Daniel Nexon


Symposium — The Ends of IR Theory: Stages of Reflexivity and Modes of Theorizing

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

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

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

A critique of the alleged superiority of practical knowledge

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

Symposium — A Response to Charlotte Epstein: Are ‘Universals’ Allowed in Poststructural IR?

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

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

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

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

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

Symposium — Une Invitation au Lecteur

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

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

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

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

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

Symposium — A Comment on Chris Brown’s “The Poverty of Grand Theory”

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

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

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

Symposium — The Poverty of Grand Theory, Duck Taster Edition

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

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

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

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

The “End of IR Theory?” Symposium

The European Journal of International Relations-Duck of Minerva symposium on “The End of International Relations Theory?” has concluded.

This is an informational post that will remain at the top of the page for the duration of the event. Continue reading

Symposium — The Mother of All isms: The paradigm is dead. Long live the paradigm!

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by  Stacie E. GoddardIt is the sixth installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post responds to Andrew Bennett’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.

I am excited to blog about this EJIR special issue on theory and international relations, and am particularly pleased that I’ve been asked to discuss Andrew Bennett’s article, “The Mother of all isms: Causal mechanisms and structured pluralism in International Relations theory.” Bennett and Alexander George’s book was a touchstone for me as I wrote my dissertation and then book on indivisible territory. It was invaluable to have a book that was both pluralistic in scope and rigorous in its approach, and that explained in crystal clear language the benefits of a mechanism-based approach to international relations theory.

Not surprisingly, then, I agree with much of what Bennett has to say about international relations theory. Yet at the same time, Bennett’s forceful argument about mechanisms is disconcerting, in that it comes close to suggesting that the only way to destroy the paradigmatic debates is to build a new paradigm. In particular, Bennett argues that if IR scholars are to do away with the existing paradigms, we must embrace scientific realism: scholars must agree that there is a real (if ultimately unobservable) world out there; accept the fact that our knowledge is socially produced; but at the same time, agree that we can rationally adjudicate among theories. In other words, international relations scholars must embrace very specifically defined—and very much contested–ontological and epistemological foundations (I should note that I’m losing “paradigm,” rather loosely here, as I agree with Bennett, and with Jackson and Nexon, that the language of paradigms doesn’t fit the state of IR theory). Once we’ve accepted these paradigmatic foundations, we can then all proceed with the business of proposing and testing mechanisms.

And I have three substantive concerns about the paradigm Bennett proposes. The first is a discomfort with Bennett’s contention that scientific realism presents a more reliable path forward than other ontological or epistemological commitments. One key claim of scientific realism, for example, is that the entities described by a theory have ontic status, that is to say, they really exist “out there,” independent of the theory itself. So, to take one significant example, if a theory of international relations says that there are discrete agents and structures, then those agents and structures are real things that exist outside of the theory’s architecture.

But this is not the only way to approach theoretical concepts. To use the agent/structure example, Waltz most famously adopted an analytic epistemological position, where agents and structures—in Theory of International Politics, states and anarchy—were analytic constructs: they did not exist in the “real world” (for Waltz’s clearest statement on this, see his reply to Vasquez in the balance of power debate here; for a longer discussion, see my paper with Dan Nexon here). There are ways in which Waltz’s analyticism was frustrating. Yet one could argue that Waltz’s analyticism did a better job avoiding the reification of agents and structures into separate ontological entities than did Alexander Wendt’s work. Whereas Wendt’s scientific realism pushed scholars towards treating agents and structures as two discrete entities and, I would argue, reified dynamic processes of co-constitution as a result, Waltz made it clear that the separation of agents and structures was

A second concern I have has to do with the status of theory itself in a mechanistic approach. Where is the theory in Bennett’s argument? On the one hand, theory can generate lists of testable mechanisms: democracies cause peace is the starting point for identifying a host of mechanisms connecting regime type to peace. Perhaps more importantly, theory tells scholars when mechanisms are likely to operate. As Bennett argues, invariant causal models are problematic: it is not that one independent variable operates through a single specified mechanisms to produce a defined dependent variable. Rather, it is “combinations of mechanisms” that “interact in specified and often recurrent scope conditions or contexts to produce outcomes.” (p 12) In many ways, then, the most important role of theory is to establish scope conditions: we know that if we are in this theoretical world, then X set of mechanisms is likely to be operating, whereas if we are in this other theoretical world, then we should expect Y mechanisms to operate.

