Back to future: Time, the environment and IR theory

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This article examines the concepts of time in International Relations (IR), especially in relation to environmental change, and argues that IR scholars need to reconceptualise the nature of the international system in order to take account of the temporal and environmental context it operates in. It is no exaggeration to state that the mainstream in IR is static in analysis and does not take account of temporal dimensions. Time as subject matter in IR has been limited largely to the historical approaches in the form of Braudelian analyses of long cycles, or historical materialist approaches. All these approaches study social time and how different forms of social organisation affect the living conditions of people. They do not make a connection between social organisation and the dependence of society on its physical environment, both in a temporal sense and in terms of physical dependence. The relationship between society and environment has undergone fundamental changes throughout history and this transformation has resulted in a great increase in environmental degradation. This subject matter is important for IR not only in the field of environmental degradation and regulation per se, but also has theoretical implications in terms of how IR conceptualises both the nature of the international system and the relationship between the environment and IR. The aim of this article is therefore twofold. On the one hand, it will make a case for incorporating eco-systemic analysis into mainstream IR concerns, because of the dependence of social systems on environmental systems. On the other hand, this article will stress the importance of temporal analysis, both in general and in the face of the need for a more eco-centric IR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-360
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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