Daniel Nexon

Reporters and Foreign Affairs Analysis: Ukraine Edition

by on 2014-03-02- Leave a reply

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Dan Nexon. It is cross-posted at his personal blog, Hylaean Flow.

One of the ongoing rationales for The Monkey Cage is that journalists do a poor job of covering US electoral politics. They focus on personality and style. They downplay the role of fundamentals, such as economic forces and the nature of the electoral system. The same is too often true in foreign-affairs reporting. Consider a recent piece by multi-award-winning reporter, Scott Wilson: "Ukraine crisis tests Obama’s foreign policy focus on diplomacy over military force."

What is Wilson's argument? A sample:

Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor....

“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”

And another:

The signal Obama has sent — popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies — has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out. He did so most notably in the aftermath of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya nearly three years ago.

But Obama’s rejection of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war, in which 140,000 people have died since he first called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, is the leading example of his second term. So, too, is the Pentagon budget proposal outlined this past week that would cut the size of the army to pre-2001 levels.

Let's consider a bit of history.

  • In April of 2008, President George W. Bush pushed hard for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine at the Bucharest NATO summit. Germany and France balked, for both self-interested and prescient reasons.
  • In August of 2008, Russia baited Georgia into invading South Ossetia. At the key principals meeting in Washington, no one was willing to risk war with Russia over Georgia.
  • In 2009, Yanukovich and his Party of Regions wrested power from the unruly and ineffectual Orange coalition that had ousted him in 2004. Yanukovich adopted a pro-Russian tilt. Although he was more than happy to leverage Moscow against Brussels, under no circumstances was he going to make a serious push to bring Ukraine into NATO.
  • While Georgia is a small country on the Russian Federation's periphery; Ukraine is a large country of significant affective and geo-strategic significance to Russia.

See the problem? There's no obvious counterfactual set of Obama policies that would better position the United States to handle Russia's gambit in Ukraine.
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Theories Never Die

by on 2013-09-18- 15 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Felix BerenskoetterIt is the 25th and final installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. tl;dr notice: ~1750 words.

Other entries in the symposium- may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Having been invited to offer an ‘overall response’ to this special issue, I decided to take a look at how the contributors deal with the editors’ claim that we are witnessing the end of ‘IR Theory’. But let me preface this with an observation.

The EJIR editors’ decision to compile this special issue, taken at the 2011 ISA conference in Montreal, occurred parallel to the creation of the ISA Theory Section (in which I was closely involved). While this was not a consciously coordinated effort, neither was it a coincidence. Both initiatives were motivated by a similar concern, namely a sense that there were not enough substantial/creative theoretical discussions in two primary fora of IR discourse: in journals (the EJIR editor’s view) and at ISA conferences (my view). And yet, the observations spurring the two initiatives are slightly different. The EJIR editors saw a ‘retreat from theory’ in IR indicated by missing inter-theoretic debate and lack of theory development. My view was that there is quite a bit of theorizing going on, but that it is either happening in inward-looking cliques, or has difficulties making it onto the ISA program because it does not fit the outlook of existing sections. Accordingly, the two initiatives were framed in contrasting ways, namely as (i) debating stagnation, crisis and end (EJIR), and as (ii) supporting and bringing together new thinking (Theory Section).

One reason for this contrast lies, I think, in different conceptions of theory and theoretical debate. Whereas the EJIR brief refers to an end of great debates and paradigm wars, that is, a lack of debate between and development of ‘isms’, I see fruitful theoretical discussions taking place both inside and outside the isms, albeit not in terms of competition. Related, there is a generational factor. The EJIR editors are established professors and so were the contributors initially selected for the EJIR project; the panels at ISA and BISA did not include a single young scholar (I commented on this elsewhere).
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Not Aufklärers but Dilettantes: Reading Michael C. Williams’s “In the Beginning…”

by on 2013-09-17- 9 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Daniel J. LevineIt is the 24th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Michael C. Williams' article (PDF). His post appeared earlier today. tl;dr notice: ~1730 words.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

“In the Beginning” joins a growing literature – including my own Recovering International Relationsin which normative claims regarding the vocation of IR theory are tied to an historical account of its disciplinary emergence.*<name="back2917"> If these arguments vary in their details, they share a common logical-rhetorical tactic. An account of the discipline’s beginnings is mobilized to critique present-day scholarly practices: to spur “reflection on where one is, and where one is going.”