This, for me, begs the question of how interpret our evidence: in particular, in the face of an unexpected outcome, does this mean the mechanism is less powerful than we thought, or did the necessary scope conditions simply not apply? I suppose Bennett would argue that we can test scope conditions, and that this should be a simple matter of finding even more fine-grained evidence, and then engaging in Bayesian updating (PDF / PDF) in light of the results. If this is the case, Bennett has far more faith in Bayesian inference than I (and I think more faith than is warranted). Bayesians accept that we all approach the world with different theories but that, ultimately, we exist in the same world, we all have common knowledge about that world, and thus will interpret evidence in the same way and thus update our knowledge and theories rationally.

I’m a little more skeptical. While I agree that IR theories are not entirely incommensurable, there is an extent to which our ontological and epistemological commitments shape the way in which we interpret evidence. Social events rarely have a single interpretation, and thus all of our data—qualitative and quantitative—will be somewhat contested. This means that our adjudication of theories is more of a limited Bayesian inference: part rational updating, yes, but also part the privileging certain mechanisms over others, for no “scientific” reason other than the current status of an approach. We risk thus consistently turn to a handful of recognized mechanisms—commitment problems, signaling, etc.—not because they are objectively “out there” and our evidence tells us so, but because it is the language du jour of discussing social processes.

My third and final issue is with Bennett’s contention that a mechanistic approach is a better way to teach international relation theory to students than arranging our syllabi around the three “paradigms.” I guess my first question is, teaching international relations theory to whom? I may have a very specific perspective on this, because I teach international relations theory at a liberal arts college. Maybe I could see this approach working at the graduate level, where we are attempting to teach students a discipline, but at the undergraduate level Bennett’s argument just isn’t convincing.

It’s not simply that a mechanistic approach is somehow more complicated, or that I aim to teach my students more theory than “empirical” knowledge. There is a way to use the paradigms to teach IR theory that is less about hammering in the minutia of neorealism, neoliberalism, and constructivism, than it is about getting students to think about the big questions, not only of international relations theory, but of social theory in general. What is power? How do we think about power in relation to reason, and can the human gift of reason somehow transcend practices of brute power? What of agency and free will? To what extent can human beings alter and transform the world in which they live? These to me are the lifeblood of the paradigmatic debates. Stultifying as these arguments might have become in the field, they can still electrify a classroom of first and second year students.

And I would argue that asking these questions of our students create better policymakers as well. Bennett argues that moving towards mechanisms is a move towards more policy-relevant science. If we work hard enough at uncovering the mechanisms driving the democratic peace, for example, then we can give policymakers the concrete advice that they seek. Yet teaching students the paradigms is not to avoid these empirical questions. It is rather to argue that the most important skill policymakers can have is to critically question themselves and the state of their world, to realize how much their own theoretical commitments can shape their view of the world around them. It is to show how theoretical assumptions have the decisions of key leaders, how they have both enabled great transformations and blinded leaders to pitfalls obvious in retrospect. Paradigmatic thinking, in essence, can be the foundation of serious critical thought.

It has become quite fashionable to bash the paradigms, and as someone who sees herself as outside of the paradigmatic boundaries it is easy to be sympathetic. At the same time, the paradigms have forced IR scholars to be self-conscious in their theoretical commitments. I worry a world without them would make us more exclusive in our approach to the social world, and less critical in our thinking, than we were in the world of paradigmatic faults.

Symposium — The Mother of All Isms: Curmudgeon Edition

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Andrew BennettIt is the fifth 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 Bennett’s article (PDF). A response, authored by Stacie E. Goddard, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

As the internet lends itself to a rather different tone from that of referred journals, I adopt the pose of a curmudgeon. I want to pick a few fights, starting with epistemology and then moving through methodology to pedagogy.

In the tradition of schismatics, I argue most fiercely in my EJIR article against those with whom I agree on many things, but with whom I differ in subtle but important ways on the future of IR theory. First, regarding inter-paradigm debates in IR, I agree fully with the critiques Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Dan Nexon, and David Lake make in the special issue regarding the need to move beyond paradigmatic “isms” (realism, neoliberal institutionalism, constructivism, feminism, etc.) as the focus of IR theory. Yet I disagree with Jackson’s and Nexon’s assertion that researchers using statistical methods necessarily adopt Humean notions of causation, and I argue that statistical analysis and many other methods have roles to play in developing and testing IR theories. Contra Lake, I argue that there are better ways to structure the study of IR than his proposed framework of interests, interactions, and institutions, which gives insufficient to the social mechanisms that constructivists and interpretivists emphasize.

