international relations theory

The Importance of Screening

by on 2013-12-20- Leave a reply

Editor’s Note: this is an abbreviated version of a post that originally appeared on my personal blog.

In my previous post, I articulated one way international institutions can deter bad behavior. In this post, I'll argue that even if we assume institutions don't have access to information that isn't already available to states, they still matter more than some appreciate.metal_detector_airport_2_350w_263h

One of the most prominent criticisms of institutions is that they are epiphenomenal---that they put a name on behavior that would have occurred anyway. That is, some have argued that the good news about compliance is not necessarily good news about cooperation because treaties may simply screen rather than constrain.

But the one does not necessarily imply the other. That is, even if institutions merely screen without constraining, this may nonetheless give us cause to celebrate international institutions. Below, I discuss a result from a formal model in which institutions screen but do not constrain---a model where the willingness of any given state to comply with a cooperative outcome is the same regardless of whether they join the institution. But it is nonetheless true in this model that fewer states would cooperate in the absence of institutions. In other words, when assessing the impact of institutions, we have to be very clear about what our standards are (as Martin and others (1 and 2) have argued). There is an important distinction between the claim that institutions alter state preferences and the claim that they merely separate nice, trustworthy types from bad, untrustworthy types, and I do not wish to downplay it. But it is nonetheless true that screening matters.

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The Importance of Angry Letters

by on 2013-12-12- 5 Comments

Editor’s Note: this is an abbreviated version of a post that originally appeared on my personal blog.

How can international institutions foster cooperation given that they lack enforcement capability? One view, quite simply, is that they can't. This view is shared by realists and many outside the academy. HansBrix

Many would argue this critique is unfair. It is too easy to jump from "can't control rogue states" to "completely worthless" or "false promise" or what have you. Even states that view one another as friends sometimes fail to reap all the possible benefits of international cooperation due to coordination problems, collaboration problems, etc, and institutions may help such states leave a little less money lying on the ground. There's also pretty strong evidence that UN peacekeeping works, particularly when it has the consent of all the parties involved. Sure, that's an important caveat, but we shouldn't trivialize the large number of lives that have likely been saved as a result of the UN's efforts.

But let's set those things aside. Is the best we can say about the UN that it helps those who want to be helped but is of no real consequence to the behavior of "rogue" states? I would argue that the answer is "sort of, but only if we adopt a fairly extreme definition of 'rogue'." But if we don't define "rogue" states as those that do misbehave, but those who would like to, then the answer is almost certainly no, the UN does not just allow the good guys to do a little bit better on the margins. It actually changes the intentions of those we might otherwise see as bad guys.

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The Politics of “Fitting” Feminist Theory in IR

by on 2013-10-17- Leave a reply

(Note: This post is cross-posted at The Research Centre in International Relations at King's College, London's Blog)

Feminist theorists have long made and substantiated the argument that gender "matters" in International Relations (IR) theory and practice, and that it matters in complicated and hybrid ways. Gender analysis has been used (in my view effectively) across a wide spectrum of theoretical approaches, issue areas, and contemporary political events.  I thought about this as I was reading news stories and opinion pieces expressing disappointment that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace  Prize. There are so many gendered dimensions to her story: her activism and agency; the gendered reaction to by the Pakistani Taliban; the gendered reaction to that repression around the world; the gendered narratives surrounding her candidacy for the Nobel Peach Prize; and then the gendered reactions to the Nobel committee's choice not to select her. All of these gendered framings, reactions, and receptions went on in the context of a gendered conflict between gendered states in what I would argue is a gendered international system. Reading those stories was, to me, another example of how gender "matters" in global politics - an example which could richly inform IR theory.

But what part of IR theory? Where does feminism fit? Is it another "ism" to go along with realisms, liberalisms, and the like? Does it cut across the "isms"? Where does it fit politically? Epistemologically? Methodologically? This question has been tackled again and again by feminist IR theorists like Ann Tickner, Marianne Marchand, Cynthia Weber, Marysia Zalewski, and Jill Steans, as well as by some theorists in mainstream IR interested in the question of feminisms' fit. In the rest of this short post, I suggest that perhaps fit and positionality are the wrong language to talk about the relationship between feminist work on global politics and the field of IR in which it is (at least partly) situated.

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Galactica (Not) Actual and the Sci-Fi / Sci-Fact / Globalization Intertext

by on 2013-08-30- 1 Comment

bsg

The Chinese state media could perhaps be forgiven for mistaking  fictional Battlestar Galactica blueprints for future US fleet schematics this week, given this.
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More Papers, Please: Video Games and International Studies

by on 2013-08-15- 18 Comments

In our conclusion to Kiersey and Neumann's Battlestar Galatica and International Relations, Peter Henne and I lament the relative lack of interest among cultural-turn international-relations scholars in video games. Our case rests on a comparison of the number of people who have played franchises such as Halo and Mass Effect to those who have watched the re-imagined BSG.