On Williams’ account, a basic confusion regarding IR-realism’s relationship to liberalism characterizes “where we are.” The traditional ‘dueling paradigms’ approach to IR theory in which “realism and liberalism…develop as parallel tracks that rarely intersect substantively,” overlooks their deeper historical co-emergence. IR-realism, he argues, emerged to guide liberal societies and protect their freedoms amidst the growing challenges of postwar political life. That co-emergence, Williams suggests, has been forgotten, with “significant implications for how we think about the past and future development of the field.”

What Williams wants is international theory that is not merely open to normative concerns, but which is deeply imbued with them. Accordingly, it is not a reflection so much as it is a proposed regrounding. Williams wants us to think about IR differently because he wants IR to speak to political life differently: in the voice of Ira Katznelson’s post-war “political studies enlightenment,” which “combined the deduction of politics from norms with its extrapolation from facts, affiliating engaged social criticism with disinterested social science[.]” (p. 3)

Nothing wrong with that; but what practices of reflection are to keep his understanding of the field from becoming as “final and defining” as those he is attempting to critique? [p. xxxx] Rationalist scholars, too, often evince a sense of grounded vocation. Where they differ is on the account of social and political life upon which their analyses rely, and onto which their notions of ‘good’ theory bolt. [inter alia, see here, here, here, and here]. Nor are ‘historical’ narratives any more objectively or self-evidently cohesive than are ‘rationalist’ ones. If indeed – as Williams quotes Adorno and Horkheimer in his 2005 book – “all reification is a forgetting,” then what risks being reified and forgotten in his counter-narrative? (p. 128)
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The International Relations Enlightenment and the Ends of International Relations Theory

by on 2013-09-17- 6 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Michael C. WilliamsIt is the 23rd installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Williams' article (PDF). A response, authored by Daniel J. Levine, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Disciplinary history is too important to be left only to intellectual historians. It should concern anyone interested in international politics. “The tradition of all dead generations” may not weigh on the brains of today’s International Relations (IR) scholars with quite the fever of Marx’s nightmare, but it does continue to exert powerful and often unrecognized effects on contemporary thinking. The idea of an “end of IR theory” that animates the Special Issue of the EJIR provides an intriguing opportunity to open up this issue: to ask where the field is going by looking again at where it came from.

This story can be told in many ways. One of the most revealing is to take seriously Stanley Hoffmann’s famous claim that IR developed as a quintessentially “American” social science (PDF). Hoffmann was right, though for reasons and with implications quite different from those he advanced. In his eyes, these origins lay mainly in a concern with American hegemony and policy-oriented theory in the context of the Cold War. No one could doubt that these questions were important, yet in many ways IR’s origins and commitments are better located in a wider but generally unrecognized analytic and political sensibility that, in his brilliant study of Desolation and Enlightenment, Ira Katznelson has called the “political studies enlightenment” (note the small ‘e’).

Katznelson holds that diverse figures in post-war American social science including Dahl, Hofstaeder, Lasswell, Lindblom, Polanyi, and Arendt were united in the view that the desolation of the previous half century and its apparent refutation of Enlightenment promises of progress, peace, and the reign of reason. In response, they undertook systematic analyses of the limits of a century and a half of increasing rationalism within the liberal Enlightenment tradition. Yet they did so not to reject modernity or liberalism, but to save it. They held that understanding the calamities of the period required seeing them not as simple irrationality erupting inexplicably into the otherwise placid, progressive, world of reason, but as specifically modern, arising in important aspects from the Enlightenment itself, and representing key weaknesses within it, including its inability to engage the question of “radical evil” in modernity; the increasing dominance of technology, and technical rationality; the rise of “mass society” and mass politics, and the accompanying crisis of classical liberalism and its vision of democracy; and the rise of extreme nationalism and anti-liberal politics as an at least partial consequence of liberal modernity, not as its simple antithesis. The goal was to grasp these dynamics philosophically, historically, and sociologically, in order to understand how they might be countered in pursuit of suitably chastened but nonetheless recognizable Enlightenment values and principles.

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Memory Loss as Imperial Effect

by on 2013-09-16- 6 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Naeem InayatullahIt is the 22nd installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Arlene B. Tickner's article (PDF). Her post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

…the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but no one would remember their use.

The above passage in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude speaks to an awareness of memory loss. José Arcadio Buendía realizes he is losing his ability to remember the names of ordinary things, like chairs, tables, and windows. Anticipating his loss, he moves around the house and labels each object. After some time, as his memory continues to dissolve, he takes note of the labels and recognizes his handwriting but cannot recall to what the labels refer.