Second, I concur with key post-positivist arguments: observation is theory laden, knowledge claims are always part of mechanisms of power, meaning is always social, and agents and social structures are mutually constitutive. Yet I argue that IR should continue to aspire to predictive theories, that there are defensible standards for judging some explanations and interpretations to be better than others, and that theories about causal mechanisms are compatible with many interpretivist approaches to IR. In my reading of their essays, none of the interpretivist-minded scholars writing in the special issue explicitly object to my positions on these issues, but other IR scholars do reject claims like the ones I make.

Third, I argue that statistical, formal, experimental, qualitative case study, narrative, and many other methods are useful in developing and testing theories about causal mechanisms. Yet (spoiler alert) I reject the view that there is one logic of inference in IR and that this logic is “explicated and formalized clearly in discussions of quantitative research methods.” Continue reading

Symposium — In Defense of Simplistic Hypothesis Testing

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by  Dan ReiterIt is the fourth installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post responds to John J. Mearsheimer’s and Stephen M. Walt’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.

Thanks to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt for writing such an important and provocative article. I agree with many of their central assumptions, especially the importance of building rigorous theories, and of executing appropriate and sound empirical tests of theories. I also agree that at this juncture we need more theoretical development, especially (in my view) in emerging areas such as neuroscience and conflict, gender and conflict, and networks.

Here, I lay out a few of my many reactions to their article.

Though I agree with Mearsheimer and Walt that empirical work is most powerful when it is well-executed and well-grounded in theory, I fear there is a potentially dangerous inference from their observation that some empirical work, what they call simplistic hypothesis testing, suffers from flaws. Specifically, we should avoid the inference that the existence of flawed empirical work should push us away from empirical work. Given their bedrock assumption that science requires empirical testing as well as theory building, if one observes flawed empirical tests, the appropriate reaction should be not to do less empirical testing, but rather to do better empirical testing. If data are flawed, fix the flaws. If data measure some theoretical concept poorly, collect better data or improve the measure.  If a model is specified poorly, improve the specification.

The intrinsic value of empirical testing aside, Mearsheimer and Walt underestimate the two major contributions hypothesis testing, even simple hypothesis-testing, makes toward theory innovation and development.

First, empirical work, even atheoretical empirical work, sometimes pushes theory forward by making controversial claims. The democratic peace literature is a good example of this dynamic. Essentially the first scholarly article on the democratic peace was a 1976 Jerusalem Journal of International Relations article by Melvin Small and David Singer (PDF).  They noted (atheoretically) that democracies fight wars, but not against each other. That empirical observation led to a burst of important theoretical work fleshing out a positivist, liberal theory of international relations. Key theoretical works in this area included Michael Doyle’s early 1980s articles (e.g., PDF), formal work connecting domestic political institutions with conflict behavior (such as Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and David Lalman’s War and Reason), and Bruce Russett’s landmark works Grasping the Democratic Peace and Triangulating Peace, to name a few. Continue reading

Symposium — Leaving Theory Behind: Why Simplistic Hypothesis Testing is Bad for IR

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. It is the third 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 the article of the same name (PDF). A response, authored by Dan Reiter, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

Theory is the lodestone in the field of International Relations (IR). Its theorists are the field’s most prestigious scholars and the books and articles that dominate the study of IR are all theory-laden works. Yet IR is moving away from developing or carefully employing theories and instead emphasizing “simplistic hypothesis testing.” Theory plays a minor role in this enterprise, where most of the effort is devoted to collecting data and testing empirical propositions.

Unfortunately, deemphasizing theory and privileging hypothesis testing is a misstep that is less likely to produce important new knowledge about international politics. Although testing hypotheses is an essential component of social science, the creation and refinement of theory is the most important activity in any field of study. Because the world is infinitely complex, we need mental maps to identify what is important in different domains. In particular, we need theories to identify the causal mechanisms that explain recurring behavior and show how these mechanisms relate to each other.

