Another guest contribution from Naeem Inayatullah to our symposium on Vitalis’s White World Order, Black Power Politics. Naeem’s research locates the Third World in international relations through history, political economy and method. With David Blaney, he is the co-author of International Relations and the Problem of Difference (Routledge 2004), and Savage Economics: Wealth, Poverty, and the Temporal Walls of Capitalism (Routledge 2010). He is the editor of Autobiographical International Relations: I, IR (Routledge 2011), as well as Narrative Global Politics: Theory, History and the Personal in International Relations (Routledge, 2016) with Elizabeth Dauphinee. His writing, research and talks can be discovered and devoured at his academia.edu page.
When I finished reading White World Order, Black Power Politics, I made three decisions. I would read the book again. Not because it is theoretically difficult or jargon heavy. It’s not. But because I want to absorb its details, re-orient my body through its revelations, savor Bob’s story telling skills, and anticipate his scarce but nevertheless Pharoah Sanders-esque screams.
In addition, I immediately designed a course titled “Race and IR” around Bob’s book. The course has been approved and I am scheduled to teach it in September. Third, I’ve suggested Bob’s name to my best students as someone they might consider as a future mentor in graduate study. So, boom! Immediate impact. Could a book and an author want more than this? Perhaps not. Still, I suspect Bob has larger ambitions for this book. It could change our field, if we are lucky. Count me in for this project as well.
The importance of Vitalis’ book is easy to articulate. It demonstrates the racist foundations of our discipline (IR). Bob recounts the narrative as two sides of one tale. There is the account of those who theorized and practiced white hegemony. And there is the story of those who rejected it. Our origin story is not about the three great debates, not the mythical line of realism going back to Machiavelli and Thucydides, not the immaculate conception of a Cold War politics, not anarchy as the founding condition, and not abstractions concerned with statics or dynamics of inter-state relations. Rather, Vitalis demonstrates, it is racist theories and institutions of imperialism constitute the actual origins of our discipline.
Here is how Bob puts it:
What is new and important in this book is the discovery that the intellectuals, institutions, and arguments that constituted international relations were shaped by and often directly concerned with advancing strategies to preserve and extend [the theory and practice of white hegemony against those struggling to end their subjection. (2)
…we can’t understand the history of the early decades of the discipline without understanding the long and globe-spanning freedom movements that are central to its intellectual, social, and institutional development. (9)
Each part of the tale is told in equal measure: the ying and the yang, the force and counter-force, imperialism and liberation. Continue reading