Tag: EJIR Special Issue Symposum (page 2 of 2)

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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