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Why don't we talk about ‘violence’ in International Relations?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 October 2010


In this article I pose two questions to traditional International Relations (IR) theory: why does it not use the concept of violence more often, and why does it not discuss the meaning of violence? I aim to highlight the way in which violence is hidden in the way we talk about IR, and that the way IR talks about violence without naming it functions to legitimise state violence. I do this by analysing the way the concept of violence is used in traditional IR literature, and then looking at how violence has been defined. I argue that a narrow definition is most useful for the study of IR, and that it should not be used merely to refer to anything we do not like. But this must not preclude challenging the normative uses of violence that suggest that it is only state violence that is legitimate, and that hides personal violence from the scope of IR.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2010

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47 This issue is very similar to the debate about state terrorism. While terrorism is often defined as being carried out by non-state actors, many authors now argue that where states are carrying out the same types of acts we should also be categorising this as terrorism. For further information, see Alexander, G. (ed.), Western State Terrorism (London: Routledge, 1991)Google Scholar ; Primoratz, I. (ed.), Terrorism. The Philosophical Issues (London: Palgrave, 2004), Part IIIGoogle Scholar .

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82 Cf. L. Shepherd, ‘Gender, Violence and Global Politics’, p. 209.