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What Is the Welsh School: Marxists and Realist Criticism

The Welsh School is so called because it was originally proposed by scholars based at the University of Wales, Abersytwyth like Ken Booth, Richard Wyn Jones and Andrew Linklater. They have drawn inspiration from the political theories of Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx as well as the Frankfurt School theories of Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Jurgen Habbermas. This theory rose in the 1990s. What is most distinctive and important about this approach is that they advocate the radical re-conception of security referring to it as the emancipation of individuals and communities from structural constraints. As opposed to the more commonly accepted theories which are focused on the state securing itself. Booth in particular created the landmark article ‘Security and Emancipation’ which argued for a ‘holistic non-statist’ approach to security that does not emphasize the use of force and would involve:

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The freeing of people from physical and human contrainsts which stop them carrying out waht they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those contraints, together with poverty, poor education and political oppression (Booth, 1991).

Booth links cosmopolitan ideals with the argument that the concept of emancipation shapes strategies and tactics of resistance, offers a theory of progress for society and gives a politics of hope for a common humanity (Booth, 2005 181).

These arguments are closely related to the Feminist School led by J. Ann Tickner which advocates a vision of security based upon the elimination of unjust social relations, including unequal gender relations and for a reformation of international relations in terms of the multiple insecurities represented by ecological destruction, poverty and gender structural violence, rather than the abstract threats to the integrity of states, thier interests and core values (Tickner 1992).

The arguments of the Welsh School are closely related to the idea of human security developed by the United Nations Development Program in 1994 (UNDP). The objective of security has shifted from the state of the human being and in Booth’s views requires that the state simply be a means and not an end of security. It must work to facilitate the achievement of security, not be its object. But they also argue for something much more radical and important than is available in most understandings of human security: complex holistic process that require not merely the amelioration of particular needs, or the defense of humans against discrete threats contained by time and place, but ongoing structural transformations based on ideas of emancipation, social justice and human progress. In Welsh school emancipation is not merely intrinsically important; it offers a line of resistance to the all too common notion of human security in Statist agendas. It can be summarized as follows; If people are made insecure by a complex melange of threats, practices and processes – poor governance, political oppression, civil conflict, the global economy, corruption, human rights abuses, gender violence and discrimination or environmental destruction then it is the duty of the state to provide for the abatement of these threats to secure the people rather than to secure itself.

Two examples of the Welsh school at work are North Korea and Switzerland. In North Korea the distinct, Statist approach of the government requires that all resources are focused on the preservation of the state. People are hungry, jobless and destitute but the government ignores their plight because vital resources are hoarded to support the government and the military. As a result, people are leaving North Korea even with the threat of death penalty looming over them they choose to flee. The state is very insecure about itself because it has failed to delivery security to its people.

Switzerland on the other hand, has adopted a strong socialist stand since World War 2 supporting its working class and poor. Many social and public services are free or very cheap hence the people themselves are very secure. The result is that there is very little public tumult in Switzerland and they have enjoyed peace and prosperity. The state is very secure because its people are secure.

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The realist critique of the Welsh school is the it does not it fails to consider that States will often choose to go to war in an attempt to improve the insecurity of its people. For example, in 2003 US president Bush went to war with Iraq to distract his country from the economic problems it was suffering from. Another realist critique is that the state itself is needed by the people in order to subsist. The Marxist critique is that there is no relative poverty, no relative poverty or wealth or freedom and no compromise and extremely incompatible. A Marxist would consider the Welsh school as obsolete because the State itself only exists to serve the people to empower the working class and eventually it will wither away as useless when the time comes that the proletariat is able to finally fully control his own destiny. Ideally the state needs only to serve the state and has no other function. Poverty and insecurity are anathema to the state because it exists to be in the service of the people.

Works Cited

Ken Booth, ‘Security as emancipation’, Review of International Studies, 17(4) 1991: 319.

Ken Booth Critical Security Studies and World Politics (Boulder: Lynn Rienner 2005).

J. Ann Tickner Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspecties on achieving global security. New York: Columbia Unversity Press, 1992, pp 127-44.

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