Theories are simplified pictures of reality. They provide general explanations that apply across space and time. Although theories require simplification and abstraction, their component parts must still refer to entities and processes that exist in the real world. Even if they are not directly observable, the assumptions and causal mechanisms that underpin a theory must be a reasonable approximation of reality.

Theories are essential because they provide an overarching framework—the big picture—for a specific domain. Novel theories can revolutionize our understanding of the world—as Darwin’s theory of evolution did—and theories allow us to predict the consequences of different actions. Thus, theory is essential for diagnosing policy problems, making policy decisions, and evaluating policy outcomes. Theories help us to look at the past in different ways, and they are especially valuable when dealing with new situations or when facts are sparse. Finally, theory is essential for conducting valid empirical tests; hypothesis tests that are not guided by a sophisticated understanding of theory are unlikely to produce useful cumulative knowledge. Continue reading

Symposium — Defining Theory Down

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Inanna Hamati-Ataya. It is the second  installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post responds to the introduction (PDF), written by Tim DunneLene Hansen and Colin Wight. Their own post is available here.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

The EJIR Special Issue is not only a new opportunity to collectively reflect on the status and future of theory in International Relations (IR), but also to consider alternative ways of thinking about theory and its relation to reality. Although the editors acknowledge the diversity of approaches currently populating the field, their own framing of the discussion remains grounded in the philosophy-of-science narrative that our discipline too often puts forth as the only authoritative framework for discussing theoretical and metatheoretical issues.

Many — perhaps most — IR scholars find commonsensical the view that theory is ‘wholly conceptual and is not a concrete object’. They consider it an unproblematic starting-point for the present discussion. It is not. We should challenge this idealist-philosophical perspective. We should take seriously the ontological status and realism of theory/theorizing. Approaching theory as social construct and practice  leads to a more productive discussion — one that entails a more sociological and reflexive engagement with theory.

Such a discussion begins by rejecting the editors’ tempting invitation to slip back into a comfortable Waltzian posture. This invitation threatens to exclude a wide range of IR theory by avoiding the critical issues raised by the ‘third debate’ (PDF) in the field.  The field needs to preserve and re-assess the important gains of this debate and of the development of ‘post-positivist’ perspectives. To ignore the epistemic implications of Critical, Marxist, Feminist, Post-structuralist, and Post-colonial research is in effect to deny the historicity, social situatedness, and practical nature of theory.

We, and our students, have become more sensitive to the socio-economic, politico-ideological, and cultural determinants and functions of academic knowledge; the problématique of the knowledge-power nexus has raised our awareness of our intimate involvement in the (re)production of local and global power structures and relations, beyond the ideals/illusions of objectivity, neutrality, and value-freedom; research on the history of IR itself has also challenged our earlier naïve, objectivist view on the relation of theory to practice and their alleged antinomy. In fact, preserving and re-assessing the gains of the third debate requires us decide whether we take the social sciences seriously in the first place. If we adopt an abstract understanding of theory that treats the theorist as operating over and above the world that she studies, then we cannot produce genuine social science of the kind that influences the conduct and practice of world politics.

Continue reading

Symposium — The End of International Relations Theory?

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Tim Dunne, Lene Hansen and Colin Wight. It is the first 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 the issue’s introduction of the same name (PDF). A response, authored by Inanna Hamati-Ataya, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

In an academic discipline as wide-ranging as International Relations (IR) it is no surprise that the definition, role and function of theory is one of the most highly contested issues. Some of the most fundamental divisions that separate the various theoretical approaches covered in this Special Issue  are embedded within competing accounts of what theory is, and what theory can and should do. In this sense, it is correct to say that there is no such thing as IR theory in the singular, but rather, there are many types of theory.

Recognising the plurality of theories is no barrier to noting what is trending in the field. Our experience as editors of EJIR from 2008 to 2013 suggests that the era of paradigm wars has given way to a form of ‘theoretical peace’.  First, we saw less and less inter-theoretic debate across paradigms (or ‘isms’). Second, pieces engaging solely in theoretical development are now largely non-existent. Theory played a role in almost all the articles published in the journal during our tenure but it was of a ‘theory testing’ orientation rather than outright ‘theory development’ (though we concede that there were a small number of exceptions to this pattern). None of this is to suggest that this work is inferior in anyway, but is simply a statement about the type of work that dominates, not its quality.

