1. Chapter 1, “Thinking About IR Theory,” includes a new reading by Thomas Walker on the dangers of becoming wedded to a single paradigm or image of world politics.
2. Chapter 2, “Realism: The State and Balance of Power,” now has an expanded discussion of Thucydides and new sections on defensive and offensive realists, nonsystemic realist explanations, and dynamic differential theory of great power war.
3. Chapter 3, “Liberalism: Interdependence and Global Governance,” expands the discussion on both the impact of global- ization on IR theory and the literature on deliberative global governance and has a new article by Robert Keohane on Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons.
4. Chapter 4, “Economic Structuralism: Global Capitalism and Postcolonialism,” provides more in-depth coverage of Antonio Gramsci, Robert Cox, and the postcolonialism literature. It also includes a new reading by Barbara Bush on the role of culture in imperial relations.
5. Each reading features an expanded headnote and critical-thinking questions that provides more context for the selection and teases out its conceptual or theoretical import.
If you’re wondering why you should buy this new edition of International Relations Theory, here are fi ve good reasons!
International Relations Theory
PAUL R. VIOTTI University of Denver
MARK V. KAUPPI Georgetown University
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Viotti, Paul R. International relations theory / Paul R. Viotti, Mark V. Kauppi.—5th ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-205-08293-3 (alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-205-08293-9 (alk. paper) 1. International relations. I. Kauppi, Mark V. II. Title. JZ1305.V56 2012
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B R I E F C O N T E N T S
Detailed Contents iv
CHAPTER 1 Thinking About IR Theory 1
PART I Images of International Relations 37
CHAPTER 2 Realism: The State and Balance of Power 39
CHAPTER 3 Liberalism: Interdependence and Global Governance 129
CHAPTER 4 Economic Structuralism: Global Capitalism and Postcolonialism 189
CHAPTER 5 The English School: International Society and Grotian Rationalism 239
PART II Interpretive Understandings 275
CHAPTER 6 Constructivist Understandings 277
CHAPTER 7 Positivism, Critical Theory, and Postmodern Understandings 322
CHAPTER 8 Feminist Understandings in IR Theory 360
PART III Normative Considerations 389
CHAPTER 9 Normative IR Theory: Ethics and Morality 391
D E T A I L E D C O N T E N T S
Brief Contents iii Preface viii
CHAPTER 1 Thinking About IR Theory 1
The IR Field in an Age of Globalization 1
Epistemology, Methodology, and Ontology 2
What Is Theory? 4 Explanation and Prediction 5 Abstraction and Application 8 Levels of Analysis 8
Interpretive Understandings 14
Normative Theory 16
A Look Ahead 17
Thinking Theory Thoroughly / James Rosenau 19
The Perils of Paradigm Mentalities: Revisiting Kuhn, Lakatos, and Popper / Thomas C. Walker 27
Suggestions for Further Reading 34
PART I Images of International Relations 37
CHAPTER 2 Realism: The State and Balance of Power 39
Major Actors and Assumptions 39
Intellectual Precursors and Influences 42 Thucydides 42 Machiavelli 45
Hobbes 47 Grotius 48 Clausewitz 49 Carr 50 Morgenthau 51
Power 52 Definitions 52 Measurement 53
System 54 Game Theory and Anarchy 55 Distribution of Capabilities and the Balance of Power 58
Power Transition 68
Long Cycles 69
Globalization and Interdependence 71 Globalization 71 Interdependence and Vulnerability 71
Realists and International Cooperation 72
Realists and Their Critics 74 Realism: The Term Itself 74 The System and Determinism 75 Realists and the State 76 Realists and the Balance of Power 77 Realism and Change 78 Realism: The Entire Enterprise 79
The Melian Dialogue / Thucydides 83
On Princes and the Security of Their States / Niccolò Machiavelli 88
Of the Natural Condition of Mankind / Thomas Hobbes 90
The State of War: Confederation as Means to Peace in Europe / Jean-Jacques Rousseau 93
Detailed Contents v
Explaining War: The Levels of Analysis / Kenneth N. Waltz 96
Hard and Soft Power in American Foreign Policy / Joseph S. Nye, Jr. 109
Suggestions for Further Reading 117
CHAPTER 3 Liberalism: Interdependence and Global Governance 129
Major Actors and Assumptions 129
Intellectual Precursors and Influences 131 Stoicism 132 Liberalism—Classical and Social Variants 132 Immanuel Kant 134 Richard Cobden 135 Joseph Schumpeter 135 Interest-Group Liberalism 135
International Regimes 144
Neoliberal Institutionalism 147
Global Governance 149 Green Politics and the Environment 150
Economic Interdependence and Peace 152
The Democratic Peace 154
Decision Making 156
Change and Globalization 160
Liberals and Their Critics 161 Anarchy 161 Theory Building 162 The Democratic Peace 163 Voluntarism 163
Producing Security / Stephen G. Brooks 167
Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons/ Robert O. Keohane 176
Suggestions for Further Reading 180
CHAPTER 4 Economic Structuralism: Global Capitalism and Postcolonialism 189
Major Actors and Assumptions 189
Intellectual Precursors and Influences 193 Karl Marx 193 Hobson and Imperialism 195 Lenin 196 Luxemburg and Revolution vs. Reform 197 Antonio Gramsci 198
Dependency Theorists 199 ECLA and UNCTAD Arguments 199 Radical Critiques 200 Domestic Forces 202
The Capitalist World-System 203 System 204 Political, Economic, and Social Factors 206
Change and Globalization 207
Economic Structuralists and Their Critics 213 The Question of Causality 213 Reliance on Economics 213 System Dominance 213 Theoretical Rigidity 214 Accounting for Anomalies 214 Defining Alternatives and Science as Ideology 215 Responses 215
The Economic Taproot of Imperialism / J. A. Hobson 219
Culture and Imperialism / Barbara Bush 222
The Modern World-System as a Capitalist World-Economy / Immanuel Wallerstein 227
Suggestions for Further Reading 233
CHAPTER 5 The English School: International Society and Grotian Rationalism 239
Major Actors and Assumptions 239
vi Detailed Contents
Intellectual Precursors and Influences 241 Grotius 241 Kant 242 Carr 242
The Divergence of British and American Scholarship 243
The Genesis of the English School 244
Levels of Analysis and Theory 246
Change 246 From System to International Society 246 From International Society to World Society 247
The English School, Liberals, and Social Constructivists 249
The English School and Its Critics 250 Methodological Muddle 250 Historical Knowledge 250 Political Economy, the Environment, and Gender 250 Conceptual and Philosophical Eclecticism 251
The Law of Nations on War, Peace and Freedom of the Seas / Hugo Grotius 254
Inventing International Society / Tim Dunne 260
Does Order Exist in World Politics? / Hedley Bull 267
Suggestions for Further Reading 270
PART II Interpretive Understandings 275
CHAPTER 6 Constructivist Understandings 277
Major Actors and Assumptions 278
Intellectual Precursors and Influences 279 Kant 279 Locke 280 Durkheim 281 Weber 281
Structure, Rules, and Norms 284 Rules 285 Norms 286
Logic of Appropriateness 289
The Diversity of Social Constructivist Thought 291 Schools of Thought 291 Levels of Analysis 292
Wendt’s “Naturalist” Constructivism 293
Constructivist Affinities in the Broader IR Field 297
Constructivists and Their Critics 297 Liberal and Realist Critiques 297 Debates within Constructivism and Postmodern Challenges 298
Selected Readings Constructing International Politics / Alexander Wendt 302
Constructing Norms of Humanitarian Intervention / Martha Finnemore 309
Suggestions for Further Reading 316
CHAPTER 7 Positivism, Critical Theory, and Postmodern Understandings 322
Intellectual Precursors: Phenomenology and Hermeneutics 328
Critical Theory: Major Assumptions 331
Postmodernism: Major Assumptions 333
Critical Theorists, Postmodernists, and Their Critics 335
Critical Explorations and the Highway of Critical Security Theory / Ken Booth 339
Writing Security / David Campbell 348
Suggestions for Further Reading 355