Here is my effort at the opposite anecdote: imagine living in a house so comfortably that you could walk within it with eyes shut. Your body moves from room to room and around the furniture without having to see or remember anything. Neither moving nor seeing require a world outside.

These two stories can be linked via a process: Someone approaches the house, stands in your window and shouts, “Hey, look at what I have brought you. Perhaps you have need for it in your house.” We thank the stranger, import his wares, examine them for novelty, and decide to place them in our curios cabinet where they are protected from the dust. One day, the progeny of the original traveler returns and repeats, “Hey, look at what I have brought you. Perhaps you have some need for it.” We examine the wares and reply, “thanks but I have that already.” We recall seeing it before but not why we needed it. Or, if we needed it. “Never mind,” we say to ourselves, the important thing is to return to our routines.

***

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Core, periphery and (neo) imperalist IR

by on 2013-09-16- 3 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Arlene B. TicknerIt is the 21st installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Tickner's article (PDF). A response, authored by Naeem Inayatullah, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.
Terms such as core and periphery (or third world) are largely passé, and may even be conceptually and heuristically objectionable on the grounds that they are rooted in dichotomous language that reproduces power differentials between diverse actors and sites around the world.  However, core-periphery like logics similar to those described by world-system and dependency theory in the 1960s and 1970s are still operational in multiple spheres of (globalized) human activity, including knowledge building.   International Relations (IR) is no exception.  Despite its lip-service to pluralism, and growing attempts to decolonize and decenter it by incorporating non-Western and peripheral readings of the world, IR remains fairly resilient to change.   Why and how the field continues to exhibit and to recreate (neo) imperialist features has failed to engage both critical scholarship that underscores the power relations that play out in academia, and analysts of IR outside the West.  The purpose of my article is to begin to fill this void by exploring the core-periphery dynamics that characterize the field of International Relations.

In order to do this, I make use of general insights provided by science studies.   I find Bruno Latour´s work especially helpful because he approaches fields of scholarly inquiry as global networks that link distinct peripheries to “centres of calculation” in which data is created and processed, and theories are drafted.  In doing so, Latour maps the intellectual division of labor that characterizes scientific enterprises across the globe.   However, post-Kuhnian analyses such as his are less helpful for understanding how power accrued in the core translates into scientific (neo) imperialism, nor its effects upon knowledge-building in those sites that occupy the peripheral rungs of global disciplinary chains.  I argue that instead of agent-less sites upon which power is enforced, peripheral scientific communities make use of distinct ploys in order to place themselves vis-à-vis core-periphery structures.   In the case of International Relations, I identify several kinds of placing strategy that seem to stand out: “fitting in” (premised on acceptance of core domination and academic moves to gain recognition and position within existing core-periphery logics); “domination by invitation” (by which local state, academic or private sector elites conduct explicit campaigns to reinforce relations of domination with U.S. (or Western) bearers of knowledge in order to promote intellectual development); and “delinking” (which stakes out a position of difference outside of or in opposition to core IR).   The fact that I am a participant in this special issue of the European Journal of International Relations, “speaking” from (but hopefully not for) the periphery despite my American origins, suggests that I am at least partially a “fitter inner”.
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Symposium — Response to Christine Sylvester, “Experiencing the End of IR Theory/End of War”

by on 2013-09-15- Leave a reply

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Lauren WilcoxIt is the 18th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Christine Sylvester's article (PDF). Her post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Sylvester productively draws out the implications of the current ‘camp’ structure of IR: on the one hand, the proliferation of ‘camps’ and communities within IR increases the opportunities for publication and advancement for those whose work does not conform to traditional disciplinary norms; on the other hand, the emergence of camps with their own journals, books series, ISA/BISA sections and common citations productive dialogue across and between camps is difficult if not impossible.

Sylvester also usefully points out that the camp system can end up with arrogant competitions within camps for dominance. Sylvester does well to highlight how comfortable camp IR can be for some people (and implicitly, how uncomfortable cross camp connections and dialogue can be, where one is forced to contend with those who do not necessarily share deeply held ontologies.  Even the camp structure of feminist IR can be problematic, with feminists in IR only citing other IR feminists, leaving behind the broader world of gender/sexuality studies and reproducing some of the problems of the sex/gender distinction and erasure of racial, geographic, ability, cultural and class differences.

