Rowman and Littlefield International

South Africa, Race and the Making of International Relations

By Vineet Thakur and Peter Vale

5 Reviews

This book provides an alternative history of the ‘birth’ of International Relations.

Hardback ISBN: 9781786614636 Release date: Jan 2020
£92.00 €112.00 $120.00
Paperback ISBN: 9781786614643 Release date: Jan 2020
£32.00 €39.95 $41.95
Ebook ISBN: 9781786614650 Release date: Jan 2020
£24.95 €34.95 $39.50

This book offers readers an alternative history of the origins of the discipline of International Relations. Conventional, western histories of the discipline point to 1919 as the year of the ‘birth of the discipline’ with two seminal initiatives – setting up of the first Chair of IR at Aberystwyth and the founding of the Institute of International Relations on the side-lines of the Paris Peace Conference. From these events, International Relations is argued to have been established as a path to create peace in the post-War era and facilitated through a scientific study of international affairs. International Relations was therefore, both a field of study and knowledge production and a plan of action.

This pathbreaking book challenges these claims by presenting an alternative narrative of International Relations. In this book, we make three interconnected arguments. First, we argue that the natal moment in the founding of IR is not World War I – as is generally believed – but the Anglo Boer War. Second, we argue that the ideas, methods and institutions that led to the making of IR were first thrashed out in South Africa – in Johannesburg, in fact. Finally, this South African genealogy of IR, we show in the book, allows us to properly investigate the emergence of academic IR at the interstices of race, Empire and science.

1. Introduction: The Frontiers of IR

2. The ‘South African Model’

3. Reimagining Empire

4. Writing the State

5. Institutionalising the International

6. Conclusion: Into the International

Vineet Thakur is a Lecturer in History and International Relations, Leiden University, Netherlands.

Peter Vale is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria, and Nelson Mandela Professor of Politics Emeritus at Rhodes University, South Africa. He was also the Founding Director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS).

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5 Reviews

Highly Recommended: In their meticulous analysis, Thakur (Leiden Univ., Netherlands) and Vale (Rhodes Univ., South Africa) examine the advent of international relations as a scholarly discipline and the role of state-making and racial policy in its formation.


Vineet Thakur and Peter Vale show the Milner Kindergarten and their offspring as a nursery for thinking about state-making and racial thought. This striking, archivally-based study makes a compelling case for locating the origins of modern International Relations in colonial and segregationist South Africa.

Saul Dubow, Smuts Professor of Commonwealth History, University of Cambridge, UK

Aberystwyth is not the fountainhead of International Relations. The discipline’s ‘dirty origin’ lies in a British imperial project focused on South Africa in the early 20th century, with race at the core of early understandings of International Relations. These are the bold but substantiated claims made in this provocative but highly readable ‘alternative’ genealogy of the discipline of International Relations.

Deon Geldenhuys, Emeritus Professor of Politics, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

An absolutely unique, essential, path-breaking book that identifies South Africa and its “gift of segregation” as fundamental to the early twentieth century’s “internationalist imagination".

Robert Vitalis, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, USA

This book is a revelation that will be required reading for those wishing to understand the origins of the discipline of International Relations. Impeccably researched and clearly written, it brilliantly dispatches the hegemonic pretense that IR is and always has been an American social science. Thakur and Vale’s counter-narrative demonstrates that IR begins in the imperialist ideological currents of early 20th century South Africa.

David Long, Professor of International Affairs, Carleton University, Canada

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