Detailed Contents vii
CHAPTER 8 Feminist Understandings in IR Theory 360
Intellectual Precursors and Influences 360
Major Assumptions 362
Strands of Feminism in IR 364
Gender, War, and Security Studies 365
Gender and International Organizations 367
Gendered Understandings and IR Theory 368
Feminists and Their Critics 369 What Critics? 369 Research Program and Cumulative Knowledge 369
The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State / Iris Marion Young 371
Why Women Can’t Rule the World: International Politics According to Francis Fukuyama / J. Ann Tickner 380
Suggestions for Further Reading 386
PART III Normative Considerations 389
CHAPTER 9 Normative IR Theory: Ethics and Morality 391
Norms, Ethics, and Morality 391
Normative Theory: Alternative Perspectives 392 The Levels of Analysis 392 Moral Relativism 393 Secular Bases for Moral or Ethical Choice 393
Justice and War 397 Applying Just War Theory in the Twenty-First Century 399 Morality and Weaponry 400
Justice and Human Rights 402 The Enlightenment 402 Current Application 403 Humanitarian Treatment and the Sovereign State 403
Armed Intervention and State Sovereignty 405
Intervention and Civil Wars 406 Criteria for Humanitarian Intervention 407
Alternative Images and Foreign Policy Choice 410
Rationality and Foreign Policy Choice 411
Values, Choices, and Theory 412
Morality, Politics, and Perpetual Peace / Immanuel Kant 415
The Nature of Politics / E. H. Carr 421
The Law of Peoples / John Rawls 425
On War and Peace—The Nobel Peace Prize Speech / Barack Obama 430
Suggestions for Further Reading 436
Glossary 441 Index 471
P R E F A C E
T he idea for International Relations Theory resulted from a conversation between the authors in 1982 as they strolled through the grounds of Schloss Solitud , located just outside Stuttgart, Germany. The topic of discussion was the perennial problem of presenting in a relatively coherent manner a significant portion of the vast literature that comprises the field of international relations theory. After several years of classroom experimentation and numerous other con- versations, the result was the first edition of this volume, published in 1987; with subsequent editions in 1993 and 1999; and, after a decade-long intermission, the fourth edition in 2010. Informed by feedback from former students, colleagues, and reviewers in North America, Europe, East Asia, and elsewhere, this fifth edition continues to take account of changes in the world and major developments within the field that have occurred over the past quarter century.
International relations theorists try to make the world and human interactions within it more intelligible. They try to unpack the complexities that surround our subjective and intersubjective understandings of global politics. And they disagree substantially in these efforts. It is a field so torn by controversies that the casual ob- server may wonder if these IR theorists are writing about the same world. At times, IR theorists sound collectively like a cacophony of voices, discordant and anything but harmonious. On the other hand, we reflect that this out-of-tune sound is also a mark of a field in ferment, decidedly not moribund and potentially very productive of theories and understandings that may improve our grasp of how the world works.
Theorists have observed the end of the Cold War, increasing globalization, the prevalence of state and non-state conflict, and global economic crises. As in the previ- ous editions, we’ve taken the time needed to reflect on and assess both the impact of these substantial developments as well as the increased diversity in thought within the images and interpretive understandings we identify.
NEW TO THIS EDITION In this edition, we have added the following:
j A new reading in Chapter 1 by Thomas Walker on the dangers of students in IR becoming wedded to a single paradigm or image of world politics. We also update and expand coverage in Chapter 1 to set the stage for subsequent chap- ters on all the diverse perspectives—the theoretical approaches now prevalent in the IR field—realism, liberalism, economic structuralism, English School, con- structivism, postmodernism, critical theory, feminism, and normative theory.
j In Chapter 2 an expanded discussion of Thucydides and new sections on defensive and offensive realists, nonsystemic realist explanations, and dynamic differential theory of great power war.
j Expanded discussion in Chapter 3 on both the impact of globalization on IR theory and the literature on deliberative global governance—adding as well a new article by Robert Keohane on Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons.
j Broader coverage in Chapter 4 on economic structuralism with an expanded dis- cussion on Antonio Gramsci, Robert Cox, and the postcolonialism literature. We also add a new reading by Barbara Bush on the role of culture in imperial relations.
j Identification, beginning with constructivism in Chapter 6 , of interpretive under standings (constructivism, postmodernism, critical theory, feminism) as another overarching conceptual category that gives meaning to the approaches and theories they contain.
j Updated coverage of normative theory in Chapter 9 as a value-oriented category of theoretical inquiry not only on warfare, human rights, and other ethical chal- lenges facing policymakers, but also on how values relate to the images and inter- pretive understandings that influence scholarly work by theorists in the IR field.
j Greater detail in the newly revised précis—the expanded headnotes before each selected reading in this edition that couple an overview with critical thinking questions of conceptual or theoretical import to think about while reading each article.
FEATURES This volume (1) discusses and illustrates what is meant by theory and why theoriz- ing about IR is important; (2) analyzes and assesses the underlying assumptions and orientations that influence scholarly work in the IR field—images that we label realism, liberalism, economic structuralism, and the English School and interpretive understandings found in social constructivism, critical theory, postmodernism, and feminism ; (3) provides an overview of normative theory —what ought to be done, how actors should conduct themselves; (4) offers in the chapters and readings rep- resentative samples of theoretical works; (5) introduces the reader to key concepts used in the IR field (some indicated in boldface type)—hence, an extensive glossary; (6) encourages the reader to assess both historical and contemporary conceptual and theoretical works in the IR field; and (7) raises questions that lead us to scru- tinize critically diverse theoretical claims made in these works.
Indeed, if we are better equipped to analyze everyday events from a conceptual or theoretical perspective; to ask the right questions; to recognize underlying assump- tions in written works or public pronouncements by academics, government officials, journalists, and other commentators, this would transcend any supposed achieve- ment made simply by memorizing which author is associated with what theory.
Keys to Navigating the IR Field When dealing with the four images and four interpretive understandings we have identified, we hasten to underscore that these are not airtight, mutually exclusive categories of thought. As we maintained in earlier editions of this book, they are best understood more as pure or ideal types—general ways of thinking about IR that can serve as benchmarks that delineate major currents in the IR field. Indeed, the works
of particular scholars (and the scholars themselves) oftentimes blend or cross from one image or interpretive understanding to another. Nevertheless, these categories of thought presented in this volume do help us organize and thus make better sense of what remains a deeply divided field of inquiry—one made even more difficult to navigate by the “laundry” lists of “isms” found in many IR theory books.
