IR theory

Theory as thought

Theory as thought

by on 2014-12-05- 3 Comments

Recently a friend and colleague wrote me to say:

 

“The SS piece is actually really useful to me as a model for dealing with
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Rape-Stoves, Techno-Rationality and Global Humanitarian Policy

by on 2014-07-15- 1 Comment

Cookstove_1Samer Abdelnour and Akbar Saeed have published a terrific article in International Political Sociology. "Technologizing Humanitarian Space: Darfur Advocacy and the Rape-Stove Panacea" critically traces the emergence of fuel-efficient cook-stoves as a global "solution" to sexual violence in refugee camps.

Here's the abstract:

We examine how an unassuming domestic technology—the fuel-efficient stove—came to be construed as an effective tool for reducing sexual violence globally. Highlighting the process of problematization, the linking of problems with actionable solutions, we show how US-based humanitarian advocacy organizations drew upon spatial, gender, perpetrator, racial, and interventionist representations to advance the notion that “stoves reduce rape” in Darfur. Though their effectiveness in Darfur remains questionable, efficient stoves were consequently adopted as a universal technical panacea for sexual violence in any conflict or refugee camp context. By examining the emergence and global diffusion of the rape-stove problematization, our study documents an important example of the technologizing of humanitarian space. We postulate fuel-efficient stoves to be a technology of Othering able to simplify, combine, decontextualize, and transform problematizations from their originating contexts elsewhere. When humanitarian advocates construe immensely complex crises as “manageable problems,” the promotion of simple technical panaceas may inadvertently increase the burden of poverty for user-beneficiaries and silence the voices of those they claim to champion and serve.

I remember teaching about the firewood/rape nexus in refugee settings during my days at GSPIA, but I was not aware of how the technology had proliferated since then or of many of the pernicious side effects of this technocratic solution to a multi-dimensional problem (here is an op-ed version by Abdelnour). It was nice to read a detailed critical assessment of such a policy, and to think about how many other globalized practices are doing more harm than good (or maybe some good and some harm) in places where well-meaning agents are struggling to deal with so much nastiness. Fuel-efficient cook-stoves to reduce rape are a band-aid, but so are refugee settings themselves: technocratic efforts to cordon off nastiness from vulnerable populations, and cordon off vulnerable populations from their host societies. The takeaway is that looking below the rug of humanitarian policy leads to some pessimistic conclusions.
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Classroom Activity: Institutions as Epiphenomena and Screening Mechanisms

by on 2014-03-07- Leave a reply

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) on how international institutions promote cooperation.

In that lecture, I presented the epiphenomenal critique,
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What Makes a Great Scholar?

by on 2013-10-17- 10 Comments

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I attended a celebration of the life of Kenneth Waltz held at Columbia University last weekend. The service was organized and hosted by Robert Jervis, Robert Art, and Richard Betts and included sixteen speakers -- family members, scholars, and former students who gave wonderful tributes based on their own personal reflections on his life, research, and teaching.

It was clear that Waltz was gifted intellectually. His book Man, the State, and War was written in just over a year in 1959 and transformed the field. But this was only the start, he made major intellectual contributions in each of the next five decades -- remarkable staying power for a scholar. Yet, as Jervis pointed out, Waltz was not really that prolific -- only three solo authored books and the two major books (Man, the State and War and Theory of International Politics) were rather short. As one speaker noted, he wrote slowly and with few words, but because his did so, his words will last for a very long time.

In listening to the tributes, I jotted down notes on what people thought might have given Waltz the insights to make such a contribution to IR -- and wondered more broadly, what makes a great scholar, one with the insights to transform and keep pressing the field for decades?

Here are a few thoughts from the tributes:
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Review of Braumoeller’s The Great Powers and the International System

by on 2013-10-16- 1 Comment

The following is an all too common path through graduate school:

  1. spend 3-9 months wondering what the heck you signed up for and why
  2. realize that every topic you're interested in has been written on and assume there's nothing left to say
  3. gain a little confidence and criticize everything you read for leaving something (inconsequential) out
  4. begin doing your own research and realize it's not so easy
  5. write a dissertation about a very small, very timely, very answerable question
  6. convince your committee that your answer is profound, timeless, and required extraordinary insight
  7. cry when the first submission gets rejected because you left something (inconsequential) out.

One of the many tragedies of this cycle is that the important questions in international relations get ignored. It's much easier to hit pitches the greats never even swung at---can you believe how little guidance extant lit offers when it comes to piracy off the coast of Somalia? Or the use of Twitter bots to sway public opinion regarding immigration?---than to score runs off curveballs they were lucky to catch a piece of.

Yet, every once in a while, someone swings for the fences.* A wonderful example of this is Bear Braumoeller's The Great Powers and the International System, which tackles the old bearquestion of whether the structure of the international system constrains, or is shaped by, state behavior. Unsurprisingly, his answer is "Both." But more interesting than the answer are its implications---or, put differently, the biggest contribution of the book is not in resolving the agent-structure debate, but in delineating when dramatic changes in the structure of the international system are expected to occur and how (and when) states will react to them.

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International Institutions Mobilize Opponents Too

by on 2013-10-09- 5 Comments

Members of international institutions typically honor their commitments. But that does not, by itself, tell us much. States are unlikely to join institutions that require them to do things they have no intention of doing. Indeed, some argue that institutions merely act to screen out those least likely to comply. Others, however, have argued that institutions do in fact constrain states - that they are not mere epiphenomena. One prominent mechanism through which institutions are thought to alter state behavior is by mobilizing pro-compliance groups domestically. Institutions may lack enforcement capable, after all, but few governments are entirely insensitive to domestic pressure.

But, as Stephen Chaudoin cogently observes in this working paper, those who stand to lose if the government adopts the institution's preferred policy are unlikely to give in without a fight. And such groups virtually always exist; if they did not there'd be little need for institutions to promote cooperation in the first place. Put differently, while WTO rulings may raise awareness about the effects of tariffs and Amnesty International might draw attention to human rights abuses, the net effect of such efforts might simply be to increase the amount of effort those advantaged by the status quo invest in defending it.

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Research Primer for Religion and IR

by on 2013-09-25- 1 Comment

Michael Desch and Daniel Philpott at Notre Dame have concluded their two-year Mellon funded working group on religion and IR and published their final report titled Religion and International Relations: A Primer for Research.  Desch, in his introduction (titled: "The Coming Reformation of Religion in International Affairs? The Demise of the Secularization Thesis and the Rise of New Thinking About Religion"), starts with a puzzle expressed by working group participant Timothy Shah: “religion has become one of the most influential factors in world affairs in the last generation but remains one of the least examined factors in the professional study and practice of world affairs.”

Why is this? In addressing this question, the working group focused on three broad set of questions: What is religion and how should we study it in international relations? How can religion broaden our understanding of international relations? and, what should be the core of the future research agenda for religion and international relations?

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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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