The current ‘camp structure’ in IR seems to be an improvement over disciplinary hegemony in the way that a world of multiple sovereign states seems to be an improvement over an imperial structure, this world of camps seem to imply functional equality among camps. Similarly, understanding the structure of IR as ‘camps’ underestimates the power dynamics laden in the structure of IR. For example, ‘camps’ suggests a kind of conditional tolerance that conceals the darker politics of regulation and aversion that Wendy Brown warned about in Regulating Aversion.
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Symposium — War is Human

by on 2013-09-15- 7 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Christine SylvesterIt is the 19th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Sylvester's article (PDF). A response, authored by Lauren Wilcox, will appear at 11am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

…War is human. People fight…in the years preceding our last two wars, thinking about defense undervalued the human as well as the political aspects of war.

So says H.R. McMaster, the intellectual army major general who led the American third armored cavalry regiment in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. Writing in the “Week in Review” section of the New York Times on July 21, 2013, he decries the revolution in military affairs that had the US fighting its recent wars with wishful thinking loaded onto distance computers, rather than with common sense and a common touch on the ground. It backfired: “we learned [that] American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.”

McMaster and I live in different worlds: I, for one, would not be keen on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq no matter how they were waged. Nonetheless, he and I are both convinced that war is human: humans plan, prepare, arm, assault, resist, hide, trade, and flee collective armed violence. War can certainly be understood in other terms, as it usually is in IR. It can be conceptualized as an element of system dynamics, as national or military/paramilitary operations of armed conflict, as changing strategy or changing weaponry, as a set of causes and correlates, as the military-industrial media-entertainment network and so on. Such “other ways” differ in many important respects, but each one abstracts war away from humans to what McMaster indicates are illusions, leaving war’s executioners bereft of important knowledge about the “social, economic and historical factors that constitute the human dimension of war.”

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Meta-theory and Practical Knowledge: Reflections on Reus-Smit’s ‘Beyond Meta-theory’

by on 2013-09-14- Leave a reply

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Milja KurkiIt is the 18th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Reus-Smit's article (PDF). His post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Christian Reus-Smit’s latest intervention into the seemingly never-ending ‘meta-wars’ published in the long-awaited EJIR special issue on ‘end of theory’ demonstrates the thrust of his core argument superbly well: the debate on meta-theory is unlikely to go away, even as most bored empirical analysts keep demanding it does. Reus-Smit is right to argue that meta-theoretical debate is bound to continue to influence IR theory and debate, explicitly or implicitly, whatever the analytical eclecticists, or other activists for our ‘emancipation from meta-theory’, think. So deeply engrained are meta-theoretical questions and meta-theoretical thinking in IR scholarship that – thank goodness – it is quite unfeasible and unrealistic to seek to dislodge meta-theoretical concerns from the discipline. As Reus-Smit puts it: ‘we can stop talking about meta-theory...but we cannot escape it’.

Reus-Smit’s argument as to the durability of meta-theory and the persistent role of ‘hidden’ meta-theoretical principles in the work of key critics, such as Sil and Katzenstein, is convincing, if not highly original in that he, of course, joins by now rather a long list of defenders of meta-theorising. What is distinct about this contribution is his attempt to raise explicitly the normative-empirical knowledge divide and how it plays into the current treatments of meta-theory. He plausibly makes the claim that if practical knowledge is what we are after (as Sil and Katzenstein argue), then by Aristotle’s standards certainly, we should be opening our knowledge horizons to normative ways of ‘knowing’ and ‘judging’. The failure of current analytical eclecticism to reflect on its bias towards empirical knowledge leaves the normative aspect of ‘practical’ knowledge production unexplored. Reus-Smit calls for a more meta-theoretically self-reflective but also, as such, more ambitious form of eclecticism which can challenge the ‘grund epistemological assumption that admits only empirical-theoretical forms of inquiry and knowledge’.

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Beyond Metatheory?

by on 2013-09-14- Leave a reply

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by Christian Reus-SmitIt is the 17th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Reus-Smit's article (PDF). A response, authored by Milja Kurki, will appear at 11am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Metatheory is out of fashion. If theory has a purpose, we are told, that purpose is the generation of practically-relevant knowledge. Metatheoretical inquiry and debate contribute little to such knowledge and are best bracketed, left aside for the philosophers. This article challenges this all too common line of reasoning. This is not because I wish to defend theoretical abstraction for its own sake, or because I believe that fundamental questions of epistemology and ontology—the stuff of metatheory—are resolvable in any final or absolute sense. Nor is it because I think the generation of practically-relevant knowledge is an inappropriate goal or purpose for international relations theory, far from it. My concerns are different. First, as others have observed, one can bracket metatheoretical inquiry, but this does not free one’s work, theoretical or otherwise, of metatheoretical assumptions. All work has underlying epistemological and ontological assumptions, and these establish the intellectual parameters of our inquiries, determining what we think the social and political universe comprises and what counts as valid knowledge of that universe. Second, our metatheoretical assumptions, however subliminal they might be, affect the kinds of practically-relevant knowledge we can produce. If our epistemological assumptions confine legitimate social knowledge to the formulation of empirically verifiable hypotheses, then the knowledge we generate will be limited to inferences about causal relations between variables. This leaves us well short, though, of what Aristotle and many others consider true practical knowledge.
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Symposium — Of Paradigms and Assumptions