Images Images that attempt a comprehensive, overarching view of the field are the subject matter in Part One, with separate chapters on (1) realism (with new developments in structural or neorealism) in Chapter 2 , (2) liberalism (adding global governance found in rational or neoliberal institutionalism) in Chapter 3 , (3) economic structuralism (with postcolonialism integrated with earlier discussions of world-system theory and dependency) in Chapter 4 , and (4) the English School (with discussion of the Grotian roots of international society and prospects for a Kantian world society) in Chapter 5 .
Interpretive Understandings The other “isms” that now dominate the field do not pretend to provide so over- arching, comprehensive a view of international relations or world politics as these four images do. Instead, their focus is on the interpretive or subjective and inter- subjective understandings we and others as human beings hold about the world in which we are immersed. Social constructivists in Chapter 6 and critical theorists and postmodernists in Chapter 7 pose a substantial challenge to positivists wedded to scientific modes of inquiry. So do some feminists discussed in Chapter 8 .
In Chapter 7 we also examine how the first three of the four interpretive under- standings (constructivism, critical theory, and postmodernism) owe so much to the work of Max Weber on Verstehen or interpretive understanding and, more broadly, to phenomenology—a philosophical inquiry into human consciousness or the work- ings of the mind that affect our interpretations of the phenomena we observe. For its part, feminism, and its focus on gender as an interpretive lens, has a longer, also very rich history influenced by, but separate (for the most part) from, these philosophical or phenomenological currents. Nevertheless, we group these four modes of think- ing into one broad category in Part Two—interpretive understandings—precisely because each is sensitive to the importance of interpretation, the subjective and intersubjective dimensions in and among human beings, the actions they take, and interactions among them that our theorizing takes into account.
Normative Considerations The final part of this volume takes up in Chapter 9 the philosophical underpinnings of the IR field found in political theory. Normative theory connects moral or ethical obligation to the challenges that confront policymakers. Conceptual understand- ings and values in political theory also underlie both the images and interpretive understandings we identify. On images, we see values or norms in the exercise of power and the search for order in realism, the multilateral or institutional remedies for global problems in liberalism, the exploitative class or interstate relations in
economic structuralism, and the search for “Grotian” rules and “Kantian” norms in international or world society in the English School.
Political theory also informs the interpretive understandings scholars take to IR whether (1) they identify international norms as ideational structures, as social constructivists are prone to do; (2) frame the critique offered by critical theorists looking for underlying power or other motives in ideologies masquerading as if they were scientifically grounded theories; (3) point us to the value-laden mean- ings in the concepts and theoretical claims IR scholars make when we deconstruct their work, as postmodernists do; or (4) find, as feminists are prone to identify, the gender-related values present not only in everyday life, but also in IR theories that frequently purport to be value neutral.
Though deeply divided, when viewed as a whole, the IR field is intellectually very vibrant. Journals and recently published books have been filled with important new theoretical work as well as challenges to already established understandings and responses from their defenders. Given understandable constraints on the length of this volume, it is impossible to cover every topic as extensively as we might like, much less reprint every article suggested by colleagues, students, and reviewers. Nevertheless, we hope that this book remains a useful starting point and reference in helping readers not only to understand current trends in a still very dynamic field, but also to gain an appreciation for the extent to which current theoretical work and debates rest so heavily upon the rich conceptual foundation of earlier years and across the millennia.
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We gratefully acknowledge the review and critique of earlier drafts of the manu- script for this edition by Carina Solmirano, University of Denver, who also combed the literature extensively to find representative titles we have included in the lists of Suggested Readings that append each chapter. Paul R. Viotti, Jr., then at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and now at California State University, Chico, contributed to our discussion of interpretive understandings and recommended readings. As always, we thank both Emily and Natalie Kauppi for their willingness to contribute valuable time and skills to improve the quality of the final manuscript. Reviewers who went through the manuscript line by line and offered most helpful suggestions on this and the fourth edition include Andrew Cortell, Lewis and Clark
College; Zaryab Iqbal, Penn State University; Lee Metcalf, Florida State University; and Celine Jaquemin, St. Mary’s University. Finally, we are grateful for substantial discussions with our editors at Pearson Longman—Vikram Mukhija and, earlier, Eric Stano. We also appreciate early inputs from Jack Donnelly, University of Denver, and Joyce Kaufman, Whittier College.
Paul R. Viotti, University of Denver, Josef Korbel School of International Studies
Mark V. Kauppi, Georgetown University
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Thinking About IR Theory
W hy do wars occur? Is nationalism the primary cause? Or ideology? Or the lack of world government? Or misperception? Or are people innately aggressive? How can stability (if not peace) be achieved? Why is there such tremendous social and economic inequality among the different regions of the world? Is international order incompatible with justice? These are the sorts of ques- tions that have preoccupied scholars and statesmen at various times over the millen- nia, whether the political entity in question was an ancient city-state or a modern nation-state, a centralized empire or a decentralized feudal system, a socialist or a liberal democratic society. Nor are these questions the private preserve of intellectu- als, diplomatic practitioners, and assorted political pundits and commentators. At one time or another, most citizens reflect on one or more of these important queries.
THE IR FIELD IN AN AGE OF GLOBALIZATION International relations (IR) as a field of inquiry addresses such questions. Despite the adjective international , the field is concerned with much more than relations between or among states. Other actors, such as international organizations, mul- tinational corporations, environmental organizations, and terrorist groups, are all part of what could more correctly be termed world or global politics . Studies have also focused on factors internal to a state, such as its institutions, bureaucratic governmental coalitions, interest groups, decision-making processes, as well as the ideological and perceptual predispositions of individual leaders.
Beyond actors, the study of international relations also includes, for example, balance of power politics among states, the influence of economic structures at the global level, and international law, norms, and ethics. Such topics maintain their resonance in the current era, which has been popularly characterized as one of globalization . This shrinkage of distance on a world scale is a result of an intensifi- cation of connections across borders in not only economic but also social, political, cultural, and environmental realms as well. Globalization has its roots in world- wide commerce in earlier centuries, but interdependence and interconnectedness
2 CHAPTER 1 Thinking About IR Theory
accelerated toward the end of the nineteenth century, slowing during the twenty years between World War I (1914–1918) and World War I (1939–1945) that were marked by significant contraction in trade volume that resulted from imposition of high tariffs on imports and competitive devaluations of currencies designed to pro- mote exports at the expense of other countries. In the decades that followed World War II, however, the pace of globalization increased substantially with both posi- tive and negative effects. In addition to gains from trade and investment as well as increasing connections across national borders due to enhanced transportation and telecommunications, we also have witnessed spikes in the spread of weapons and associated technologies, environmental degradation, labor exploitation, financial crises, and worldwide terrorist threats—the negative byproducts of globalization. It is not surprising, then, that scholars of international relations have attempted to understand better the dynamics and manifestations of globalization.
