Rethinking polarity for the twenty-first century: perceptions of order in international society

Zala, Benjamin (2013). Rethinking polarity for the twenty-first century: perceptions of order in international society. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The structural effect of what is known in the International Relations (IR) literature as the ‘polarity’ of any given moment has been a central theme in mainstream theories and across the discipline more widely. Yet there are at present competing perceptions of polarity across popular and scholarly discourse. Is the United States still a unipolar power? Are we currently in or about to enter a multipolar era? Or will the US-Sino relationship dominate world politics in the coming decades creating a new bipolarity?

This thesis proposes a redefinition of the concept of polarity in order to be able to theoretically account for such competing visions of global order. It argues for the continued utility of the concept, particularly given its widespread use by practitioners and analysts alike, but that polarity analysis needs to be re-configured along more analytically eclectic lines than is the case in the existing literature. Using the English school of IR, the thesis builds a theoretical framework for redefining polarity, not as the distribution of material capabilities in the international system, but instead as the number of states that hold a particular status in international society. This framework is then applied to the period of 1815-2012 in order to understand the difference this makes to a macro-historical analysis of changes in the inter-state order. The historical analysis is used to demonstrate both the need for a new definition of polarity but also to draw a number of conclusions regarding the sources of perceptions of polarity.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Department of Political Science and International Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations


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