Rethinking Global Politics
International relations is typically taught in a “North/West” model, with power centered in the United States, Great Britain and some of the Western European countries.
But as a student in Eric Selbin’s comparative politics class during her junior year at Southwestern, Meghana Nayak began to question that. She dropped her plans to become a neuropsychologist and instead earned a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Minnesota – the same school where Selbin earned his Ph.D. The 1997 Southwestern graduate is now an associate professor of political science at Pace University in New York.
Several years into her academic career, Nayak began thinking about writing a book with Selbin since the two of them have so many similar ideas. They started talking seriously about the project in 2007 and secured a publisher in 2008. The result of their effort is a new book titled Decentering International Relations, which was published in late 2010 by Zed Books.
Nayak and Selbin say they don’t want their field to ignore the role of the United States, they just want to offer thoughts on how international relations might be decentered and what decentered international relations would look like. They note that while many other fields such as history have broadened their perspectives, international relations has not. For example, they argue that concepts such as human rights, globalization, peace and security, and indigeneity can be used to recognize the role that a variety of countries, communities and organizations around the world play in influencing global politics.
“All this is common sense, but it is not part of our common sense,” Nayak says.
Much of the theory proposed in the book relates closely to another book Selbin recently published titled Revolution, Rebellion, Resistance: The Power of Story, in which he argues that we need to look beyond the traditional causes of revolutions (unpopular governments, poor economic conditions, etc.) to consider other factors such as the power of stories.
Nayak and Selbin admit that their thinking has been influenced by their personal backgrounds. Nayak is the daughter of immigrants from India. Selbin is the son of political activists who were Jewish.
In March, the two discussed their book at a roundtable presentation held as part of the International Studies Association meeting in Montreal. In April, Nayak returned to campus to give a lecture based on the book.
Selbin is not the only Southwestern colleague with whom Nayak has published. She also has published an article and co-edited a special issue of the International Feminist Journal of Politicswith 1996 graduate Jennifer Suchland, who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures and the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University.
Nayak hopes the new book will not be the only one she publishes with Selbin. “I would love to write something else with him,” she says.