by on 2013-09-13- 2 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a guest post by Phil ArenaIt is the 16th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to David A. Lake's article (PDF). His post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Lake's “Theory is dead, long live theory: The end of the Great Debates and the rise of eclecticism in International Relations”  articulates well a common take on the Great Debates and their aftermath, and I thank Dan Nexon for giving me the opportunity to discuss it as part of this symposium.  I agree with much of what Lake writes, as I expect many readers will.  However, I find part of Lake's argument problematic.  Specifically, I agree that “The paradigm wars greatly perverted the discipline and turned inquiry into contests of a quasi-religious belief in the power of one or another 'ism',” and that we ought not “mourn the tyrant's passing” for that reason.  Yet it is not clear to me that what emerged from the ashes of the paradigm wars can be characterized meaningfully as “eclecticism”, and no more clear that this would be desirable if it was the case.

Consider the two examples Lake provides of “the new king” which “deserves our support”: open economy politics (OEP) and democratic peace theory.  Though Lake says that neither fits well into any “ism” of the paradigm wars, both fall quite neatly under the umbrella of liberalism according to one of the most prominent descriptions thereof.  In “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics”, Andrew Moravcsik identifies the core assumptions of liberalism and distinguishes between three variants: ideational, commercial, and republican .  Not only do OEP and democratic peace theory share the core assumptions of liberalism, but the former is so perfect an example of commercial liberalism, and the latter of republican liberalism, that Moravcsik points to these very literatures as examples.  In what sense, then, can we say that progress has been made in the wake of the Great Debates by “eclectic” mid-level theory?
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Theory is Dead, Long Live Theory: The End of the Great Debates and the Rise of Eclecticism in International Relations

by on 2013-09-13- 4 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  guest post by David A. LakeIt is the 15th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Lake's article (PDF). A response, authored by Phil Arena, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

The field of International Relations (IR)  has a long tradition of Great Debates, but both grand theory and clashes between competing grand theories now appear to be on the wane. Many International Relationists bemoan the dominance of “normal science,” a phrase almost always uttered in a derogatory manner. Yet, if grand theory was king, it was an evil tyrant. The paradigm wars between contending grant theories then perverted the discipline and turned inquiry into contests of quasi-religious belief in the power of one or another “ism.” I, for one, do not mourn the tyrant’s passing.

Flourishing in the interstices of the paradigm wars, however, has always been a rich ecosystem of other theories, often competing, that never rose to the level of Great Debates but nonetheless produced significant progress over time in improving our understanding of IR. Mid-level theory today, exemplified by democratic peace theory and open economy politics, forms the basis for a more progressive and eclectic approach to IR. Mid-level theory is less exciting than the Great Debates. Precisely because it focuses on what “works,” mid-level theory, does not inflame the passions like allegiance to this or that paradigm. Yet, mid-level theory can form the basis for a progressive discipline of IR that the paradigms have never provided. This contender for the crown deserves support.

There is, however, a real and emerging divide in the field of IR between “positivists” and “post-positivists” that we would best avoid. The great irony of Thomas Kuhn’s famous theory of scientific revolutions is that scholars choose between paradigms before their promise is completely demonstrated. In his case, he looked to the scientific community as a whole to understand the shift as a sociological phenomenon. Such community ties likely play a role in determining one’s positivist or post-positivist inclinations today in IR: where one was educated, and with whom, appears to have a massively conditioning effect, even recognizing that an element of self-selection goes on in choosing a graduate program. Yet, given two competing paradigms in the field today, the choice also remains a highly subjective and personal assessment based on what appeals to each individual as a satisfying explanation of any given phenomenon. This is, perhaps, as it should be. My own sensibilities may already be known (or more likely assumed), but in the spirit of full disclosure they lean in the positivist (and eclectic) direction. But I recognize that this is a subjective judgment. That my sensibilities lean in one direction does not mean that I cannot respect the subjective assessments of others with different intellectual beliefs who make alternative intellectual “bets.” Rather than another inconclusive Great Debate, there is room, I believe, for both approaches and, I hope, a little friendly competition.

