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International Relations Theory

A New Introduction

Chapter 1
Why Theorize International Relations?
Why Theory?
 This chapter seeks answers to questions such as:

 If the objective is to understand international relations,
then what can theory do for us?

 What is the added value of theoretical reflection?

 What is Theory?

 What is Meta-theory?
Why Theory?
Five key sets of reasons
 Research guidance
 Excellent tool to challenge prejudices or traditional world

 Theory makes it easier to grasp the modern world
 Theory can play an important role when we want to
evaluate political practice

 International Relations is a discipline defined by its
theories, therefore knowledge of “its theories” is a
precondition for becoming acquainted to the discipline
What is Theory?
 S. Burchill (2001):
 The term “theory” is not limited to its “scientific” or positivist
 Explanatory theories of the kind which flow from the adoption of a
positivist methodology, are only one type of international theory

 Several avenues of theorizing; see C. Brown (1997)
 Explanatory Theories
 Normative or Prescriptive Theories
 Interpretative Theories
What is Meta-theory?
 Theoretical reflections on theory!

 Key aspects of Meta-theory:

 Ontology

 Epistemology

 Agent-Structure Problem

 Level-of-Analysis

John Vasquez´ set of criteria
„Good‟ theories should be:

 accurate
 falsifiable
 capable of evincing great explanatory power
 progressive as opposed to degenerating in terms of their
research programme(s)
 consistent with what is known in other areas
 appropriately parsimonious and elegant
(Vasquez 1995: 230)
Theoretical Traditions
To achieve an adequate balance between inclusion and
exclusion, this book offers six theoretical traditions:

 International Political Theory
 International Liberalism
 Political Realism
 The International Society Tradition
 International Political Economy
 The Post-Positivist Tradition

Currents of Thought
 Individual currents are part of a tradition but more
specific and dynamic than traditions

 Examples:
 In International Society Tradition: pluralism and
 In Realism: classical realism, neorealism and post-
 In Liberalism: strong and weak liberalism; ideational,
republican and commercial liberal theory (A.
Moravcsik); neoliberal institutionalism, republican and
commercial liberalism (R. Keohane)
Six Theoretical Debates
classical realism
6. 4.
2. 3.
solidarists neorealism
strong weak
 Inter-tradition and intra-tradition debates
 Numbers 1-3 represent intra-tradition debates
 Numbers 4-6 represent inter-tradition debates

Theorists & Do-It-Yourself Theory
Theoretical traditions, currents of thought and specific
individual theories can be presented in three different

 As a kind of pre-given complex structure of ideas
 As creation of one or more individuals and as
accomplished in a specific context of time and space
 As Do-It-Yourself Theorizing: Theory builder vs.
Theory consumer

What is the field of international
Some theorists

 define IR narrowly as simply relations between units
(states) in the international system
 are more inclusive in terms of both actors & relations,
focus on inter-state, inter-society & state-society
 include inter-region relations, relations between states
and international organizations or economic relations

The nature of international relations is historically