Can other worlds help us understand IR differently?


A lot has been said about the lack of pluralism in IR and the future of theoretical work in the field. Much of IR discussion today is centered in epistemological and methodological differences and the assessment of empirical research. Not only grand theory but also middle range theory seems underequipped to explain or make sense of what is happening in the world today, and it has also been suggested that IR may be undergoing a crisis. Is theory dead? Have we covered all alternatives at our hands to better understand international politics?

The article  Encountering the Pluriverse: Looking for Alternatives in Other Worlds published at the special issue Many Worlds, Many Theories? of Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (Volume 59, N. 2), tries to build a strong case about the important alternatives that have been long neglected and ignored due to the fact that the ontological premises of IR are never contested. In other words, IR has marginalized difference not only by disciplining epistemologies, but also by rejecting other ontologies, particularly those that belong to indigenous peoples, by relegating them to the realm of myths, legends and beliefs. Other cosmovisions clearly see and enact reality differently and this has huge political implications. And yet the way we traditionally approach IR responds to a western modern discipline, which is atomistic and anthropocentric. The article argues that the discussion about difference in IR has to take an ontological turn if we want to make better sense of the world(s) we live in and their political manifestations. If we bring the ontological question to the debate we need to refer to the modern age, specifically its Western and now liberal manifestations and how by making assumptions of universality and by the use of productive and symbolic power they end up appearing as a one world reality that encompasses all humanity.

The “truth” of one-world, one reality and one universe is also a myth, one that has hidden many worlds and many ways of being in the world. Highlighting the fact that modern cosmovision is just one among many others -that is, provincializing the modern western cosmovision- is necessary to visualize other ontologies that represent and produce other realities. Alternatives are important not only to enrich a theoretical debate or bring it back to life, but also because the pluriverse is what is real for millions of people in the world. A pluriversal perspective on global politics is not only more representative, but also offers important insights to improve o reconsider the way international agenda is built and how we as humans attend our common concerns.

For relational cosmovisions, for example, the separation between the natural, the religious and the social dimensions is absent. Entities don´t exist on their own or as substances but in relation to their environments. These cosmovisions assume that reality is situated and composed by many dimensions in time and space and that these realms or worlds are inhabitated by other kinds of beings, non-human (animals, mountains, other natural phenomena) and spirits and ancestors. These realities are pluriversal realities, where the pluriverse refers to the coexistence of many worlds (western, buddhist, andean), but also of many kinds of worlds (human, non-human and spiritual, past, future and parallel worlds).

In this sense the concept of the pluriverse is used to show how -from different ontological positions, particularly relational cosmovisions-, alternatives actually appear to the ways we approach reality and what we consider to be global politics. The article analyzes the Andean cosmovision, a relational worldview that -as many- preexists the modern political arrangements and at the same time coexists with them. Drawing from the Andean worldview, this paper illustrates with some examples about conflict, territory and sovereignty, how pluriversal realities can reinvigorate the discussion in IR and maybe give it another -more inclusive- scope.

The goal is to try to connect this apparently incompatible ways of seeing realities. I acknowledge that this is a huge intellectual challenge and theoretical endeavor, that demands a tangling with humans and non-humans that will not always lead us to certainty, but surely to a more profound and comprehensive ability to narrate knowledge of other worlds. Relationality becomes the compass, the key tool to come with terms to the different alternative interconnections that facts, phenomena and ideas can offer us that at a first sight would be unlikely. In a context of political ontology, relational thinking offers tools to appreciate the real complexities of the global, as a constant negotiation of different and equally valid ways of imagining it.

In a nutshell, the separation between the natural and social is a constructed reality. Relational ontologies see realities based on the union and the connection of many worlds, human, natural and spiritual. In doing so they make sense of reality differently, non-human entities are political agents with great impact in the human daily aspects of life. Just this consideration allows us to approach the global differently.

Read the article:

Querejazu, Amaya. (2016). Encountering the Pluriverse: Looking for Alternatives in Other Worlds. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 59(2), e007.

Amaya Querejazu is a professor at the Faculty of Law and Political Science of the Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia (

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