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Symposium — Maps are Theories, Cartographic Errors Make Flawed Debates

by on 2013-09-12- 13 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a guest post by Janice Bially MatternIt is the 15th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Patrick Thaddeus Jackson's and Daniel Nexon's article (PDF). Their post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Jackson and Nexon’s map of IR theory presents a different perspective on the field. The authors are optimistic that from this different vantage point can follow different kinds of conversations among International Relations (IR) scholars; ones that improve the quality of IR theorizing. I am less optimistic. Different though their map may appear, I worry that it will ultimately perpetuate more of the same kinds of conversations—including and especially those that legitimate the kind of “brittle” IR theorizing that Jackson and Nexon hope their map will challenge.

My skepticism ‘trickles up’ from the practical orientation through which Jackson and Nexon (J&N) construct their topography.  More precisely, J&N approach IR theory as a practice—an activity, the logic of which is encoded in the routines by which it is done. The authors’ discussion of paradigms, great debates, and middle range theories is not just any standard overview of the literature but a practical analysis. Through it, J&N discern the dominant kinds of routines via which IR theorizing is done and then decode from those routines the implicit common sense logic of IR theory.  Their conclusion is that IR theory is an explanatory activity that is done through routines that “relat[e] conceptual tools to empirical observations."

This practical conception of IR theory moves J&N’s argument at multiple levels.  First, it grounds their view that IR theory is relatively healthy.  There is, after all, a “great deal of” explanatory work on world politics that is done by "relating conceptual tools to empirical observations". Second, it gives shape to their topography.  It enables J&N to delimit the universe of IR theory around explanatory function, and so, to recognize the variation in its routines. Those variations form the axes of contention and clusters of theory that make up the map. Finally, the authors’ practical conception of IR theory underwrites their optimism that this topography could help improve IR theorizing.  It makes IR theories intelligible as scientific ontologies, or catalogues of conceptual terms that are analytically separable from those conversation-stopping categorical philosophical commitments that have long dogged the improvement of IR theory. In this way, J&N’s optimism about their topography echoes Adler and Pouliot’s about practical analysis more generally. Both imagine that the practice analytic provides a gluon that “cuts across” theoretical differences in the field.
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Symposium — The Most Important Emerging Theoretical Clusters in IR? Not What You Think

by on 2013-09-12- 47 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a  post (mostly) by Patrick Thaddeus JacksonIt is the 14th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to PTJ's and Daniel Nexon's article (PDF). A response, authored by Janice Bially Mattern, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

To begin with the punchline: we feel that the state of international theory globally is considerably more robust than laments about "the end of International Relations theory" would have it. The problem, we argue, is that the mental maps of the field with which so many of us operate do not give pride of place to the theoretical points of contention that actually do unite the field by giving IR scholars a set of debates within and against which to locate their own scholarly work. The perception of excessive theoretical fragmentation is thus an artifact of the way we conventionally map the field, and accordingly, what has to change are our maps -- not IR theory.

There are three conventional ways of mapping the universe of IR theory, all of which have relatively serious limitations. The "isms" mapping pits the supposed "paradigms" of realism, liberalism, and constructivism (once upon a time that third was Marxism) against one another; besides unhelpfully turning straightforward empirical disagreements into presumptively "incommensurable" assumptions that function as shibboleths in academic tribal warfare, the "isms" mapping also only permits broad generalizations about the causes of state behavior to qualify as "theory."

The "great debates" mapping suggests that field-wide contentious conversations spur scholarly innovation, but this mapping suffers from empirical and historical weaknesses (it is unclear, for example, that the "second debate" actually consumed the attention of more than a handful of IR scholars), and also -- especially with the "second" and "third" great debates -- conflates theoretical and methodological issues in ways that lead us to confuse discussions about international affairs with discussions of the status of our claims about international affairs.
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Symposium — Reflections on Reflexivity and Theorizing in IR

by on 2013-09-11- 1 Comment

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a guest post by Cameron ThiesIt is the 13th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post responds to Stefano Guzzini's article (PDF). Guzzini's post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Stefano Guzzini provides us with yet another in a long line of thought provoking contributions on International Relations (IR) theory. There is a great deal that I appreciate about this piece: the observation that IR theorists have become increasingly reflexive over time, that this progression cannot be undone, the relationship between reflexivity and the four modes of theorizing he outlines, as well as the emphasis on concepts and the “unfinished dictionary of the ‘international’.” As is the case for many articles, I wish there had been more space for him to fully articulate the connections he outlined between increasing reflexivity and the modes of theorizing. Perhaps we will be lucky enough to see this article expand into a book at some point.

