincent, 1988:195).

Bull proposed that countries, even though motivated by self-interest, follow unwritten rules when dealing with each other. It’s like, for example, a large club where each member pursues their interests, but there is an agreement to abide by certain rules to avoid chaos. This challenges the conventional realist belief that international politics is solely driven by power. Bull introduced the concept of a society among states, bringing an additional layer of order and cooperation to the global stage.

Looking closer, Bull’s work explores how countries collaborate within this anarchical society. Despite their self-interested motives, they participate in practices that enhance the overall stability of the international system. Bulls institutions, such as the balance of power and international law, serve as informal guidelines, influencing state behaviour. For example, the balance of power prevents any single state from becoming overly dominant, ensuring a more stable environment (Groves, 2012).

Further, according to Bull, diplomacy is very important for countries to interact peacefully. Rather than relying solely on power plays and warfare, countries engage in diplomatic negotiations, finding common ground and avoiding conflicts that might disrupt the overall order (Bull, 1977:74). This emphasis on diplomacy over conflict aligns with Bull’s vision of a society where cooperation overrules self-interests.

However, Bull’s work does not present an idealised view of international relations as it ought to be. While he acknowledges the tension between justice and order within his anarchical society, the challenge lies in balancing the pursuit of self-interest by countries with the need for a just and orderly global system (Vincent, 1988:195). This unresolved tension is a central point of debate in contemporary global politics.

Therefore, Bull’s “Anarchical Society” has significantly influenced IR by challenging traditional realist ideas. Bull introduces the idea that countries, despite their self-interest, form a society with unwritten rules to maintain order. His rules act as guidelines, shaping the country’s behaviour and contributing to the stability of the international system. Yet, the unresolved tension between justice and order remains a key factor reflecting the complexities of contemporary global politics. Hedley Bull’s presentation of normative rules in international society provides a thorough insight into how countries engage with one another. These rules, as identified by Bull, include the balance of power, international law, diplomacy, warfare, and the management of great powers (Groves, 2012).

The balance of power, a crucial aspect in Bull’s framework, acts as a safeguard against any single country becoming too dominant. This prevents a power imbalance that could disrupt the stability of the international system (Groves, 2012). In simpler terms, it’s like a giant seesaw where countries adjust their positions to maintain equilibrium, preventing any one state from becoming overwhelmingly powerful. International law, another institution identified by Bull, functions as a set of agreed-upon rules that states follow in their interactions. These rules contribute to creating predictability and order in the international system, reducing the likelihood of conflicts (Bull, 1977:74). It is similar to a shared rulebook that all states agree to follow, fostering a more orderly environment.

Diplomacy, according to Bull, is a crucial institution that facilitates peaceful interactions between countries. Instead of resorting to force, countries engage in diplomatic negotiations to resolve disputes and find common ground. This emphasises cooperation over conflict, contributing to the overall stability of the international system (Bull, 1977:74). In essence, it’s like members of a club talking things out instead of resorting to fights.

Warfare, while seemingly contradictory, is acknowledged by Bull as a reality in international relations. He recognises that countries, driven by self-interest, may resort to warfare in certain situations. However, the key here is that warfare is not the preferred method of interaction; it is seen as a last resort when diplomacy fails (Groves, 2012). This recognition of the harsh realities of conflict adds a layer of practicality to Bull’s framework. The management of great powers is another normative law where powerful countries play a role in maintaining order. It’s like having the big kids on the playground ensuring that everyone plays by the rules. Global superpowers, like the United States example, in Bull’s view, have a responsibility to contribute to global stability, showcasing a form of leadership within the international society (Bull, 1977:74).

Therefore, Bull’s identification of customary laws offers a down-to-earth perspective on how countries navigate the complexities of international relations. These institutions, like the balance of power, international law, diplomacy, warfare, and the management of great powers, create a framework for states to interact. Bull realist outlook, emphasising self-interest as a driving force, adds a practical dimension to the English School, showcasing the intricate dynamics that govern country behaviour in the international space.

Further, the period between 1966 and 1977 saw the birth of the English School in International Relations, with works by scholars like Hedley Bull and Martin Wight shaping its foundation. Bulls “The Anarchical Society” (1977) challenged traditional realist ideas, suggesting that states, despite an anarchical system, form a society based on shared norms (Buzan, 2014:474). Similarly, Wight’s “Systems of States” broadened the inquiry, offering a historical framework beyond the Western-centric view (Buzan, 2014:474).

This era also witnessed contributions from a younger generation, with R.J. Vincent’s 1974 book, “Non-intervention and International Order,” exploring the relationship between non-intervention and international order, adding depth to the ongoing dialogue (Buzan, 2014:474). These foundational texts defined the English School, shaping discussions on global politics and international relations, and fostering a comprehensive understanding of the complexities in international society.

While the English School received notable praises, scholars like Martha Finnemore and Robert Keohane raised valid criticisms. Finnemore highlighted a perceived lack of clarity in methods, contrasting it with Constructivist research that emphasises constitutive causality. Keohane, in a 1992 review, critiqued Martin Wight for neglecting a scientific search for laws in world politics, resounding a broader challenge of balancing historical and narrative approaches with empirical expectations in contemporary social science scholarship (Keohane, 1992). These criticisms emphasise the importance of the English School addressing methodological shortcomings and finding a balance between historical narrative and empirical expectations to enhance theoretical clarity. Constructive engagement with these criticisms is crucial for continuous refinement and development within the field.

