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date: 20 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

International relations is no longer an American social science: the subject is taught in universities in dozens of countries and is becoming a global discipline. The English School of international relations is the oldest and arguably the most significant rival to the American mainstream. The English School purports to offer an account of international relations that combines theory and history, morality and power, agency and structure. One obvious consequence of this level of theoretical ambition is that the boundaries of the English School often appear to be unclear, which in part explains the ongoing debate about who belongs in the School and how it differs from other theoretical accounts of world politics. To shed light on these questions, Section 1 of this article considers in more depth the contextual emergence of the English School, and in particular its determination to develop an original account of interstate order. Section 2 takes its central claim — that the practice of states is shaped by international norms, regulated by international institutions, and guided by moral purposes — and explores this in relation to the countervailing forces of the states system and world society. In Section 3 the focus shifts away from debates inside the English School and toward a wider reflection on its place within international relations as a whole. It is argued that while the English School has a great deal to learn from constructivism, it should maintain its distinctive voice primarily because it has greater synthetic potential and is more openly committed to certain ethical standpoints.

Keywords: international relations, constructivism, interstate order, world politics, international norms, international institutions, states system

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