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The English School in retrospect and prospect: Barry Buzan’s an introduction to the English School of International Relations: the societal approach

Wilson, Peter ORCID: 0000-0002-1018-4494, Zhang, Yongjin, Knudsen, Tonny Brems, Wilson, Peter ORCID: 0000-0002-1018-4494, Sharp, Paul, Navari, Cornelia and Buzan, Barry (2016) The English School in retrospect and prospect: Barry Buzan’s an introduction to the English School of International Relations: the societal approach. Cooperation and Conflict, 51 (1). pp. 94-136. ISSN 0010-8367

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0010836715610595


Over the last few decades the English School (ES) has not only emerged, but has been acknowledged as a distinctive approach to the study of International Relations (IR). It is routinely listed in textbooks and disciplinary surveys as one of IR’s primary modes of inquiry, attracting interest and adherents in many parts of the world. This state of affairs is attributable to the work of a number of people, but especially to that of Barry Buzan. More than ‘reconvening’ the school, a metaphor misleading in some ways, Buzan has led, pushed and challenged his colleagues to better clarify and define their ideas, concepts and theories, as well as to put the ES on a much sounder organizational footing. Buzan’s (2014) latest book builds on his previous volume (Buzan, 2004a) to provide an introduction for readers new to the school. However, it does much more than this, providing a ‘state of the debate’ on such demanding matters as the expansion of international society, and the pluralist–solidarist divide. It also links present research efforts to the classics, putting into perspective and defining the school’s current research agenda for the next phase of its development. It has the potential to become a landmark work on a par with the classic work of the early ES, Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society. But how does Buzan’s research agenda respond to the requirements of an increasingly diverse and fragmenting discipline? Are his preferred analytical concepts and categories sound? Of what pitfalls should newcomers to the school be aware? In this symposium five established scholars, closely associated with the ES, seek to answer these questions, and in dialogue with Buzan, further advance our understanding of the school’s ‘societal’ approach and its potential for deepening our understanding of what at times appears a highly unsocial world. The approach of the section is ‘internal’ as opposed to ‘external’ critique. External critiques of the ES are well known (see, e.g., Finnemore, 2001). The section proceeds on the assumption that at this stage of its development the school’s approach can be most effectively advanced by vigorous debate between those who share the same broad research agenda with little purpose being served by reiterating the already well-known ‘external’ objections. The section is based on a roundtable discussion held at the EISA conference, Warsaw, September 2013, in which Zhang, Wilson, Navari and Buzan took part. I am grateful to these contributors as well as to Knudsen and Sharp for their timely and thought-provoking contributions.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2015 The Authors
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2016 14:55
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 02:22

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