Tag: international relations theory (page 1 of 4)

Ideas, Norms and Nonmaterial Factors in International Relations: A response to Krasner

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of International Organization, the editorial team asked former editors of the journal to reflect on their time overseeing the journal as well as on the most significant articles published during their tenure. I recently read Stephen Krasner’s reflection and was surprised by a number of conclusions he draws regarding scholarship on ideas, norms and nonmaterial factors in international relations.

Starting with Peter Haas’ “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” one of the two most cited articles published during Krasner’s tenure as editor, Krasner argues that articles on nonmaterial factors

These papers, however, and others by scholars such as Martha Finnemore, Kathryn Sikkink, and Michael Barnett (who did not publish in International Organization during my tenure as editor but have under other editors), have not generated a research program, at least not in the United States, that is as robust as those associated with analyses of material well-being and power.

He continues

Given that ideology or beliefs that are not directly generated by concerns about physical power and material well-being play such a prominent role in many of the challenges faced by the United States and other industrialized countries, the relative absence of scholarly concern with such questions is striking.

These are provocative statements given that the authors he lists have generated scholarship that has spawned productive research agendas in numerous areas of international politics from the study of international organizations, to NGOs, to human rights and security. Let’s explore Krasner’s claims that research on nonmaterial factors is “not robust” and “absent” in international relations. Continue reading

The Practice Turn in International Relations Theory

Thanks to PTJ, ISQ Online is running a debate about the scope and nature of the ‘practice turn’ in the study of world politics. The symposium centers around a recent International Studies Quarterly article by Christian Bueger and Frank Gadinger, “The Play of International Practice.”*

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Not What We Bargained For: The Cyber Problem

Last week the New America Foundation hosted its launch for an interdisciplinary cybersecurity initiative. I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend and speak, but the real benefit was that I was afforded an opportunity to listen to some really remarkable people in the cyber community discuss cybersecurity, law, and war.   I listened to a few very interesting comments. For instance, Assistant Attorney General, John Carlin, claimed that “we” (i.e. the United States) have “solved the attribution problem, and the National Security Agency Director & Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) Commander, Admiral Mike Rogers, say that he will never act outside of the bounds of law in his two roles.   These statements got me to thinking about war, cyberspace and international relations (IR).

In particular, IR scholars have tended to argue over the definitions of “cyberwar,” and whether and to what extent we ought to view this new technology as a “game-changer” (Clarke and Knake 2010; Rid 2011; Stone 2011; Gartzke 2013; Kello 2013; Valeriano and Maness 2015).   Liff (2012), for instance, argues that cyber power is not a “new absolute weapon,” and it is instead beholden to the same rationale of the bargaining model of war. Of course, the problem for Liff is that the “absolute weapon” he utilizes as a foil for cyber weapons/war is not equivalent in any sense, as the “absolute weapon,” according to Brodie, is the nuclear weapon and so has a different and unique bargaining logic unto itself (Schelling 1977). Conventional weapons follow a different logic (George and Smoke 1974).

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The Importance of Screening

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

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

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

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

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The Importance of Angry Letters

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

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

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

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

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The Politics of “Fitting” Feminist Theory in IR

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

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

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

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


The Chinese state media could perhaps be forgiven for mistaking  fictional Battlestar Galactica blueprints for future US fleet schematics this week, given this. Continue reading

More Papers, Please: Video Games and International Studies

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

But the downside to neglect isn’t simply about the size of audience and consequent real-world significance. Non-gamers may not know it, but recent years have seen a wave of experimentation in video games driven by the rise of independent developers. Sure, much of the work has been, at best, incremental and, at worst, hackneyed, but the overall trend has pushed gaming into something more recognizable to non-gamers as artistic expression. Continue reading

Guest Post – Dave Kang: "International Relations Theory and East Asian History"

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

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

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

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

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What Exactly is Rational Choice?

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

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

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

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Theory Section Redux

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

Also of note….

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

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

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

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

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

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A Quarter-Baked Note on Grand Theory in IR

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

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

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

On the provocative side, there’s Cameron Thies’ review (in the same issue) of two books, Christopher J. Fettweis’s Dangerous Times? The International Politics of Great Power Peace and Gilulio M. Gallarotti’s Cosmopolitan Power in International Relations: A Synthesis of Realism, Neoliberalism, and Constructivism. Continue reading

Podcast No. 18: Interview with Stefano Guzzini

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

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

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

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Podcast No. 15: Interview with Barry Buzan

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

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In the year 2000….

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

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

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

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Institutions, Norms, and Cooperation

A strong correlation between cooperation and membership in international institutions is not enough to establish that international institutions cause cooperation.   If we’re to claim that institutions matter, we need to at least identify mechanisms by which institutions might promote cooperation among actors who would otherwise be disinclined to cooperate with one another.  The mere fact that such mechanisms can be articulated does not itself tell us whether the correlation is causal, but it lends a certain measure of plausible to causal interpretations that would otherwise be lacking.

Indeed, scholars have identified a variety of such mechanisms, from raising reputation costs to solving coordination problems to monitoring compliance and thereby overcoming information problems.  But even committed neo-liberals will generally grant that these arguments merely identify ways in which institutions provide a little push that can make the difference when (and only when) states almost meet the conditions under which cooperation would occur in an anarchic world.  And if that’s all that institutions do, then they can’t really matter all that much, can they?
Actually, yes.

If you grant that international institutions matter at the margins, you’ve already conceded that they make a big difference to the overall level of cooperation we can expect to observe in the international system.  See this post over at my personal blog for an explanation.

Podcast No. 13 – A Conversation with Nick Onuf (mp3)

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

Podcast No. 13 – A Conversation with Nick Onuf (m4a)

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

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

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