Given the tremendous diversity and complexity of what is studied, there is a multiplicity of views concerning how one studies international relations. The possible avenues go well beyond the realms of history and political science. They include economics, psychology, social psychology, sociology, and anthropology in the behavioral sciences as well as philosophy and law. All this—the need to be familiar with or draw from multiple disciplines—may seem rather intimidating not just to the student, but also to those well established in the IR field.
Different perspectives on international relations naturally generate debates. Beginning in the period between the two world wars and continuing after World War II into the 1950s, realists and idealists argued over the nature of international politics and the possibility of peaceful change. In the 1960s the so-called second great debate between traditionalists and behavioralists dealt with the question of appropriate methodology. Traditionalists emphasized the relative utility of history, law, philosophy, and other traditional, non-quantitative modes of inquiry to under- standing government and other governmental or political institutions. Behavioral- ists argued in favor of social science conceptualization, quantification of variables when possible, formal hypothesis testing, and causal model building in the study of political processes or patterns of behavior.
The earlier debates have been overtaken by new challenges to the dominance in the social sciences of scientific or “positivist” methods borrowed from the natural sciences. Following the German scholar Max Weber (1864–1920), we probe what Weber meant by the term Verstehen —the interpretive understandings that also un- derlie much of the theoretical work in the IR field. Approaches drawing on history and Marxist insights have been the subject of much discussion in certain journals in the field, contributing as well to the growing literature on postcolonialism. Such work continues to raise the issue of not just what is studied, but how it is studied.
EPISTEMOLOGY, METHODOLOGY, AND ONTOLOGY Before one attempts to define theory , it is important to consider three pre-theoretical or “how” issues that directly influence the approach one takes to international relations. Often unacknowledged by theorists are the issues of epistemology and ontology. If one is to be theoretically self-conscious, one needs to engage in some
Epistemology, Methodology, and Ontology 3
reflection on what these terms mean. Epistemology involves the ways and means by which we come to know something (or at least what we think we know) about the world. For example, a popular epistemology is empiricism —the view that the only grounds for making truth claims is through direct observation of the world using our senses. Alternative epistemologies to empiricism exist as reflected in constructivism, critical theory, postmodernist, and feminist approaches to IR theory (interpretive understandings discussed in subsequent chapters).
Positivism, which, depending on the scholar, has been categorized variously as an epistemology, methodology, or combination of the two, dominates IR theoriz- ing and is reflected in the images chapters of this book. Positivism consists of four underlying implicit assumptions or beliefs:
1. the unity of the natural and social sciences—we can study society as we study the natural world;
2. we can draw a distinction analytically between facts and values; 3. regularities exist and can be identified in the social as well as the natural
world; and 4. empirical validation or falsification is the hallmark of “real” inquiry.
Positivism specifically endorses the use of formal hypothesis testing or causal mod- eling as methodologies —modes of research and analysis or a set of rules for the actual practice of investigating IR. This may involve quantitative (use of statistics and mathematical equations) or nonquantitative, so-called qualitative, methods (such as employing in-depth case and comparative case studies) to test empirically the hypotheses we generate. Very often when one hears the term scientific method, the reference is to positivism with the focus on that which is observable, empirical, and measurable. This is a convention we will adopt in this book.
Ontology refers to how each of us views the world—how we see or understand the essence of things around us. Are there, for example, actual structures out there that influence the behavior of actors? If so, is it a material structure consisting of capabilities such as weapons, troops, and economic resources? Or can we also conceive of structure as consisting of internationally shared ideas, beliefs, and norms? Is what we observe caused, facilitated, or impeded by these material or ideational structures (for example, distribution of power or cultures) external to the actors or within which they are immersed? What is the ontology or our view of these actors? If they are states, do we see them acting as if they were like rational individuals? Do we assume these actors are more important in explaining IR than the structures?
Do we see events or outcomes as effects having discoverable causes? Or can we, by contrast, see events as largely random occurrences? Do we see (or come to see) human beings important as individuals, or do we instead look to larger groups or aggregations of people to find social meaning? Does the individual have a distinct identity, or is the concept of “self” a function of relationships with others and the environment within which one is immersed? Do human beings have the capacity to think and act freely, or are their actions and even their thoughts externally influ- enced or even determined? Do we see things in good-and-evil terms and thus have a propensity to draw moral distinctions? Or do we see what we observe if not from a morally neutral, then a more or less morally indifferent position?
4 CHAPTER 1 Thinking About IR Theory
The answers to such questions have profound consequences on one’s scholar- ship and even the way we lead our lives. For example, one liberal IR theorist, the late Ernst Haas, described how his work was influenced by an ontological orien- tation that “avoided fixed dogmas and unchanging universal values” and “high- lighted human agency over other causal forces.” 1 Another liberal theorist, James Rosenau, sees some of us as ontologically more prone to engage in theorizing than others. In his article appended to this chapter, Rosenau states that one’s being “able to assume that human affairs are founded on an underlying order”—an ontological predisposition—is essential to thinking theoretically.
For their part, the ontologies Kenneth Waltz and many other realists bring to the IR field provide a darker view of the reality they are prone to see, a dimmer view of human beings and their potential than liberals typically hold. It is a tradi- tion steeped in the thought of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and even James Madison and Alexander Hamilton—the latter two agreeing in the Federalist Papers on the term depravity to describe the human condition or the natural state in which human beings find themselves. Given such underlying ontologies, the realist image not surprisingly is of a world of competition among self-oriented states as principal actors with different interests and different capabilities or power they bring to bear in the pursuit of these interests.
Waltz describes liberals, by contrast, as (mis)informed by taking the ontologi- cal position that “harmony is the natural condition” for human beings, dismiss- ing dissension and strife as supposedly arising from “mistaken belief, inadequate knowledge, and defective governance.” 2 Economic structuralists share with realists a dim view of present reality, but one in which exploitation and victimization are the operative words to describe the human condition. Dialectical materialism is an example of a theoretical idea drawn from a Marxist, materialist ontology. Eco- nomic structuralists vary in their assessments of the future course and effects on the human condition of this historical mechanism. The future may be different from the present and the past. This guarded level of optimism is also evident in the English School where scholars who combine both realist and liberal (Grotian or Kantian) influences write of an international (or even world) society still under construction.
The ontologies we bring to the IR field influence the imagery we construct. Images are general perspectives on international relations and world politics that consist of certain assumptions about key actors and processes that influence our theorizing. There is a fine line between how we understand the essence of things (for example, the condition or nature of human beings and the degree to which human beings as agents matter) and the images we have of international or world politics. To say ontologies and images are related, however, is not to say they are the same things.
WHAT IS THEORY? The word theory also means different things to different people. It may even mean different things to the same person. In common parlance, for example, something may be true “in theory” but not in fact or in a particular case or set of circumstances. In this rather loose usage, “in theory” equates to “in principle” or “in the abstract.”
What Is Theory? 5
Explanation and Prediction Another meaning, more consistent with usage in this volume, views theory as simply a way of making the world or some part of it more intelligible or better understood. Theories dealing with international relations aspire to achieve this goal. Making things more intelligible may, of course, amount to nothing more than better or more precise description of the things we observe. Although accurate description is essential, theory is something more.
