The Field of International Relations
relations touch our lives daily as global markets, the World Wide Web,
and foreign travel stimulate a flood of people, products, and ideas
across national borders.
We have been
shaped by the immigration that brought us to our current homes,
ennobled by our efforts to help others through foreign aid and
humanitarian missions, enriched by our exposure to foreign foods,
music, dress and language, and tantalized by the prospect of traveling,
working, studying, and living abroad. But while students of
international relations study the processes that promise such enormous
benefits, they also confront those that threaten grave destruction.
Fast flying, highly accurate nuclear weapons and simple acts of
terrorism have breached the state's ability to protect its citizens as
never before. Resource depletion, disease and pollution recognize no
national boundaries. Businesses face dangerous foreign competition as
well as attractive foreign markets. The reality of an interdependent
world is brought home to us every day as national economies respond to
debt and instability elsewhere.
problems and the prospects are beyond the ability of any one state, no
matter how powerful, to address alone. But truly global problems --
planetary warming, economic instability, refugee relief, ethnic
violence, international debt, and nuclear proliferation -- require
cooperation and coordination not easy to sustain in a world of
contrasting cultures, differing political systems and competitive
nation states. Once, only a few cared to study these processes and
their conflicting effects or to understand the special forces that
surround efforts to shape the character of transactions that cross
national borders. But international relations is no longer a remote
abstraction that educated men and women can afford to ignore.
world is the product of diverse global forces that are historical,
political, economic, military, and social in nature. These same forces
will shape the world we inhabit in the future -- and our knowledge of
them will determine our place within that world. It follows that a
systematic understanding of these forces, often summarized by the term
"world politics", must be interdisciplinary in approach. The mission of
the Department of International Relations is to provide students with
the opportunity to investigate these themes. Because the sovereign
state is the principal agent in world politics, the study of
International Relations emphasizes themes from political science, but
students who major in IR will be exposed to knowledge from history,
economics, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy as well. While IR
courses address these areas, our majors are encouraged to take
additional classes in these disciplines.
Subfields of International Relations
study of international relations can be organized within either
geographical or theoretical categories. The approach designated by the
term "area studies" focuses upon the foreign policies of individual
nations and the interaction patterns that result within geographic
regions. Students of Europe, for example, study European political and
economic systems, together with the language, culture,and society of
that region. The questions that preoccupy scholars who approach
International Relations more theoretically are too numerous to list
here, but IR students can expect to acquire a detailed knowledge of its
major branches: international security, international political
economy, international law and organizations and, especially, the
international relations theory that holds it all together.
of international security strive to grasp the causes of war and the
conditions of peace. They seek to understand regional, ethnic, and
global conflicts by investigating the role of terrorism, ideological
movements, ethnic groups, and the interaction of national foreign
policies. They also try to prevent them by probing the dynamics of
foreign policy decision making, diplomacy, arms control, and alliances.
- International political economy examines the
political dimensions of trade, finance, and development, emphasizing
the interaction between business (especially multinational
corporations) and government. It also examines the linkages between
economic problems (such as poverty and unemployment) and political
factors (such as democracy) as well as the ties between domestic and
- Studying international
organizations and law involves the role of international organizations
such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the
World Bank as well as non-governmental organizations ranging from the
church to the Red Cross.
Relations is taught in most American universities as part of political
science. Lehigh is among the few higher educational institutions in the
US that has long had a separate department of IR. This means that
students with a particular interest in international affairs will
benefit from a concentrated program of study that few other schools
offer. IR is not part of a larger intellectual enterprise for us -- it
is the focal point of our teaching and research.
International Relations at Lehigh
expertise of Lehigh's eight-person IR Department covers all of the
functional and theoretical areas of the field. The Department also has
particular depth in certain geographical areas, namely, the post-Soviet states and the Middle East. By stressing
the interplay between the functional and geographical areas, our
curriculum offers students an education that combines theoretical
sophistication with a substantive understanding of the world.
courses are designed to enable students to analyze problems in manner
that is theoretically-informed and conceptually rigorous, to place
current global problems in historical perspective, and to write, speak,
and think with clarity and precision. These intellectual assets are
essential to success in careers such as law, business, journalism,
diplomacy, public service, and academics. Our majors have gone on to
work in each one of these professions.
are often asked about the employment prospects of student who major in
International Relations. We take very seriously their questions
regarding career planning.
While a degree in international relations does not lead to a specific career in
the way that, for example, accounting or engineering does, a major in
international relations, by emphasizing clarity in speech and writing,
analytical skills and a detailed knowledge of world politics prepares students
for careers in government, journalism, law, non-governmental organizations,
international business, and teaching and research. Recent IR graduates currently
work in all of these fields. Some have gone directly into careers upon
graduating; others have enrolled in graduate school prior to employment.
The guide "Careers in International Relations"
describes some of these these positions, how best to prepare for them,
and the special opportunities avaialable to do so at Lehigh. For
further career guidance, don't be afraid to ask questions of the
faculty and other professionals such as the people at Career Services.
The International Relations Commons Room (Maginnes Hall 203) has many
additional sources of information.