Robert W. Cox 1926 - 2018

Canadian Scholar and Political Economist

Intellectual leader Robert W. Cox was born in Montreal, Quebec. He graduated from McGill University in Montreal and received a Master’s Degree in History. In 1948, he began working at the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland where he helped set up and design the International Institute for Labour Studies, of which he served as director from 1965 to 1971. The Institute then appointed him Professor, which allowed him to conduct seminars and oversee Ph.D students. He worked at the Institute for over twenty years before turning to academia, first teaching at Columbia University and then becoming professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto from 1977 to 1992.

Over the years he held visiting professorships in universities around the world. Robert Cox was also a former United Nations Officer.

Together with British scholar Susan Strange, Robert Cox is thought of as one of the principal figures in International Political Economy, and a leading critical theorist in International theory. His work is characterized by a novel historicist approach to world order and political economy. He introduced gramscian analysis (Antonio Gramsci was an Italian philosopher).

Robert Cox most definitely led the way for critical analysis of international relations. He defined himself as a “universal foreigner.” One of his well-known quotes was: “Theory is always for someone and for some purpose.” It has been said that critical thinking has been enhanced because of his legacy. Cox describes his academic interests as no less than understanding “the structures that underlie the world.”

He was beloved by generations of students. At the time of his death, numerous tributes were written about this remarkable man:

A giant in the study of world order
His intellectual instincts were undogmatic
Leading critical voice in contemporary international relations theory
World-leading thinker
Intellectual pioneer
Towering figure
Impeccable character
Eccentricity – never conformed to orthodox theories or modes of thought
Iconoclastic attitude and style
Contributed more to our understanding of international relations than any other scholar of his generation
Scholar-extraordinary in the discipline of IR
Left an intellectual legacy
Influenced a generation of scholars in his lifetime
Ground-breaking intellect and infectious wit

It was written in his death notice that the strength of his contributions came from an independence of mind that challenged accepted conceptions.

While in his 80s, in 2014, he received the Order of Canada for being one of the world’s leading thinkers in the areas of political economy and international studies.

His book Production Power and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History (1987) is referred to as a landmark book in his field.

Share Tweet