For many people with a scientific or positivist bent, theory involves explanation. One goes beyond mere description of phenomena observed and engages in causal explanation based on certain prior occurrences or conditions. To assume this is pos- sible is an ontological assumption about reality or “the world out there.” Explanation from the positivist perspective involves establishing the phenomenon it explains as something that was to be expected in the circumstances in which it occurred. This is what Carl Hempel terms the “requirement of explanatory relevance.” Information is explanatory only if it “affords good grounds for believing that the phenomenon to be explained does, or did, indeed occur. This condition must be met if we are to be en- titled to say ‘that explains it—the phenomenon in question was indeed to be expected under the circumstances.’” This information will include one or more laws, as without a knowledge of regularities or patterns in IR, we couldn’t expect certain happenings at particular times. 3
How do we identify these laws? The preferred positivist method is through the development of hypotheses —a proposition relating two or more variables. Thus, whenever A is present, then B can be expected to follow. “If A , then B ” as hypothesis may be subject to empirical test—that is, tested against real-world or factual data to determine its law-like quality. “If states engage in arms races, then the likelihood of war increases” is an example of such an hypothesis. Alternatively hypotheses can be stated in a “most likely” and “least likely” format. For example, “the stronger the leading sea power’s relative capability position, the less likely it is that other great powers will balance against it.” 4 Indeed, formal statement and testing of hypotheses through the use of a statistical methodology is seen by many positivists as central to the theory-building process. Resultant laws or law-like statements, therefore, allow IR theorists to make at least tentative predictions about possible outcomes in IR: “Given these circumstances as validated by our tested hypotheses, we can expect X, Y, or Z.”
The primary research strategy that entails invoking laws in a scientific expla- nation can be called a generalizing or covering-law approach. Many realists and liberals are rooted in this tradition, seeking covering laws of such phenomena as war, deterrence, cooperation, and economic integration. The event to be explained is an instance of a certain type of event that follows regularly from the conditions specified. Jack Snyder, for example, has addressed the important question of why the Cold War ended peacefully. His explanation involved establishing the laws and initial conditions that would lead one to believe that given these circumstances, the peaceful collapse of the Soviet empire was to be expected. He posits that expan- sionist myths coupled with, among other factors, the timing of industrialization provide a framework for understanding the type of collapse experienced by the Soviet Union. 5 Such factors could be applied to other cases.
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Another example of positivist social science at work is the ambitious effort of Kenneth Waltz to offer a more formal theory of international politics to explain general tendencies and patterns of behavior among states. To Waltz, “theories explain laws.” Waltz identifies a power-based structure of the international system that purportedly explains the behavior of states as the system’s principal actors. Having stated “the theory being tested,” one proceeds to
infer hypotheses from it; subject the hypotheses to experimental or observational tests; . . . use the definitions of terms found in the theory being tested; eliminate or control perturbing variables not included in the theory under test; devise a number of distinct and demanding tests; if a test is not passed, ask whether the theory flunks completely, needs repair and restatement, or requires a narrowing of the scope of its explanatory claims. 6
The commitment to positivism is clear in the last comment that underscores the importance of falsifiability in the testing of theories.
While the covering-law strategy is the most popular for those operating within the positivist framework, there is also a reconstructive positivist strategy. In this case, no attempt is made to place the phenomenon under investigation into a larger class. Rather, the event is explained as the expected endpoint of a concrete histori- cal sequence, not as an instance of category A, B, or C. Reconstructive explanations also rely on laws, but these are not covering laws but rather component laws—each pertains only to a part of the pathway that led to the event or phenomenon being ex- plained. For example, like Snyder, William Wohlforth attempts to explain the peaceful collapse of the Soviet empire. He does not, however, attempt to “cover” Soviet behavior by showing how we would expect it to be such given the circumstances. Instead he details the sequence of events leading up to the collapse of the Soviet empire. The behavior to be explained emerges from this analysis and historical reconstruction. 7
In terms of methodology and methods, therefore, some IR scholars prefer a research strategy that relies on the formal construction of hypotheses and theories. These may be tested, for example, through the application of statistical methods. Others prefer to rely on nonquantitative indicators or case and comparative case studies, historical methods, and reasoned argument—the so-called traditional or qualitative approaches to theory building. 8
Whatever differences international relations scholars might have among them- selves, those with a positivist or scientific commitment tend to agree on one thing: Theory is necessary and unavoidable when it comes to explaining and attempting to foresee or predict future outcomes. Because as human beings we are subjective crea- tures who see and make sense of the world around us from different points of view, even such scientifically oriented scholars approach their subject matter with diverse perspectives, paradigms, research programs, 9 theoretical constructs, or images. It is the theory and hypotheses or propositions we are holding (or challenging) that tell us what to focus on and what to ignore in making sense of the world around us. Without theory, we would be overwhelmed and immobilized by an avalanche of mere facts or occurrences around us. In short, the sense we make of what we observe is informed by both the perspectives and theories we hold.
In this admittedly positivist understanding, a theory is an intellectual construct composed of a set of interrelated propositions that help one to identify or select
What Is Theory? 7
facts and interpret them, thus facilitating explanation and prediction concerning the regularities and recurrences or repetitions of observed phenomena. One certainly can think theoretically when it comes to explaining foreign policy processes in general or the foreign policy of a particular state. International relations theorists, however, tend as well to be interested in patterns of behavior among diverse state and non-state actors acting internationally or globally. In identifying patterns, the stage is set for making modest predictions about the possible nature and direction of change. To think theoretically, however, is not to engage in point predictions— “ A will attack B the first week of the year”—however much foreign policy, national security, and intelligence analysts may aspire to such precision.
To think theoretically, therefore, is to be interested in central tendencies. As James Rosenau notes in his article appended to this chapter, the theorist views each event as an instance of a more encompassing class or pattern of phenomena. Fitting pieces into a larger whole makes theory building analogous to puzzle solving. In fact, for many theorists, the goal is not merely explanation of patterns of behavior, but explanations of patterns that at first glance seem counterintuitive or different from what one might expect.
War poses a most important puzzle for IR theorists. Why does the phenom- enon persist even though wars are extremely costly in terms of lives and treasure lost? Quincy Wright’s A Study of War and Lewis Richardson’s Statistics of Deadly Quarrels were pioneering efforts at trying to solve this puzzle through the use of sta- tistical methods or causal modeling. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s The War Trap and John Vasquez’s The War Puzzle are also examples of work in this genre. Examples of continuing efforts to build better theory by using reasoned argument, histori- cal and comparative cases, or other non-quantitative, qualitative methods include Kenneth Waltz’s classic Man, the State and War , Michael Howard’s The Causes of Wars , Stephen Walt’s Revolution and War , Michael Doyle’s Ways of War and Peace , and Stephen Van Evera’s Causes of War .
Theory in a formal, positivist sense specifies relations among variables and ide- ally would weigh them with the precision one finds in an algebraic equation. Such fully developed theory is less common in the social sciences and certainly not in IR; even positivists wedded to scientific modes of inquiry confess to be operating at a lesser level of theoretical development than are the natural sciences.
General theories that strive to provide a complete account of the causes of war or other phenomena are less common than partial, or middle-range, theories that are more modest in the scope of what is to be explained or predicted. Part of the war puzzle addressed by such middle-range theorists, for example, involves crises and de- cision making in crises. Are partial theories like building blocks that can at some future date be assembled into a fully developed, general theory of war? Some theorists would say yes and that the most productive enterprise for the present is the development of better middle-range theories.
