As a graduate student in the mid-1990s, I had a fleeting fascination with the World Order Models Project (commonly known as ‘WOMP’). Established in the mid-1960s and led by Saul Mendlovitz, WOMP took as its goal the imagination of possible alternative world orders. Its purpose was both scientific—in that it aspired to an objective accounting of the various forces that shape world order—and normative—in that it committed itself to identifying and working toward preferable alternatives with respect to questions of peace, justice, governance, ecology, and identity on a planetary scale. I was drawn to two aspects of the project in particular. First, the sheer scale on which it conducted its work. I had always been attracted to big picture, macro level scholarship and it didn’t get much more macro than WOMP. Second, and probably more important in my mind, was the fact that the network of scholars comprising WOMP included figures from Asia (Rajni Kothari), Africa (Ali Mazrui), and Latin America (Gustavo Lagos and Horacio Godoy)—in addition to contributors from those world regions, such as North America (Richard Falk) and Europe (Johann Galtung), more commonly associated with generating and enforcing the prevailing world order.
I was at the time a student of International Relations (IR) and found myself deeply dissatisfied with the exclusively Anglo-American foundations of the discipline. Why, I asked myself, does a field of study that purports to explain the whole world consist exclusively of theoretical paradigms—and rather dull ones at that—developed by white men of European heritage? While it would take me a few years to discover the intellectual home in critical theory that eventually permitted me to recognise that the entire enterprise of IR was little more than the expression of a specific conception of world order masquerading as an academic discipline, I could already tell something was very wrong with my chosen field of study. What I found so startlingly admirable about WOMP (which operated adjacent to rather than within IR discourse) was that it involved a conscious effort to ask black and brown people what kind of worlds they actually wanted to live in. And while WOMP—perhaps impossibly ambitious in its vision—certainly attracted its fair share of critics, its work was nonetheless imbued with a deliberate and critical cosmopolitanism otherwise absent from social science scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s.
Now by the time I discovered WOMP it was already essentially a moribund effort, with its final official volume of essays appearing in the early 1990s. While some of the project’s contributors are still with us—such as critical IR theorist Rob Walker (associated early in his career with the final stage of WOMP activity), Asia specialist Samuel S. Kim, the venerable, irrepressible Richard Falk, and even Saul Mendlovitz himself (the latter two both now in their nineties)—none of them still identify as WOMPers. In the meantime, IR has started to get a little better in terms of redressing its inherent Eurocentrism. Along with Stephen Chan, I made a modest intervention on this front with a 2001 edited volume The Zen of International Relations: IR Theory from East to West. Of far greater significance is the Routledge book series Worlding Beyond the West, edited by Arlene B. Tickner, David Blaney, and Inanna Hamati-Ataya, which created a stable platform for IR scholars looking to study the international from diverse regional and cultural perspectives. Landmark critical studies such as Robert Vitalis’ 2015 book White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations, also helped to systematically exposed the racist origins of IR as a field of study. But collectively all this work has barely made a dent in the discipline’s thoroughly European scaffolding.