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In Memoriam: James Rosenau, 86

The professor emeritus and former director of the USC School of International Relations in USC Dornsife was a World War II veteran who became a founding father in the field of foreign policy analysis.

By Pamela J. Johnson
September 27, 2011

In an interview James Rosenau gave to the <em>Review of International Studies</em> in 2000, the USC Dornsife professor emeritus said, “Today the U.S. mainstream remains very state-centric in its approach to international relations and I feel way outside it.” Photo courtesy of Margaret Rosenau.

In an interview James Rosenau gave to the Review of International Studies in 2000, the USC Dornsife professor emeritus said, “Today the U.S. mainstream remains very state-centric in its approach to international relations and I feel way outside it.” Photo courtesy of Margaret Rosenau.

James Rosenau, professor emeritus of international relations in USC Dornsife, a founder of foreign policy as an academic field and pioneer in the study of globalization, died Sept. 9. He was 86.

Arriving at USC Dornsife in 1973, Rosenau served as director of the USC School of International of Relations from 1976 to 1979. He left USC Dornsife in 1992 and was appointed University Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He retired in 2009.

Rosenau died in an assisted-living facility in Louisville, Colo., after suffering a stroke.

“Jim’s capacity as an author and a researcher has made him well-known in the academic world, but his passion was always in the classroom,” said his wife of 17 years Hongying Wang. “In his own mind, he was a teacher first.”

Margaret Rosenau, Rosenau’s daughter from his first marriage, said her father was “always pushing people to think outside their own boxes.”

“He taught for more than 60 years and seldom took a leave of absence,” said Rosenau, of Louisville, Colo. “He was as dedicated as they come.”

Rosenau recalled colorful stories from her father. When James Rosenau was an undergraduate at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., first lady Eleanor Roosevelt hired him to edit the first volume of personal letters President Franklin Roosevelt wrote about his time in the White House. While editing, Rosenau stayed in a cabin near Eleanor Roosevelt’s home.

“When my father arrived, a snowstorm hit the area,” Rosenau said. “Eleanor Roosevelt came charging through the snow to the cabin across the field from her home. She came to check on my father to see if he was alright. He always described her as a very warm and caring person.”

Rosenau was born Nov. 25, 1924 in Philadelphia, Penn., the son of a successful Wall Street broker. His family moved to New York City in 1929 and in 1933 he entered fourth grade at The Lincoln School of Teachers’ College, Columbia University, graduating from high school — where he was football quarterback, basketball center and baseball pitcher — in 1942. 

After his first year as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, amid World War II, he was drafted into the Army and deployed to England as a cryptographer with the Office of Strategic Services intelligence agency.

In 1946, Rosenau continued his undergraduate studies at Bard College. He earned a master's degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, then a Ph.D. in politics at Princeton University.

Rosenau authored or edited more than 40 books, including Turbulence in World Politics: A Theory of Change and Continuity (Princeton University Press, 1990), which investigates the new forces shaping world politics beyond the nation-states. After that he wrote several books focusing on the dynamics and consequences of globalization, including the increasing interactions between domestic politics and foreign policy, the rising importance of non-governmental organizations and the empowerment of individuals as actors in world politics.

John Odell, professor and director of the School of International Relations in USC Dornsife, said Rosenau was among the first professors he wanted to meet when Odell arrived in 1982.

“Jim had been a pioneer in the analysis of foreign policy decision-making during the ’60s and ’70s and was prominent on my reading lists,” Odell said. “He worked for many years to improve the theoretical basis of foreign policy analysis and to develop it as a social science.”

Rosenau’s later works were also highly original and wide-ranging, Odell said, focusing on the changes that information technology could introduce into world politics, among other subjects. In the mid-’80s, Rosenau was elected by his peers as president of the International Studies Association.

Steven Lamy, professor of international relations and vice dean for academic programs in USC Dornsife, called Rosenau a leading figure in the field of foreign policy analysis.

“As a graduate student we all read the two Rosenau edited readers,” Lamy said. “He was a prolific scholar and a wonderful teacher and a great mentor to all who came to USC. He took me under his wing because I was asked to teach many of the courses that he had taught.”

Lamy still teaches IR 341 and IR 521, foreign policy courses created by Rosenau, who also wrote a book with his students. Lamy nominated Rosenau for the USC Associates Award for Creativity in Research, which Rosenau won in 1986.

“He was so humble yet so deserving.” Lamy said. “By that time he had just finished his book on Turbulence in World Politics. I think that was his 25th book.”

Rosenau lived in the hills of Pacific Palisades, where faculty gathered for a barbeque about once monthly.

“Our discussions about USC, global politics and other topics would last long into the night. Maintaining a strong sense of community was important to him,” Lamy said, adding, “And I could never beat him in tennis.”

Rosenau was director of the USC School of International Relations when Jonathan Aronson, professor of international relations and communication, arrived in 1976.The two were close colleagues until Rosenau’s departure.

Aronson remembered Rosenau’s love of life and scholarship.

“He was all about ideas, but was firmly rooted in the real world, especially after he overcame a fear of flying,” Aronson said. “This liberated him and thereafter he traveled the globe in search of the new.”

Aronson said Rosenau was a “pathbreaking thinker who opened new fields that others followed him into.”

Others, including his former students. Rosenau was Xiaoming Huang’s adviser when Huang was a doctoral student in USC Dornsife from 1987 to 1993.

“Jim does not ‘teach’ you really in the way we usually use the word,” said Huang, now a professor of international relations at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, where he is also director of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre.

“He stimulates, communicates and picks up things from conversations with you. He does not really tell you whom you should become and what you should do as we too often hear from a professor. Rather he naturally becomes a role model for you, showing you that being a genuine intellectual can be a way of life.”

Kantathi Suphamongkhon was Rosenau’s Ph.D. student at USC Dornsife from 1978 to 1984. Suphamongkhon said Rosenau never stopped being his mentor. When Suphamongkhon was Thailand’s minister of foreign affairs, he often spoke about Rosenau to people throughout the world.

“Among other things, a term he coined — fragmegration — helped me become more mindful of the concurrent interaction of the forces of fragmentation and integration, making it easier to formulate appropriate policy and strategy for Thailand under globalization,” said Suphamongkhon, now an international relations senior fellow at UCLA.

“Jim was my star and his numerous words of wisdom would often return to me and help me structure my thoughts during international negotiations.”

Rosenau is also survived by his two children with Wang, Fan and Patrick. His first wife, Norah McCarthy, died in 1974.

The family is planning a memorial in spring 2012 in Washington, D.C.