Introducing the Visual International Relations Project at the University of Southern California

Within the discipline of International Relations (IR), awareness grows that not only the international system is complex but also IR as a discipline. Considerable growth over the last decades coincides with increasing difficulties both to communicate across intra-disciplinary borders and to reach out to policymakers. The same can certainly be said about recent trends in peace and conflict research.

Responding to “intellectual isolation through paradigmatic and methodological complexity” (Pfonner and James 2020, p. 20), the Visual International Relations Project (VIRP) at the University of Southern California intends to increase and improve communication throughout the discipline of IR beyond what can be achieved through the exchange of words.

The VIRP tries to achieve this by means of graphic representation and the technique of systemism, emphasizing “completeness and visual representation of theorizing” (pp. 1–2). The project aims at “reducing the cognitive load imposed on scholars in an ever more complex field by introducing a standard visual format of communication” (p.20).

In the VIRP, diagrams represent the macro level (the IR discipline as a whole) and the micro level (individual actors within IR) including linkages between central concepts thus facilitating understanding of the discipline’s complexity by showing how different fields of IR are inter-connected.

We are happy to say that based on Frank’s contribution “Peace” to Roland Bleiker’s edited book Visual Global Politics (Routledge 2018), the VIRP team have put together a diagram representing central aspects of peace in international relations. We represent the diagram below with the VIRP’s kind permission.

VIRP_Peace (Möller 2018)_ (c) Gansen & James
‘Peace’ by Frank Möller, 2018, in Visual Global Politics (Roland Bleiker ed.), diagrammed by Sarah Gansen & Patrick James (c)

The diagram will shortly be added to the visual online archive of the Visualizing International Relations Project.


Pfonner, Michael R. and Patrick James (2020), “The Visual International Relations Project,” International Studies Review, doi: 10.1093/isr/viaa014.