This sense that meta-theory was no longer the ‘driver’ of IR was the trigger for the Special Issue – conceived, as it was, over dinner in conversation with our editorial committee at the ISA convention in Montreal. The subject of the Special Issue could well have been ‘The End of Theory’ which would have made this point stronger, although placing it within the context of IR seemed the best option. In putting together the only SI of our tenure, we asked a range of theorists – many established figures and some more recent entrants to the profession – whether they shared this view and, if so, was the retreat from pure theory to be regarded as a positive or negative development?

What follows is a synopsis of the opening essay in the Special Issue by the editors.  Our goal was to frame the discussion about theory rather than to provide a justification and summary of the remaining contributors. Here is where we began our discussion. Continue reading

Special Event: “The End of IR Theory” Symposium


It is with great pleasure that I announce the start of a special collaboration among the European Journal of International Relations, SAGE Journals, and the Duck of Minerva: The “End of IR Theory” Symposium.

A number of developments over the past few years spurred Colin Wight, Lene Hansen, and Tim Dunne to dedicate a special issue of EJIR to the subject of the state of International Relations (IR) theory. If all goes smoothly, that issue has been released and will be ungated for the next month. The Duck of Minerva is publishing a companion symposium. Our aim? To spur discussion, provoke debate, and providing a forum for post-publication review.

The symposium will consist mainly of (1) short posts written by contributors to the special issue and (2) responses written by a mix of junior and senior scholars. There will also be a companion podcast with Colin Wight.

We will run a pair of posts each day. The symposium kicks off tomorrow with Wight, Dunne and Hansen riffing on their introduction and Inanna Hamati-Ataya offering comments and criticisms.

The schedule will, barring unforeseen circumstances, follow the order of the table of contents. The symposium will conclude on 18 September — the first day of the 8th Annual Pan-European Conference on International Relations — with a reaction to the entire special issue by Felix Berenskoetter.

I hope that you enjoy this opportunity to engage on major issues concerning the past, present, and future of IR theory. Between the authors of the articles and their respondents, we have a terrific lineup.

I’d like to take a moment to thank Colin, Lene, and Tim for putting the special issue together and supporting the symposium. Special thanks to the folks at SAGE: Katie Baker, David Mainwaring, and Ruth Chalmers.

On a personal note, the end of the symposium will mark my departure from the Duck of Minerva masthead. I can’t think of a better way to go out. If you like what you see here, stay tuned. PTJ’s got a lot of good stuff planned for the International Studies Quarterly blog.

The schedule is below the fold.

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New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy Interview with Ben Hatke

zitaIn addition to phasing out of the Duck of Minerva, I’ve also been slowing down my activities at New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy. The channel has a new host, Michael Zummo, who has taken over most responsibilities. Still, I’m not entirely done. I have a new interview up with Ben Hatke. Hatke is the author and illustrator of the very successful all-ages graphic novels, Zita the Spacegirl and Legends of Zita the Spacegirl.

There’s a story behind the interview. Once every few weeks I take my daughter to Big Planet Comics. One afternoon we made an impulsive trip there only to be greeted by an employee. Lyra sidestepped him and made a beeline for the kids’ section. I noted that there was another girl sprawled on the floor reading comics, which isn’t a very common sight.

“Are you here for the signing?” the employee asked.

“What signing?”

“Ben Hatke. He wrote Zita the Spacegirl.”

“We didn’t know about it. Hey Lyra! The guy who write Zita the Spacegirl is here.”

Ben was sitting at a long table drawing with a girl of about Lyra’s age. It took Lyra a few minutes to work up enough courage to approach him. But she did. Continue reading

Syria: in Defense of a Broad Military Authorization

Editor’s Note: as per my earlier announcement, I am phasing out of the Duck of Minerva. But my blogging won’t officially end for around another two weeks. That means that, although administrative inquiries should be sent to other team members, I have not gone cold turkey on the writing front.

I remain uncertain as to the wisdom of any kind of US-centered military action in Syria. But if the Obama Administration is going to act, then it needs a broad Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Indeed, today has seen significant concern about the breadth of the proposed AUMF. Jack Goldsmith writes that:

(1) Does the proposed AUMF authorize the President to take sides in the Syrian Civil War, or to attack Syrian rebels associated with al Qaeda, or to remove Assad from power?  Yes, as long as the President determines that any of these entities has a (mere) connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and that the use of force against one of them would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the U.S. or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons.  It is very easy to imagine the President making such determinations with regard to Assad or one or more of the rebel groups.