Not everyone would agree. Partial or middle-range theories have tended to be essentially non-additive—they are merely islands of theory without bridges to connect them into a coherent whole. Even if such connections might be made, the result would probably undercut the social science goal of developing theories that are parsimonious—explaining a great deal of behavior through the use of relatively few concepts. Theories that lack parsimony by definition contain too many factors
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or variables—quickly becoming as complex as or more complex than the reality they purport to explain. If practically everything is portrayed as a cause, then has anything really been found to explain or predict what we observe?
Abstraction and Application The world of theory is an abstract one. Theories may actually exist apart from facts. Mathematical theorists, for example, deal entirely in the realm of abstraction, whether or not their work has direct relevance to problems of the world in which we live. Practical application for the work of mathematical theorists is sometimes found years later, if ever. From the positivist perspective, however, empirically based theories in the social or natural sciences, by contrast, relate to facts and provide explanation or prediction for observed phenomena. Hypotheses associated with these theories are subject to test against real-world data. The theorist need not have any purpose in developing such empirical theories other than satisfying his or her intellectual curiosity, although many will seek to make their work “policy relevant.”
Policy-relevant theories may have explicit purposes that stem from the value preferences of the theorist, such as reducing the likelihood of war or curbing the arms race. Acting on such theories, of course, is the domain of the policymaker, a task separate from that of the empirical theorist. Theorists who become policymak- ers may well make choices informed by what theories say will be the likely out- comes of implementing one or another alternative. Their choices may be informed by empirical theory or understandings of world events, but the decisions they make are still heavily based on value preferences.
As noted at the outset of this section, a common dismissive attitude toward theory is that while something may be true “in theory,” it doesn’t apply to the real world. For reasons discussed above, this is a very short-sighted view. Theory is actually a way to become engaged in an increasingly globalized world that goes beyond today’s headlines. Theory can help us cut through the blizzard of information we are all faced with on a daily basis. Reflecting on his life’s work theorizing in the international rela- tions field, Kenneth Waltz speaks for many theorists with a positivist orientation to IR, confidently telling us that “from theory all else follows.” He adds that “theory explains and may at times anticipate or predict outcomes.” In this regard, “a political theory, if it is any good, not only explains international outcomes, but also provides clues to situ- ations and actions that may produce more of the desired and fewer of the undesired ones.” 10 Put another way, there is nothing so practical as a good theory.
Levels of Analysis Let us assume one is interested in theorizing about the causes of war. Where should one focus one’s initial efforts? Does one deal with individual decisionmakers or small groups of individuals engaged in the policy process? How important, for example, are such factors as the correctness of individual perceptions or bargain- ing skill in determining the decision to go to war? On the other hand, if one looks outside the individual or small decision-making group to the entire state apparatus, society as a whole, or the international political system of states, one is acknowledg- ing the importance of external or environmental factors as well.
What Is Theory? 9
The levels of analysis constitute a framework designed to organize and assist in systematic thinking about IR. We differentiate the term levels of analysis (individual or group, state and society, and “system” as a whole) from units of analysis, the latter referring to states, organizations, individuals or groups, classes, and other en- tities. What one is trying to explain or study (such as the outbreak of war) is known as the dependent variable. Factors at different levels of analysis we suspect as being causally related to what we are trying to explain typically are termed independent variables. Thus, we can look both “inside” the state as principal unit of analysis in a search for explanatory factors at individual or group and societal levels and “outside” the state to take account of factors that causally affect its actions and interactions with other states at an international “system” level. Work by Kenneth N. Waltz in the 1950s on the causes of war represented a path-breaking effort due to his identification of distinct levels of analysis and his attempt to specify the rela- tions among these levels. Was the cause of war (the dependent variable) to be found in the nature of individuals? (Are humans innately aggressive?) Or in the nature of states and societies? (Are some types of states more aggressive than others?) Or in the nature of the international system of states? (Is anarchy a “permissive” cause of war, there being no obstacle to the use of force by sovereign states in a world without central governance?)
Each answer reflects a different level of analysis—individual (or group of indi- viduals), state and society, or international (see Figure 1.1 ). In 1961, the importance of the question of levels of analysis to the study of international relations was further discussed in detail in a then often-cited article by J. David Singer. Singer argued that one’s choice of a particular level of analysis determines what one will and will not see. Different levels tend to emphasize different actors, structures, and processes. 11
For example, it is quite common in IR for the levels of analysis to include (1) the international system (distribution of power among states, geography, technol- ogy, and other factors), the capitalist world system (economic structuralists) or an international or world society composed of rules, norms, state and non-state actors (the English School); (2) the state (often treated as a unified actor) and domestic or national society (democratic, authoritarian, etc.); (3) groups as in bureaucratic politics and group dynamics—the domain of social psychology; and (4) individuals as in psychology, perception, and belief systems. It is also quite typical for these vari- ous levels to be used to explain the foreign policy behavior of states—the dependent variable. The state, in other words, is often the unit of analysis, and explaining its behavior could entail taking into account factors at all of these levels of analysis.
But which level of analysis, one may ask, is most important? To take a spe- cific example, let us assume that the foreign policies of most states exhibit relative constancy, or slowness to change. How is this constancy to be explained? Some scholars point to external or exogenous factors such as the distribution or balance of power among states that is relatively slow to change in any major way. Still others instead look internally within the state to the interpretive understandings of decisionmakers that may exhibit constancy due to shared world views they hold or approaches they take—incremental or small changes being the rule.
Another example: How are arms races explained? Some scholars point to interna- tional factors such as the military expenditures and hostility of other states as well as competition between alliances that lead to an increase in the production of weapons.
Individual Level (domain of psychology) Human nature and psychology Leaders and beliefs systems Personality of leaders Cognition and perception or misperception
Group Level (domain of social psychology) Government bureaucracies
Policymaking groups Interest groups Other non-governmental organizations
State and Societal (or National) Level Governmental Structure and nature of political system Policymaking process Societal (domain of sociology) Structure of economic system Public opinion Nationalism and ethnicity Political culture Ideology
International—World (or Global) Level Anarchic quality of international or world politics Number of major powers or poles Distribution of power/capabilities among states Economic patterns Level and diffusion of technology Patterns of military alliances Patterns of international trade and finance International organizations and regimes Transnational organizations and networks Global norms and international law
FIGURE 1.1 Levels of Analysis: A More Detailed Look
What Is Theory? 11
Other researchers emphasize the importance of domestic factors such as bureaucratic competition between branches of the military services and budgetary processes that encourage a steady increase in expenditures.
The easy answer to the question of which level of analysis should be emphasized is that all levels of analysis should be considered. Such a response is not particularly useful, however, because it suggests that we have to study everything under the sun. Few scholars would even attempt such a task, and the resulting theory, if any, would hardly be parsimonious. Hence, a great deal of the literature on international relations is constantly posing the questions of what should be examined within each level of analysis, and how actors, structures, and other factors or variables relate to one another across levels of analysis and over time.
