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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: January 2010

1 - English school theory and its problems: an overview


We need sharper analytical tools than those provided by Wight and Bull.

Dunne (2001b: 66)

This chapter starts with a summary of English school theory as it is conventionally understood. The second section looks at the different strands, tensions and potentials within the school, and locates within them the line to be taken in the rest of this book. The third section reviews the main areas of weakness in English school theory that subsequent chapters will address and hopefully rectify. The fourth section tackles the question of whether English school theory is really theory.

English school theory: a summary

The English school can be thought of as an established body of both theoretical and empirical work dating back to the late 1950s (Dunne 1998; Wæver 1998; Buzan 2001). Robert Jackson (1992: 271) nicely sums up the English school conversation by seeing it as:

a variety of theoretical inquiries which conceive of international relations as a world not merely of power or prudence or wealth or capability or domination but also one of recognition, association, membership, equality, equity, legitimate interests, rights, reciprocity, customs and conventions, agreements and disagreements, disputes, offenses, injuries, damages, reparations, and the rest: the normative vocabulary of human conduct.

Two core elements define the distinctiveness of the English school: its three key concepts, and its theoretically pluralist approach. The three key concepts are: international system, international society and world society (Little 1995: 15–16).

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