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Valuable graphic approaches exist already in International Relations.  Critical scholarship, for instance, can point to a visual turn in which images, both static and dynamic, become sites of political contestation and intellectual debate (see Bleiker, Visual Global Politics, 2018).  Problem-solving scholarship has benefited for a long time from graphics entailed within statistical analysis and formal modeling.

While clearly worthwhile, visualization as carried out above does not serve the same purpose as the VIRP.  Diagrams in the VIRP archive summarize arguments from works of scholarship.  These visual ‘abstracts’, in turn, can facilitate communication, especially among areas of the discipline that have tended to remain at a distance from each other and between young and experienced scholars alike.

– Diagram Authors. Year. “Graphic Summary of Publication Title.” By Publication Author (Year). Los Angeles, CA: Visual International Relations Project, University of Southern California. [URL], e.g.: 

Spanner, Leigh Sarah Gansen, Maya Eichler and Patrick James. 2022. “Graphic Summary of Militarizing Men: Gender, Conscription and War in Post-Soviet Russia.” By Maya Eichler (2018). Los Angeles, CA: Visual International Relations Project, University of Southern California.

In a word, the process leading to a systemist graphic is inductive. The point of departure is designation of a system and environment on the basis of effective portrayal of an argument. In a comparative sense, within a properly specified diagram, most interactions should appear in the space featured as the system rather than its environment. The inner box functions as the system whereas the outer box is the environment that the system is embedded in.

Important as a ‘fork in the road’ is whether the diagram will depict events or ideas. A graphic focusing on ideas could have ‘International Relations’ as a discipline designated as the system, with the ‘World Beyond’ as its environment. Many such diagrams exist in the VIRP archive – showing connections within the world of ideas. It also is possible to focus on events and the archive also includes quite a few of those items. Thus, a systemist graphic about events could depict the ‘State’ as the system and ‘International System’ as its environment.

Within the system, macro and micro levels must be designated. For example, from early on in the VIRP, the macro and micro levels of International Relations have come to be identified with the discipline as a whole and individual scholars within it. In regard to events, state and region are the most commonly designated systems, with the international system as the environment in each instance. For the state, the standard macro and micro levels, respectively, are government and society. For the region, the conventional micro and macro levels, respectively, are individual actors and interactions among them.

After VIRP team members create an initial visualization of a work, first as a pencil sketch and then as a state-of-the-art version in diagrams.net, the respective author(s) is/are contacted so that they can cross-check the diagram. After potential rounds of revision, the final draft of the diagram is added to the VIRP archive.

The systemist figures are created with a free, intuitive software program, www.diagrams.net. Colors, shapes, and additional notation are used to distinguish roles for components of an analytical argument or connections specifying cause and effect.

The project brings together the work of scholars from critical as well as problem-solving traditions. Vetted material will be included in the archive. Existing visualizations range from one of the most widely known classics, Kenneth N. Waltz’s neorealist volume, Theory of International Politics (1979), to Maya Eichler’s more recent book, Militarizing Men: Gender, Conscription, and War in Post-Soviet Russia (2012), which offers a critical feminist perspective. The long-term objective of VIRP is to represent the discipline as a whole and promote ongoing and constructive exchange of ideas among the widest possible range of scholars. Thereby, VIRP aims to make the vast amount of scholarship on international relations more mutually intelligible and build bridges between and among the various schools and methods. 

Yes!  Both new and experienced scholars are welcome to contribute visualizations of either their own work or someone else’s to the VIRP archive and would follow the diagram creation process described in FAQ 2). If someone is not proficient in diagrams.net, they can do a pencil sketch of their work instead, scan it in and send it along, including a key for the variables used. As soon as time allows, someone of the VIRP team will then work on the draft and create a state-of-the-art version in diagrams.net that we will then send along to the authors for cross-checking. The diagram creator will, of course, receive credit for their work and see their name appear along with Professor Patrick James’ as well as the person who is creating the diagrams.net version as one of the diagram creators.

Yes, we would like for the VIRP to be as inclusive as possible and welcome visualizations of pieces that were written in languages other than English. The diagram would still be in English but include a note/disclaimer toward the bottom of the diagram that it is based on a work published in another language. Thereby, even scholars who would otherwise not be able to read the actual piece, still can engage in discussion about its central points and main arguments as the diagram will illuminate those.

The images on the VIRP site are saved as a vector (SVG) file type. That means the images themselves can be zoomed in over 500% and still retain high visual quality.

To see a larger version of any image, left-click the image. To view the file zoomed in, right-click the image and select “Open in New Tab”. On the new tab, press the “Ctrl” (or “CMD” for Macs) and “+” keys on your keyboard to zoom in (“Ctrl”/”CMD” and “-” keys zoom out or use the scroll wheel on the mouse).

You are also free to download the image if that is easier, and we ask that the website link, logo, and Registered Trademark be preserved in the image.

If you would like to receive a PDF copy of an image, please reach out to us on our Contact Us page.