But the downside to neglect isn't simply about the size of audience and consequent real-world significance. Non-gamers may not know it, but recent years have seen a wave of experimentation in video games driven by the rise of independent developers. Sure, much of the work has been, at best, incremental and, at worst, hackneyed, but the overall trend has pushed gaming into something more recognizable to non-gamers as artistic expression.
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Guest Post – Dave Kang: "International Relations Theory and East Asian History"

by on 2013-07-18- 3 Comments

AHN_HOUSEIt’s always a pleasure to guest-post my good friend Dave Kang. Dave teaches at the University of Southern California and runs their Korean Studies Institute (the pic). Here are some previous guest posts he’s written (one, two, three).

Here is his encouragement to actually apply international relations theory to East Asia. I can’t agree more. There is far too much superficial, think-tank wonkery about East Asia (how many nukes does China have? will Pyongyang test another missile? and so on), and not nearly enough real theory. Dave does that, and you should too. So instead of yet another, I’ve-read-this-all-before policy essay about the South China Sea or China’s aircraft carrier, the essays referenced below should be good encouragement that we write something richer.

“Thanks to Bob and DoM for letting me guest-post yet again. I have an article on “International Relations Theory and East Asian History” that appears in the current issue of the Journal of East Asian Studies, edited by Stephan Haggard. In conjunction with this post, Lynne Rienner will make the article freely available to all for the next 30 days; you can download it here until October 1.

The entire issue is devoted to the international relations of historical East Asia. The special issue features essays by James Anderson, Kirk Larsen, Jiyoung Lee, Seohyun Park, Kenneth Robinson, and Yuan-kang Wang, all exploring different aspects of IR and East Asia in many disparate epochs and areas.

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What Exactly is Rational Choice?

by on 2013-06-12- 12 Comments

I sometimes surprise people when I say that I have no idea what rational choice is.1  How can a game theorist say such a thing?  Especially one who spends so much time on the internet arguing about rational choice?

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IR Theory Syllabi

by on 2013-06-06- Leave a reply

I just completed a significant update of the international-relations theory syllabi collection. Although currently hosted at the Duck of Minerva,  this collection is an initiative of the THEORY section of the International Studies Association. Massive props to the former THEORY officers for getting it running.

I'm again asking for anyone who is interested in submitting syllabi to contact me.

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Theory Section Redux

by on 2013-04-15- Leave a reply

I want to remind interested parties that we've posted a call for  suggestions for (1) the ISA Theory Section's "Distinguished Scholar" of 2014 and (2) the wording of the book prize. Vocal parties at the 2013 business meeting called for democratizing the process via this kind of mechanism; it would be a shame if Schmitt trumped Habermas when it came to these issues.

Also of note....

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The New Structuralism in International Relations and its Discontents: Prefatory Remarks

by on 2013-02-07- 3 Comments

Some years back I participated in a series of workshops that culminated in a book on New Systems Theories of World Politics (value priced at $115). PM and I have been working, somewhat haphazardly, on a review essay dealing with contemporary imperial formations that deals with what I've called the "New Hierarchy Studies." There's also a draft blog post hiding somewhere or other on that subject. But I think that renewed interest in hierarchy might better be characterized by, for lack of a better term, the "New Structuralism" movement in International Relations.

Thomas Oatley's recent posts exemplify a major trajectory of the new structuralism. The first revisits his "Reductionist Gamble" article in International Organization. In his account of why he feels compelled to devote blogspace to explaining his argument, he notes:

It has been met with some puzzlement and it has been misunderstood. I can understand both reactions, as the paper asks people to think differently about the world, and yet it does so by using terms and concepts in ways that depart from more typical usage. I say reductionism, and people hear Waltz. I say system, people here system level.

The problem, as I see it, isn't just a matter of Waltz's use of terms like "system," "structure," and "reductionism" dominating analytical discourse in the field. Waltz's use of these terms aren't even very well understood. They've been ripped from their historical and intellectual context. They've become fetishized, such that Waltz's interventions in older disputes now enjoy ex ante definitional status. The importation of social-theoretic alternatives during the 1980s and 1990s should have improved matters, but in the end they've only muddled the conceptual waters.

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A Quarter-Baked Note on Grand Theory in IR

by on 2013-01-31- 8 Comments

Political scientists often say that 'no one reads books anymore.' I'd add that 'almost no one reads book reviews.'

This is a shame. Although most book reviews are paint-by-numbers affairs, some smuggle in provocative claims or important statements about aspects of the field.* For example, in his Perspectives on Politics review of Miles Kahler, ed. Networked Politics: Agency, Power, and Governance, Zeev Maoz nails an important problem with one branch of work on social networks in international relations:

most network analysts would view the “networks as structures” versus “networks as actors” dichotomy as fundamentally flawed. The various chapters actually demonstrate this point. Even those authors who study networks as actors focus on the structure of the network and its effects on outcomes. Network analysis is capable not only of distinguishing between hierarchies and decentralized forms of connectivity but also of measuring them in quite precise ways.

