International Studies vs. International Relations: What’s the difference?

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International Studies International Relations
Multidisciplinary field Political Science field
Holistic approach Focused approach
Broad focus on global issues Specific focus on relationships between countries
Includes aspects of politics, economics, history, and cultural studies Primarily focuses on diplomacy, conflict resolution, and global governance

The key difference between international relations and international studies is their scope. While international relations focus on the dynamics and relations between states, international studies takes a holistic approach by analyzing the world and its complexities on a broad scale. International Studies is a multidisciplinary field that encompasses aspects of politics, economics, history, and cultural studies to gain an understanding of global issues. International Relations, on the other hand, remains often within the realm of political science and deals with specific relationships between countries. It adopts a more focused approach to understanding interactions between various states such regarding diplomacy, conflict resolution, and global governance. While International Studies has an overarching view of the world through exploration of many different aspects, International Relations narrows its focus on the dynamics between nations across the globe. Both disciplines enable greater insight into geopolitical affairs and help understand the current state of international relations today.

In more detail: International Studies

The discipline of International Studies is distinct from international relations, as it encompasses a much broader range of issues. It studies the complex interactions between countries and global actors, including economic and financial systems, culture, environment and policy. This offers insights into the relationship between different societies, cultures and states as well as within them. Analysis at this level can uncover trends in global dynamics that may not be obvious when studying individual countries or regions in isolation. In addition, International Studies provides a more holistic approach to understanding how different nations adapt to global changes and how their decisions shape the world around them. By exploring these areas of study together, International Studies provides an invaluable insight into contemporary international affairs. Furthermore, this field can help students develop essential analytical skills that can be applied to a variety of situations, ranging from international law to diplomacy. As such, International Studies is invaluable in helping students become well-equipped citizens who can think critically and effectively engage with the world around them. Ultimately, the discipline of International Studies seeks to understand how global actors interact and shape our lives and our future. By developing an understanding of the underlying dynamics between countries, states, societies and cultures, it provides a better foundation for tackling the complex challenges that are posed by today’s interconnected world.

In more detail: International Relations

International Relations is an academic discipline that studies the interaction between different countries, political systems and international organizations. It seeks to explain why and how states interact with one another, as well as the implications of such interactions for global politics. In contrast to International Studies, which focuses on issues related to global culture, economics, environmental sustainability and human rights, International Relations emphasizes the roles of power dynamics, diplomacy and conflict in international affairs. The two disciplines may share a common origin but they diverge in their focus. While International Studies is more oriented towards understanding the global environment through social science methods like ethnography or quantitative analysis of data; International Relations focuses on state behavior, security concerns and foreign policy analysis. IR scholars seek to identify the motivations of states, their foreign policy decisions, and the consequences of these decisions for global politics. In sum, International Studies emphasizes a holistic approach to understanding world affairs while International Relations focuses on the interactions between states. Both are essential in comprehending today’s complex global order.

Topic International Relations (IR) International Studies (IS)
Focus Political and economic relations between nations Interdisciplinary approach, including social, cultural, and historical factors
Methodology Primarily quantitative, including game theory and statistical analysis Qualitative and interdisciplinary, including cultural and historical analysis
Approach Realist, liberal, or constructivist Interdisciplinary, including both political and non-political perspectives
Examples of Topics Diplomacy, power politics, war and peace, international organizations Globalization, international development, human rights, cultural exchange

Examples of study areas in International Relations vs International Studies

One way to better understand the differences between International Relations and International Studies is to look at concrete study areas and research topics. Below you will find five examples of topics for each subject area.

Study areas of International Relations (IR)

  • The impact of economic sanctions on state behavior
  • The role of international organizations in promoting peace and security
  • The influence of great powers on the development of international law
  • The effect of rising powers on the balance of power in the international system
  • The relationship between democracy and foreign policy

Study areas of International Studies (IS)

  • The cultural and social impacts of globalization
  • The history and evolution of international development policies
  • The role of civil society in promoting human rights and justice
  • The relationship between culture and foreign policy
  • The intersection of gender, race, and international relations.