This issue of levels of analysis also subtly pervades the images and interpretive understandings we identify. Neo- or structural realists, for example, note how the overall structure or distribution of power in the international system influences the behavior of states or the perceptions of decisionmakers. Hence, neorealist analysis emphasizes the systems level at which states act and interact in relation to each other. Similarly, members of the English School look to international or world society as the principal level of analysis, even as they are quite comfortable crossing the different levels of analysis in seeking explanations. Moreover, certain economic structuralists examine how the historical development of the capitalist world economy generates state actors.
Some constructivists argue that international structure can be conceived of ideationally in shared meanings, rules, and norms that facilitate or constrain the actions decisionmakers consider. Despite their differences, many of these scholars tend to start at the systems (or international, world, or global society) level of analy- sis. Those authors associated with the liberal image examine bureaucracies, interest groups, and individuals—a tendency to emphasize the state-societal and individual levels of analysis. Some liberals and neoliberals, however, are also interested in how the development and spread of international norms influence state behavior—a global system- or world society-level focus.
There is a final important issue that should be mentioned in conjunction with the levels of analysis but that goes well beyond the latter as it raises ontological questions concerning the so-called agent–structure problem. As summarized by one author, the problem emerges from two uncontentious claims about social life: first, that human agency is the only moving force behind the actions, events, and outcomes of the social world; and second, that human agency can be realized only in concrete historical circumstances that condition the possibilities for action and influence its course. “People make history,” observed Marx in an often-quoted aphorism, “but not in conditions of their own choosing.” These claims impose two demands on our scientific explanations: first, that they acknowledge and account for the power of agents; and second, that they recognize the causal relevance of exogenous or “structural factors”—that is, the conditions of action as decision- makers understand them. The “agent–structure problem” refers to the difficulties of developing theory that successfully meets both demands. 12
This problem is usually viewed as a matter of ontology, the branch of meta- physics concerned, as noted earlier, with the nature of being. In this case, the ontological issue deals with the nature of both agents (very often viewed as the
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state or other organizational unit, but also including groups or individuals acting in their personal capacities) and structures (as in international politics), and rela- tions between agents and structures. As we will see in the following chapters, a constant theme is how authors deal with the relative importance of human agents and “structural factors,” and the extent to which one influences the very nature of the other. Put another way, we ask not only how much voluntarism (or freedom of action agents have) or determinism (the extent to which they are constrained or driven by structures) there actually is in the world of which we are so integral a part, but also in the theories we construct that purport to explain or predict phenomena in that world. Very often unstated, one’s position on this issue—the voluntarism inherent in agency and the determinism that comes from structures—heavily influ- ences how one goes about explaining international politics as well as assessing the possibilities and means of peaceful change.
IMAGES In Part One of this volume we identify four broad alternative images or perspectives (we use the terms interchangeably) of international relations:
1. realism is a term that refers to both classical and neorealism (or structural realism). For the realist, states are the principal or most important actors on the international political stage and represent the key unit of analysis. States are viewed as unitary actors that behave in a generally rational manner. National security is- sues typically dominate the hierarchy of the international agenda.
2. liberalism (and neoliberal institutionalism) present a pluralist view of the world composed not just of states and their institutions, but also of multiple non-state actors to include international and nongovernmental organizations, in- dividuals, and groups. The state is disaggregated into its component parts and is continually subjected to outside influences. Political-economic issues are a primary research focus, and hence the hierarchy of world issues is not always dominated by matters of military security.
3. economic structuralism identifies economic classes and other material structures as well as the broader emphasis on multiple mechanisms of postcolonial domination that maintain the Third World in a subordinate status. For the eco- nomic structuralist, all actors must be viewed within the context of an overarch- ing global structure. The defining characteristic of this structure is its capitalist nature; it must be viewed in an historical context. The more recent postcolonial literature provides greater understanding of the way capitalism operates now and in the past.
4. the English School tends to see politics occurring in an international soci- ety in which one finds operative not only realist, material understandings of power and balance of power, but also the “rational” component of rules (or norms) and institutions. To greater and lesser degrees, all have been influenced by both empiri- cism and positivism, yet constructivist understandings have informed more recent work. Drawing from both realist and liberal traditions, the English School explores politics, power relations, international law, rules, and institutions in an anarchic international society.
We will examine these images and associated assumptions and concepts in greater detail in subsequent chapters. The image one has of international relations is of critical importance. Images are not theories, but they do inform substantially the way we see the world, thus influencing the formulation of the theories we construct to make better sense of the world around us. Thus, a balance-of-power theory may be informed by the assumptions or premises of a realist image of international rela- tions, but the image itself does not have the standing of a theory.
These images, informed as they are by different ontologies or worldviews, lead one to ask certain questions, seek certain types of answers, and use certain method- ological tools in the construction of theories and testing of hypotheses. The advantage is that such images bring order to the analytical effort and make it more manageable. We are the first, however, to admit that this fourfold classification scheme also has its limitations. Accordingly, we offer several qualifications and clarifications.
First, we concede that the images of IR we identify could be viewed as forms of (or bases for) interpretive understandings. Realism, liberalism, economic structuralism, and the English School are nothing more than constructs that have developed within the IR field, itself a construct that emerged within political science, yet another con- struct. We need to be humble about claims relating to constructs within constructs!
These constructs that scholars have put together do not have an independent existence and, as such, are always subject to challenge. They are merely categories of inquiry or the bases of research programs, their value resting on the degree to which they make the world around us more intelligible, perhaps allowing us to explain or pre- dict more accurately the phenomena we observe. Although the four images are heav- ily positivist in orientation, subsequent theories that are developed may evince, to varying degrees, aspects of interpretive understandings we discuss in the next section.
Second, the images should be viewed as ideal or pure types in that each empha- sizes what a number of seemingly diverse theoretical approaches have in common. For example, there are substantial differences in the works of Hans J. Morgenthau, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen Walt, to mention just a few. But these and other scholars nevertheless draw from the same realist traditions. What unites them as international relations theorists is more important for our purposes than what divides them.
Third, the overview of key assumptions of each of the four perspectives might give the erroneous impression that these images are mutually exclusive in all respects. This is not the case. Neorealists and neoliberal institutionalists, for example, both utilize rational actor assumptions and tend to treat the identity and interests of their constitu- ent actors as being givens.
Fourth, we acknowledge a certain amount of conceptual eclecticism by scholars in the study of international relations, perhaps reflecting the absence of a single, domi- nant perspective, much less a single paradigm or set of research programs. For some, conceptual diversity is to be applauded; for others, it is a source of despair. Be that as it may, our focus is primarily on ideas, trends, and both generalized images and inter- pretive understandings of international relations and only secondarily on the work of particular authors.
Fifth, the images tend to focus more on what is studied than on how to con- duct such studies. Quantitative and nonquantitative methodologies transcend the images we have identified. Statistical methods, formal hypothesis testing, and
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causal modeling find their adherents within each of the perspectives, as do the more traditional, nonquantitative, historical, philosophical, legal, case study, and comparative case study methods. Our point remains that these are methods, not images of international relations or world politics. Images may influence the choice of methodology or methods employed, but they are not one and the same.