Rather than continue to extol the virtues of Guzzini’s contribution, I thought I would use my limited space to press the author on several aspects of the article. In the rest of this blog entry I will briefly address the premise of the paper, the generation of theory in contemporary social science, the kind of theory empiricists desire, and a few additional comments on the role of Great Debates in IR theory (because I can’t help myself).

At first, I was drawn in by the premise of the paper: that IR theory is being caught in a scissor movement between those who believe only practical knowledge is important and those who desire a specific version of empirical theory. The former seems to be driven in Guzzini’s mind by professional schools, while the latter is a result of the homogenization of training in the discipline to produce “quantitative-followed-up-by-qualitative” graduate student clones. Upon reflection, this seemed to me to be somewhat of a false premise. How much do professional schools really affect the disciplinary trajectory of IR? It seems to me that the core of IR is still squarely in traditional academic institutions. In fact, if anything, the gap that Alexander George and others wanted to bridge between applied and basic work in IR and foreign policy seems as wide as ever to me. My academic career has largely been spent in departments that might approximate the disciplinary homogenization Guzzini decries as one blade of the scissor, yet I don’t think my empirically oriented colleagues require that all theorizing be reducible to empirical generalizations.
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Symposium — The Ends of IR Theory: Stages of Reflexivity and Modes of Theorizing

by on 2013-09-11- Leave a reply

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a guest post by Stefano GuzziniIt is the 12th installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Guzzini's article (PDF). A response, authored by Cameron Thies, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

My article argues for the fundamental importance of theorizing in International Relations (IR) against two by now classical critiques, regularly repeated. One critique tends to reduce IR theory to a version of practical knowledge, the other reduces it to some version of empirical generalization with allegedly no further need of checking the conceptual and theoretical coherence as traditionally done through the –isms debates. Both reductions are mistaken.

A critique of the alleged superiority of practical knowledge

It is common to hear that all the abstract language of academia (whether meta-theory or formal modelling and mathematisation) has alienated IR from the world of practice. In its strongest version, this view claims that the ‘real’, or at least only relevant, knowledge is what has come down to us over centuries of practical self-reflection and political judgement. The balance of power simply is, whatever clever critiques people may come up with. Such a vision of theory also explains the common confusion of foreign-policy ideology and explanation. How often have we not seen realist scholars seeing their theory confirmed when world events turn nasty and liberal scholars when diplomacy breeds peace (or at least truce)? But liberal theory has to understand the outbreak of conflicts just as much as realists their resolution. Neither deterrence nor reassurance is unique to one theory, although they do define respective policy strategies.
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Symposium — A Response to Charlotte Epstein: Are ‘Universals’ Allowed in Poststructural IR?

by on 2013-09-10- 4 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a guest post by Vivienne JabriIt is the eleventh installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post responds to Charlotte Epstein article (PDF). Epstein's post appeared earlier today.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

If I claim there is a distinctiveness to ‘the international’, my claim is reiterated, indeed emphasized, by placing the proverb ‘the’ before the noun, ‘international’, and doing so confers a certain materiality to the object of interest. The claim seems to suggest something that exceeds language and its power to construct the ‘real’; something prior to discourse and even more powerful. The international comes to acquire and possess a presence that is generative of relationships, identities, institutions, and indeed the concepts we use in rendering our subject matter comprehensible and meaningful. The object, to use Theodor Adorno, comes to exceed the capturing capacity of our concepts, and it is that excess which somehow renders the international a very special domain of politics and that confers our discipline, International Relations (IR), this very specific task, which is to understand the challenge of the international and how it is manifest in different locations of time and space.

The elders of the discipline, specifically what the textbooks refer to as the ‘realists’ or the ‘neo-realists’, Morgenthau and Waltz among others, understood the specificities of the international and therefore its challenges; appreciated that when the structure of the international and its most fundamental constitutive elements, the sovereign state, the recognition of sovereignty, relations between states, balances of power, came under challenge, the consequences would be far-reaching not just in terms of narrowly defined state interests (which is how many mis-understand realism), and not just in terms of the structural transformation of the international; for example, towards empire, but much more fundamentally still. They understood the historical record relating to transformations of the international, a record replete with conflict and violence. As Mike Williams’s revisionist reading of realism so accurately captures, Kant was never far off these realist readings of the international.