On the provocative side, there's Cameron Thies' review (in the same issue) of two books, Christopher J. Fettweis's Dangerous Times? The International Politics of Great Power Peace and Gilulio M. Gallarotti's Cosmopolitan Power in International Relations: A Synthesis of Realism, Neoliberalism, and Constructivism.
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Podcast No. 18: Interview with Stefano Guzzini

by on 2013-01-18- Leave a reply

guzzini_sThe eighteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Stefano Guzzini of the Danish Institute for International Studies and Uppsala University . Professor Guzzini discusses, among other things his intellectual and educational background, his important work on power in international affairs, realism, and geopolitics.

This podcast is a bit more "bare bones" than usual. I didn't put in introductory remarks; I have not produced an m4a version at this time. The file located here is the mp3 version. Explanation: I am bit pressed for time right now.

I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions of the podcast [note: see earlier remarks about the m4a version of this podcast]. Unless I hear otherwise, we will continue this approach into the foreseeable future.

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Podcast No. 15: Interview with Barry Buzan

by on 2012-12-07- 7 Comments

The fifteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Barry Buzan. Professor Buzan discusses his academic and intellectual biography, his major works, and his ongoing projects. For additional background readers might consult the interview at Theory Talks or at the London School of Economics Department of International Relations blog.  In short, Buzan is a toweringly influential figure in international relations in general, and outside the US in particular. He is also, among numerous contributions to the discipline, a former editor of the European Journal of International Relations.

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In the year 2000….

by on 2012-12-05- 6 Comments

Hi everyone. I haven’t been around much lately as I’ve been furiously writing a book. But it is almost done and I’m feeling reflective. Have you missed me? I’ve missed you. What’s that you say? Why yes, this is a new shirt. Thank you for noticing.

I thought that I would offer some thoughts about where I think international relations research is heading in the near to medium-term future, based on what I’ve noticed about the job market, what friends are writing, and the sometimes surprising reactions to what I am doing on the part of others. Obviously this is all anecdotal and unsystematic, as a good blog post should be.

First, we all know that the field is becoming more quantitative, but I don’t think that this is driven by a methodological fetish (at least on the part of those who are doing the work. I think the fetishists are the ones who don’t do this type of work but think it is necessary to have in their department irrespective of its content). I think it owes to a frustration with the inability of previous generations of international relations scholarship to say anything precise and with confidence. Well, let me put that differently. We are looking to say something precise and with accuracy. Some people might have said that states always maximize power but we all knew that was never true. And what does that even mean? What will that proverbial state do on Tuesday? Those arguments are essentially non-falsifiable. They are simply too elastic and too sweeping.

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Institutions, Norms, and Cooperation

by on 2012-11-12- Leave a reply

A strong correlation between cooperation and membership in international institutions is not enough to establish that international institutions cause cooperation.   If we're to claim that institutions matter,
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Podcast No. 13 – A Conversation with Nick Onuf (mp3)

by on 2012-11-09- Leave a reply

The thirteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Nicholas Onuf. Nick is one of the "founding parents" of contemporary constructivism. His book, World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relation  -- which has been reissued by Routledge -- introduced the term to describe an approach to the study of world politics.
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Podcast No. 13 – A Conversation with Nick Onuf (m4a)

by on 2012-11-09- 2 Comments

The thirteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Nicholas Onuf. Nick is one of the "founding parents" of contemporary constructivism. His book, World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relation  -- which has been reissued by Routledge -- introduced the term to describe an approach to the study of world politics.

The podcast is wide-ranging -- part of oral history, part interview, part discussion -- such that I've had difficulty figuring out how to insert chapters. If you're listening via m4a, you'll see that the podcast has only a few chapter titles. "Enter Constructivism," for example, contains not only information about World of Our Making but also about the state of the field in the 1980s, the rise of liberal institutionalism, and so on.

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Podcast No. 11 – Interview with Janice Bially Mattern

by on 2012-10-05- 1 Comment

The eleventh episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Janice Bially Mattern of the National University of Singapore. Her first monograph is Ordering International Politics: Identity, Crisis, and Representational Force (Routledge, 2005).

Contents 

  • Front Matter
  • An Intellectual Introduction
  • Ordering International Politics
  • Transnational Organized Crime
  • Hierarchy, Emotion, and Transnational Criminals
  • The Multivocality of Mattern's Work
  • Styles of Reasoning in IR
  • Taking Over the International Studies Review
  • International Theory Redux
  • Working in Singapore
  • End Matter

Note: podcasts now seem to be appearing every Friday, give or take. We'll see how long we can sustain it.

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I CAN HAS IR THEORY? 2

by on 2012-10-02- 4 Comments

More slides from the talk after the fold.
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Podcast No. 10 – Interview with Vincent Pouliot

by on 2012-09-28- Leave a reply

The tenth episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Vincent Pouliot of McGill University. His first monograph is International Security
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