Ken Booth (academic)

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This article is about the British academic. For the Australian politician, see Ken Booth (politician). For the footballer, see Ken Booth (footballer).

Ken Booth FBA (born 29 January 1943) is a British International Relations theorist. He is the former E H Carr Professor of the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University.[1]

He has been a visiting researcher at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and Cambridge University. He is a former Chair, and the first President of the British International Studies Association. He was part of the editorial team of the Review of International Studies, and currently serves as both Academic Editor of the Lynne Rienner 'Critical Security Studies' series and the journal International Relations.

He is an elected Academician of the Society of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences. He was elected to the British Academy in 2006.[2]

In a 1991 article in the International Relations journal International Affairs, he set out a radical position which he labelled "utopian realism". Within the terminology of IR theory he is considered a post-positivist and a critic of orthodox realism. More recently, Booth has been very involved in the Welsh School branch of Critical Security Studies.


Booth is most famous for his "three tyrannies", aside from strongly arguing for freeing of the individual through emancipation (freeing the individual from the burdens that would otherwise obstruct or restrict the full potential of a person's being).

Three Tyrannies:

1. Presentism: An anti-historical way of looking at human rights. In order to understand human rights one must look at the history of how it arose. Why we need them in the first place is important. Depending on what values you want to hold, human rights can change.

2. Culturism: Cultures are not fixed once and for all. It does not make sense to talk about culture in absolute terms, especially in contemporary IR. We do not have discrete cultures or nations. Culture should not deny the universalism of human rights.

3. Scientific Objectivity: Stems from ideas of positivism and rationalism.

Booth defends universalism. In the end, he makes the argument that we do not have human rights because we are human, but we have them because we want to become human. Throughout human history we have seen devastation against other humans, we have to find human rights to curb those wrongs.

Key publications[edit]

  • Booth, Ken (2007) Theory of World Security, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  • Booth, Ken and Wheeler, Nicholas J. (2007) The Security Dilemma: Fear, Cooperation, and Trust in World Politics,(Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan)
  • Booth, Ken and Dunne, Tim (2002) (eds.) Worlds in Collision. Terror and the Future of Global Order, (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan)
  • Booth, Ken (1999) "Three Tyrannies" in Dunne, Tim and Wheeler, Nicholas J. (eds.) Human Rights in Global Politics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 31-70.
  • Booth, Ken (1995) "Human wrongs in international relations", International Affairs, 71(1), 103-26
  • Booth, Ken (1991) "Security and emancipation", Review of International Studies, 17(4), 313-26
  • Booth, Ken (1991) "Security in Anarchy: Utopian Realism in Theory and Practice", International Affairs, 67(3), 527-45
  • Booth, Ken (1979) Strategy and Ethnocentrism, (London: Croom Helm Ltd)
  • Booth, Ken (1977) Navies and Foreign Policy, (New York: Crane, Russak)