Perhaps at no other time for our generation of IR scholarship has the challenge of the international been so present. This challenge brings with it a responsibility not just to explain, but to define the limits of the possible when faced with the very real events on the ground; events that directly challenge the modern international. We all witness its unravelling at every instance of terrorist violence, extra-judicial assassination, extra-ordinary rendition, the seeming transnational civil war within Islam that reminds us of the European Thirty Years’ War, the ever-present violence that seems all too ready to target civilians, the workings of credit agencies that can bring states to their knees, all and every instant of such events challenging the discourses we have in relation to the international.
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Symposium — Une Invitation au Lecteur

by on 2013-09-10- 30 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a guest post by Charlotte EpsteinIt is the ninth installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Epstein's article (PDF). A response, authored by Vivienne Jabri, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Being invited by the editors of EJIR to engage with the question of whether International Relations (IR) theory has reached is end(s) was, for me, the opportunity to try to take stock of some of the big picture questions that have long concerned our discipline. The first of these is: what exactly is IR’s world? Ours is one of the youngest disciplines in the history of what has classically been called ‘the human sciences’. Yet what we see today is also a discipline that is much surer of itself than it has ever been, because it is surer of what constitutes its intellectual space -- something it owes undoubtedly to theory. IR’s owl has well and truly taken off.

This is signalled by the shift in the word ‘international’ from an adjective to a noun, the international, which is to say, a concept, albeit (and indeed, hopefully, forever) a contested one. Systemic theorising, exemplified by Kenneth Waltz, did much to staking out the space of the international and posit IR as a discrete theoretical endeavour. Recast within a broader history of the human science, Waltz’s efforts are comparable to those of Structuralists, such as Claude Levi-strauss (whom Waltz explicitely cites), who sought to uncover the universal laws of human nature that transcended particular cultures.

In this sense, then, it seemed to me fruitful to bring to bear upon the discipline’s trajectory Jacques Derrida’s founding engagement with Structuralist thought in his key 1966 Baltimore lecture ‘Structure, Sign and Play'; the seminal moment that triggered the moving beyond, the ‘post’ of post-structuralism. Arguably the particular theoretical blossoming of the late 1980s-early 1990s in IR offered a similar opening; although whether it was borne out is precisely something I question in this piece.
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Symposium — A Comment on Chris Brown’s “The Poverty of Grand Theory”

by on 2013-09-09- 18 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a guest post by  David EdelsteinIt is the eighth installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post responds to Chris Brown's article (PDF). His post appeared earlier today.  

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

Every other year, I teach a field survey seminar in international security for doctoral students in Georgetown’s Government Department. The students are invariably engaged and, like all good graduate students have forever been, eager to eviscerate the work of others. What interests these students, however, has changed from when I was a graduate student in the 1990’s. This current generation studies grand IR theory because they are told they have to do so or because they anticipate needing to know the literature for comprehensive exams. What interests them more is the work that has come to be called “mid-range” theory. That is, work that tackles a more modest and manageable question that is amenable not only to theoretical study but also to using the latest and greatest methodological techniques.
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Symposium — The Poverty of Grand Theory, Duck Taster Edition

by on 2013-09-09- 11 Comments

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor's Note: This is a guest post by Chris BrownIt is the seventh installment in our "End of IR Theory" companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Brown's article (PDF). A response, authored by David Edelstein, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium--when available--may be reached via the "EJIR Special Issue Symposium" tag.

In their invitation to contribute to the Special Issue, the EJIR editors appeared to approach contemporary IR theory in a somewhat sceptical manner, with words such as "stagnation" to the fore -- the implicit, and sometimes explicit, proposition was that the period of theoretical innovation and contestation post-1979 is drawing to a close, or, indeed, has ended. Then we had inter-paradigm debates and post-positivist critiques, now the excitement is over and we are becalmed in the doldrums.

Is this actually so? It is not at all clear how one might approach this question and it seems implausible that any kind of rigorous answer is going to be available whatever method of doing so is adopted. Still, one thing that is clear is that this kind of judgement cannot be made without some kind of examination of the sort of work that is being done now and the work that was being done then. At least a rough and ready compare-and-contrast of the 1980s and the 2000s is called for and while approaching this question in terms of a comparison of the major theoretical works published in the two periods may actually be a little too rough and ready, not least because it privileges books over the journal literature, it seems the simplest way to go, and is not likely to be too misleading.
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