An image of international or world politics influences the selection of units or processes examined and variables identified and operationalized. Thus, for realists, states and state interactions are of key importance; for liberals, institutions as well as transnational interactions to include communications flows across national borders may well be the central focus; for the English School, the ways and means by which order is sustained and security provided in an anarchic international or world society are essential tasks; and for economic structuralists, patterns of class or North–South relations of dominance or dependence are perhaps most important.
Similarly, methods associated with the literature on decision making, game the- ory, and public- or rational-choice theory—economic or rational models applied to political decision making—transcend the four images we identify. Assumptions made about actors and processes are informed by realist, liberal, English School, and eco- nomic structuralist images and color the use a particular method is given. Thus, collec- tive goods theory, game theory, econometrics, and other approaches identified with the interdisciplinary field of political economy find their adherents among scholars holding diverse images or other interpretive understandings and thus are not the exclusive preserve of realists, liberals, the English School, or economic structuralists.
Finally, we wish to reiterate a point made earlier—that the four images we identify are not theories of international relations. Rather, they represent general perspectives on international relations out of which particular theories may develop. Assumptions of an image may become part of a theory (such as the realist assumptions of a unified, rational, state-as-actor in some structural-realist works), but more often than not they simply help to orient a scholar’s research by highlighting certain units of analysis for investigation in the construction of a theory as well as helping to determine what con- stitutes evidence in the testing of hypotheses.
INTERPRETIVE UNDERSTANDINGS What we term interpretive understandings —constructivist, critical, postmodern, and feminist thought—share one thing in common: All have taken issue with one or more of the epistemological, methodological, and ontological assumptions that drive positivist theorizing in realism and liberalism in particular. This approach to knowledge assumes that what we know is based on an interpretation of what we think we see, alerting us to the subjective character of all human beings, the institutions or units they construct, and the processes in which they engage. Try as we might to reduce bias, we remain subjective creatures. Pursuit of objectivity and value-free scholarship are at best elusive goals.
Although, as we will see, a number of scholars have contributed to the interpretive understanding approach to IR, the German scholar Max Weber (1864–1920) deserves pride of place. Weber argued that “all knowledge of cultural reality is always knowl- edge from particular points of view.” How research is conducted will be “determined
Interpretive Understandings 15
by the evaluative ideas that dominate the investigator and his age.” 13 In other words, each individual’s work will be influenced by a particular doctrine, image of the world, ideology, paradigm, theory, understanding, or perspective.
As a practical matter we try to identify as best we can how this subjective, human dimension affects our scholarship—an attempt to reduce substantially any bias that can adversely affect our theoretical work. Beyond that, the usual remedy is the scrutiny others give our work in what is inherently an inter-subjective process. As he sought to establish the role of ideational factors in explanation by social scientific means, Weber was an important early influence on interpretive understandings—particularly the later development of constructivism.
In the three chapters in Part Two, we build upon this subjective, Weberian tradition of Verstehen or interpretive understanding. In Chapter 6 we examine constructivism. The rise of constructivism in IR theory has been remarkably fast over the past twenty years, passing economic structuralism, influencing the English School, and challenging realism and liberalism in terms of influence on the IR field. Constructivism is not a theory of IR. Nor is it an image that purports to present a view of international relations or world politics as a whole as realism, liberalism, economic structuralism, and the English School all do. It is instead best character- ized as a theoretically informed, interpretive understanding related to the study of IR. As such, one can find constructivists theorizing with this “understanding” within any of the four images we identify.
While within this constructivist approach there are those who could be character- ized as positivists who embrace empirical methods, the type of explanation they seek is typically not that of the deductive covering law “out there” driving the behavior of states or non-state actors, but rather causality that takes full account of subjective and inter-subjective understandings “in here” within human beings. Constructivists see states and non-state actors not as mere products of world politics, the international system, or an international or world society, but rather as actually playing a decisive role in shaping it.
These actors or agents influence (and are influenced by) the international norms and institutions they construct—activities that sustain or create new interests, values, and the ordering of foreign policy preferences. They take account of the relation be- tween human beings and the organizations they construct as agents and the material and ideational structures that constitute actors and facilitate or constrain their actions. Most constructivists do not reject science or scientific methods associated with positiv- ism, but caution greater humility and care in dealing with concepts that, after all, are of human construction. They can be viewed as occupying the middle ground between positivists seeking causal explanatory theory and those postmodernists or others who might be prone to reject any such possibility.
Chapter 7 takes up the ongoing debate between those committed to positivist science and their principal critics, the latter who draw heavily from phenomenology that describes the phenomena we experience and the subjectivity that defines the essence of human beings. Although critical theorists tend not to reject positivism, they are prone to look under the cover stories governments, organizations, lead- ers, policymakers, and even theorists use to justify their conduct—an effort to find the underlying power or other realities masked by these narratives. For their part,
16 CHAPTER 1 Thinking About IR Theory
postmodernists do not focus on some “objective” reality to be discovered “out there,” but rather explore the ways human beings “in here” both construct or give meanings to objects, actions, or behaviors and employ narratives or stories that convey these meanings in what is essentially a subjective approach to understand- ing. Observers cannot be fully autonomous from the objects of their study, and relationships cannot be divided merely into the positivist categories of “causes” and “effects.”
We take up feminism in Chapter 8 as an interpretive understanding that brings us to the often overlooked or understated importance and payoffs of apply- ing the concept of gender to IR theorizing. Feminists highlight the dominance or exclusivity of masculinist understandings of the world around us that, they claim, profoundly influence much theoretical work in the IR field. Feminist understand- ings rest on a centuries-old body of literary and scholarly work that preceded and has been decidedly less-influenced by phenomenology per se . Although critical theorists and postmodernists may be found among feminist scholars, some adopt positivist, scientific approaches albeit often informed by constructivist understand- ings of gender, sexual identity, and related concepts. Put another way, feminist scholarship is inherently interpretive as it challenges theories that either ignore (or marginalize) gender as a variable or, conversely, misuse gender to mask other purposes.
We conclude with a word of caution on how one approaches the material in this book. One should be wary of sweeping criticisms concerning an entire image or interpretive understanding. It is not particularly difficult to find fault with the work of individual theorists, compile a list of their shortcomings, and then present the results as criticisms of the image or interpretive understanding as a whole. Such selectivity can be distorting and misleading. That is why it is imperative for the serious student of the international relations literature to go to the original sources, evaluate the validity of such criticisms, and assess the value of each approach as the basis for a mode of thinking about international relations.
NORMATIVE THEORY Part Three of this volume ( Chapter 9 ) addresses normative theory as a separate line of inquiry in IR that brings us to moral or ethical values rooted in human under- standings developed over more than two millennia. Normative IR theory has impli- cations for both interpretive understandings and the images we use to capture the IR field, but it also remains a domain of inquiry in its own right that deals precisely with values and value preferences that inform human judgment. As with empiri- cal theories, we can scrutinize normative theories on logical grounds, looking for flaws in reasoning used to sustain the argument. Unlike empirical theory, however, propositions in normative theory are not subject to empirical tests as a means of establishing their truth or falsehood.
Normative theory deals not so much with what is —the domain of empirical theory and the images and interpretive understandings associated with it—but rather with what should or ought to be . How should the world be ordered, and what value choices should decisionmakers take? Although the bulk of the effort in
A Look Ahead 17