(2) Does the proposed AUMF authorize the President to use force against Iran or Hezbollah, in Iran or Lebanon?  Again, yes, as long as the President determines that Iran or Hezbollah has a (mere) a connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and the use of force against Iran or Hezbollah would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the U.S. or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons.  Again, very easy to imagine.

As the history of the 9/11 AUMF shows, and as prior AUMFs show (think about the Gulf of Tonkin), a President will interpret an AUMF for all it is worth, and then some.  The proposed Syrian AUMF is worth a lot, for it would (in sum) permit the President to use military force against any target anywhere in the world (including Iran or Lebanon) as long as the President, in his discretion, determines that the the target has a connection to WMD in the Syrian civil war and the use of force has the purpose of preventing or deterring (broad concepts) the use or proliferation of WMDs in, to, or from Syria, or of protecting the U.S. and its allies from the mere threat (again, a broad concept) of use or proliferation of WMDs connected to the Syrian conflict.

Congress needs to be careful about what it authorizes.

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An Announcement

As many of our readers know, I am the incoming editor-in-chief of International Studies Quarterly, the “flagship journal” of the International Studies Association. My team will begin to take new submissions in October. The full handoff occurs in January of 2014. The scope and nature of the responsibilities involved are inconsistent with an active presence here. Indeed, my time-management and logistical skills are insufficient to support both activities. Thus, I will be phasing out of my various roles at the Duck of Minerva over the next few weeks.

In practice, this means that my last major contribution to the Duck of Minerva will our upcoming symposium on the European Journal of International Relations‘ “End of IR Theory” special issue. I also expect that I will be posting some reflections on nine years of blogging and on the evolution of the Duck of Minerva. I don’t know how much interest there will be on these subjects, but writing about them will provide me with a sense of closure.

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Part II: The Glass Half Full: Gendered Progress in Academic Networking

This is a guest post by Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, Professor and Department Chair of Political Science at the University of Iowa. 

In my previous post, I discussed some problems women face when networking in political science. Here I focus on the progress we have made.

As a quantitative conflict scholar, I spend a great deal of time networking in several male-dominated research communities, including the Peace Science Society, the ISA SSIP section, the APSA Conflict Processes section, and the Society for Political Methodology. I first presented at a Peace Science meeting in 1996, being one female of 9 at the conference out of 66 participants. I attended my first Political Methodology summer conference in 1994 and was one of 9 women out of 50 participants. A healthy ego combined with enjoyment of traditionally male things such as drinking, gambling, and sports eased my own integration into these communities.  Yet I attended many presentations by smart women in both organizations who soon afterwards made decisions to exit the groups or leave the profession. This included the female co-chair of my dissertation committee, two female students at Michigan State who graduated ahead of me and got jobs in top 25 ranked programs, and several women from other top institutions. Continue reading

Tiwesdæg: the Left-hand of Linkage

Viking Duck


Netw…. Um, maybe not.

Say networking one more time

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Krugman’s (Probably) Wrong about Apple and Network Externalities

Paul Krugman has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he likens the rise and decline of technology companies to Ibn Khaldun’s account of the rise and decline of dynasties: success breeds complacency and soon the barbarians are running the show. This happened, he argues, to Microsoft, which once upon a time dominated the computer industry thanks to network externalities:

The odd thing was that nobody seemed to like Microsoft’s products. By all accounts, Apple computers were better than PCs using Windows as their operating system. Yet the vast majority of desktop and laptop computers ran Windows. Why?

The answer, basically, is that everyone used Windows because everyone used Windows. If you had a Windows PC and wanted help, you could ask the guy in the next cubicle, or the tech people downstairs, and have a very good chance of getting the answer you needed. Software was designed to run on PCs; peripheral devices were designed to work with PCs.

This state of affairs bred complacency and Microsoft failed to anticipate the shift to mobile devices. Now Apple risks the same fate.

Anyway, the funny thing is that Apple’s position in mobile devices now bears a strong resemblance to Microsoft’s former position in operating systems. True, Apple produces high-quality products. But they are, by most accounts, little if any better than those of rivals, while selling at premium prices.

So why do people buy them? Network externalities: lots of other people use iWhatevers, there are more apps for iOS than for other systems, so Apple becomes the safe and easy choice. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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