The study of International Relations (IR) can be broken down into a number of significantly different features, the key ones often noted as being realism, idealism, liberalism, constructivism and gender. International Relations, as a subject, differs from other academic disciplines in many ways, such as its relative youth, meta-theoretical approach and specific nature. Realism is a key feature of the study of IR and possesses a set of very particular views.
The theory of realism promotes a constant state of antagonism and anarchy, where “politics is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature. ” It is an “old and well-established theory” in the field of IR, and has “emerged gradually” due to the diverse work of analysts of the theory. It is generally agreed by scholars that realism’s “primary assumptions have been expressed in earlier writings” than post-WWII, when it became formally recognised. A key example of early realism is Otto von Bismarck’s term “balance of power”.
This meant avoiding arms races using political practitioners to keep the peace. In its more recent post-WWII form, an example of realism in International Relations is North Korea following the collapse of the Soviet Union, who began to create their own nuclear programme in the absence of communist allies. This, and other similar ideology, uses the theory of realism to maintain the constant security and power of the state, even in a state of antagonism and anarchy. As a feature of the study of IR, idealism promotes peace as the most effective form of relations.
The theory “holds that a state should make its internal political philosophy the goal of its foreign policy. ” For example, an idealist belief would be that conservation in local forests should be expanded to include conservation abroad. This results in a mutual gain from international co-operation, and creates a peaceful atmosphere, rather than the destructive element of war. Idealism promotes progress, and states that past international relations are “capable of being transformed into a fundamentally more peaceful and just world order” and can be learned from, rather than regretted.
Accompanying this ideology is the compulsion to “overcome the ignorance, the prejudices, the ill-will, and the sinister interests” standing in the way of successful international relations. Many attempts (and some successes) at this can be seen in relations throughout history, emphasising idealism as a key feature of International Relations. Liberalism, as a feature of the study of IR, is similar to idealism, in that it addresses the “problems of achieving lasting peace and co-operation” in International Relations. In order to address these problems, the theory looks for methods to contribute to the achievement of lasting peace.
A key way of succeeding in this goal of liberalism is by formulating and utilizing a variation of peace theories, which provide a guideline for achieving peace in different areas of the world, both geographically and politically. For example, the ‘democratic peace theory’ states that “democracies do not go to war with one another. ” The theory of liberalism in this form was seen strongly during the Cold War, where the Soviet Union and United States of America were engaging in political conflict and disagreement, but did not declare war.
This succeeded in keeping the peace on a physical level; no bombings or fighting had to occur to sort out the two countries’ political differences. Liberalism, therefore, can be summarized as a method of controlling and limiting war. Constructivism (or Social Constructivism) is another key feature of the study of IR, which in this case primarily aims to address questions of ontology, the theory of being, and epistemology, the theory of knowledge.
It also emphasizes the historical and social contingency of significant aspects of international relations, stating that they are not “inevitable consequences of human nature. ” It is a social, general theory which aims to explain the actions of actors on the world stage and relationships between actors. Constructivism takes things on an intellectual level and gives it a meaning dependent on our interpretation.
For example, an item such as a gun may represent “danger or safety, repression or freedom, destruction or fun, power or impotency, order or chaos.  Dependent on their analysis and interpretation of any given thing (whether tangible or not), views of different actors can be similar of differ significantly, causing relations to be strong and agreeable, or weak and tense, respectively. Therefore, constructivism shows that human interpretation and understanding can cause either positive or negative relations between actors, and that their actions affect international relations, rather than outcomes having been inevitable. Additionally, a key feature of the study of IR is gender.
This analyses how politics affects and is affected by men and women. Under this theory, when IR is looked at from a women’s perspective, personal assumptions of the purpose of international politics must be reconsidered in order to fit the outlook of women. Also considered under this theory are “how the core concepts that are employed within the discipline of IR are themselves gendered. ” For example, according to Dr. Carol Cohn, a leading scholar in global gender politics, “the highly masculinized culture within the defense establishment contributes to the divorcing of war from human emotion. 
This shows that war, as a core concept of IR, is gendered in the sense that it is dominated my males and therefore more masculine ideals. Gender in IR also examines how the global political economy is shaped by gender, and by male-female dichotomies.  The effects of gender on politics and international relations have brought about this theory, in order to analyse the outcome of how this important factor is influencing international relations since equal gender rights arose and changed the world stage. In comparison with other academic disciplines, International Relations is an extremely recent subject of study.
While the vast majority of academic disciplines have been globally accepted as disciplines for a long time (often centuries), International Relations was only developed as a distinct discipline in the 1920s, following the First World War.  The concept of the study of International Relations has existed for a long time, as with other academic disciplines, but where they differ is in the acceptance of the subject as a discipline, rather than a concept. Its relative youth therefore makes International Relations very different from other academic disciplines.
As a meta-theoretical field of study, IR “explores the underlying assumptions of all theory and attempts to understand the consequences of such assumptions on the act of theorizing and the practice of empirical research. ” This differs from many other disciplines which are not meta-theories, creating many academic disciplines which are different from International Relations. It is also very specific in its approach, rather than being as broad as most other disciplines. Some may interpret the field of IR to be actual relations between states, but it possesses a different definition when perceived as an academic field.
Rather than being actual relations between actors on the world stage, IR is the study of said relations, and how they affect politics and international relations between actors. In this way, it differs significantly from many other academic disciplines. For example, the term ‘chemistry’, in reference to the academic discipline, means actual chemistry and constitutes all aspects of chemistry itself, and so on for any other common academic discipline.
Conversely, the academic discipline of IR does not define the actual relations, but rather simply the study. 23] In this way, IR is very different from other academic disciplines. The key features of International Relations – here identified as realism, idealism, liberalism, constructivism and gender – all portray different perspectives of how international relations work, and theories of how to improve them. International Relations, as a study, differs significantly from other academic disciplines in several ways, distinguishing it from other disciplines as an important and noteworthy area of study, and something to be considered seriously as a means of analyzing world politics.