Functionalism in International Relations

Functionalism In International Relations

Functionalism is a theory of international relations that arose during the inter-War period principally from the strong concern about the obsolescence of the State as a form of social organization. Rather than the self-interest of nation-states that realists see as a motivating factor, functionalists focus on common interests and needs shared by states (but also by non-state actors) in a process of global integration triggered by the erosion of state sovereignty and the increasing weight of knowledge and hence of scientists and experts in the process of policy-making (Rosamond, 2000). Its roots can be traced back to the liberal/idealist tradition that started with Kant and goes as far as Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" speech. (Rosamond, 2000)

Functionalism is a pioneer in globalisation theory and strategy. States had built authority structures upon a principle of territorialism. State-theories were built upon assumptions that identified the scope of authority with territory (Held 1996, Scholte: 1993, 2000, 2001), aided by methodological territorialism (Scholte 1993). Functionalism proposed to build a form of authority based in functions and needs, which linked authority with needs, scientific knowledge, expertise and technology, i.e. it provided a supraterritorial concept of authority. The functionalist approach excludes and refutes the idea of state power and political influence (realist approach) in interpreting the cause for such proliferation of international organizations during the inter-war (which was characterized by nation-state conflict) and the subsequent years.

According to functionalism, international integration - the collective governance and 'material interdependence' (Mitrany, 1933:101) between states - develops its own internal dynamic as states integrate in limited functional, technical, and/or economic areas. International agencies would meet human needs, aided by knowledge and expertise. The benefits rendered by the functional agencies would attract the loyalty of the populations and stimulate their participation and expand the area of integration. There are strong assumptions underpinning functionalism: 1) That the process of integration takes place within a framework of human freedom, 2) That knowledge and expertise are currently available to meet the needs for which the functional agencies are built. 3) That states will not sabotage the process.

Read more about Functionalism In International Relations:  Neofunctionalism, Comparing Functionalism To Realism, Functional Cooperation and Functional International Organization, Further Reading

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