Addressing Criticisms

In response to the critiques from scholars such as Martha Finnemore and Robert Keohane, the English School has proactively addressed concerns regarding methodological clarity and theoretical claims (Finnemore, 2011:1-36; Keohane, 1992). These critiques have prompted introspection within the English School community, resulting in several initiatives to improve the school’s credibility and recognition within the wider field of International Relations (IR) scholarship.

Finnemore’s criticism focused on the perceived lack of clarity in the methods used by the English School, especially in explaining research design. In response, there is a heightened awareness within the English School to explicitly articulate research methodologies. Recent scholarship within the school reflects a more deliberate emphasis on methodological considerations, recognising the importance of transparency in research design. English School scholars are now more frequently including discussions about their chosen methodologies, offering a clearer guide to how they undertake empirical investigations and case studies (Finnemore, 2011:1-36).

Efforts have been undertaken to bridge the perceived gap between the historical narrative approach and the empirical expectations of social science scholarship. Scholars within the English School are striving to strike a balance by incorporating insights from historical analysis and, at the same time, embracing more systematic and empirical research methods. This approach is apparent in recent works that blend the English Schools rich narrative tradition with more explicit consideration of empirical evidence, to meet the expectations of both the school’s traditional strengths and the norms of contemporary social science.

In response to Finnemore’s critique about the English school’s hesitancy to explain causal claims clearly, initiatives have been taken to enhance theoretical clarity, particularly regarding constitutive causality, which is the belief that the way things are constituted enables other phenomena. Although the English School maintains its foundation in a comprehensive and historical approach to understanding international society, scholars are now more explicitly outlining the theoretical frameworks that shape their analyses.

In response to Robert Keohane’s criticism about neglecting the scientific or behavioural search for laws of action in world politics, English School scholars have endeavoured to engage more substantively with behavioural aspects. The English Schools evolving discourse includes considerations of behavioural patterns within states and international actors, acknowledging the need to balance historical depth with empirical relevance (Keohane, 1992).

The impact these criticisms had is evident in the developing world of English Schools. Recent publications demonstrate a heightened commitment to research methodologies and a more explicit presentation of theoretical frameworks (Finnemore, 2011:1-36; Keohane, 1992). Focusing more on these aspects enhances the English Schools reputation in International Relations, aligning with current expectations for clear methods and theories. Despite existing challenges, the English Schools openness to criticism has created informed academic communities. The ongoing conversation within the school demonstrates a dedication to improving and adjusting its approaches, adding to the enduring significance and recognition of the English School in the diverse and evolving field of International Relations.


Understanding the English Schools’ ideas in International Relations theory reveals a framework positioned between realism and liberalism. At the heart of the English School is Martin Wight’s ideas, which classify international theory into realism, rationalism, and revolutionism, helping us understand the international system, international society, and world society (Buzan, 2001:476). As a critical thinker, the English School offers a fresh perspective by examining the nature and role of international societies. It blends the power-focused ideas of realism with the cooperative ideals of liberalism, bridging conflicting views and contributing to a thorough understanding of international relations (Buzan, 2001:476).

Applying Thomas Kuhns criteria for assessing theories, this analytical framework systematically examines English School arguments. The criteria of accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness evaluate the strength of the English Schools theoretical claims. This approach critically explores the concept of an anarchical society, checking its accuracy, internal and external consistency, and alignment with Kuhns criteria for theory evaluation. Looking further into the theory overview, Martin Wight’s ideas become crucial for categorising international theory and explaining the international system, international society, and world society. The international system, marked by power dynamics and anarchy, contrasts with the collaborative nature of international society, relying on shared norms and rules. World society, including individuals and non-state actors, goes beyond state-centric views, providing a comprehensive look at global societal identities and arrangements.

Moreover, when examining the development of the English School, starting from its foundational texts in the late 1960s to critiques by scholars like Martha Finnemore and Robert Keohane, the analysis of Hedley Bull’s “Anarchical Society” reveals a divergence from realist concepts. It offers a complete perspective on international politics, portraying it as a collective endeavour shaped by shared rules and institutions. Despite making commendable strides in enhancing clarity in methods and theoretical assertions, the English School encounters potential limitations. Its emphasis on historical narratives may present challenges in aligning with the expectations of more positivist approaches found in specific strands of IR scholarship. The tension between historical depth and empirical rigour is a complex aspect that necessitates ongoing attention.

In conclusion, the English Schools’ contributions to IR theory provide a valuable background for understanding the complexities of international relations. Despite acknowledged limitations, the English School remains crucial for understanding complex concepts in International Relations. Our study suggests that its detailed approach, incorporating historical depth and empirical relevance, contributes substantially to the broader discipline. The English School’s adaptability and ongoing refinement highlight its enduring relevance in shaping perspectives on global political interactions (Buzan, 2001:476).

Number of Words, Excluding References: 3667

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