Tag: international relations theory (page 2 of 4)

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

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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.

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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

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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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Podcast No. 11 – Interview with Janice Bially Mattern

The eleventh episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Janice Bially Mattern of the National University of Singapore. Her first monograph is Ordering International Politics: Identity, Crisis, and Representational Force (Routledge, 2005).

Contents 

  • Front Matter
  • An Intellectual Introduction
  • Ordering International Politics
  • Transnational Organized Crime
  • Hierarchy, Emotion, and Transnational Criminals
  • The Multivocality of Mattern’s Work
  • Styles of Reasoning in IR
  • Taking Over the International Studies Review
  • International Theory Redux
  • Working in Singapore
  • End Matter

Note: podcasts now seem to be appearing every Friday, give or take. We’ll see how long we can sustain it.

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I CAN HAS IR THEORY? 2

More slides from the talk after the fold.


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Podcast No. 10 – Interview with Vincent Pouliot

The tenth episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Vincent Pouliot of McGill University. His first monograph is International Security in Practice: The Politics of NATO-Russia Diplomacy (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Contents

  • Front Matter
  • Introduction
  • The Practice Turn
  • International Security in Practice
  • Methodological Issues
  • The Practice Turn for Non-Constructivists
  • An Embarrassment of Practices?
  • Building Common Ground in IR
  • The Practice Turn in a Divided Discipline
  • What’s Next?
  • End Matter

Note: podcasts now seem to be appearing every Friday, give or take. We’ll see how long we can sustain it.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog, but there’s no reason to click on that link. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

Comments or thoughts on either this podcast or the series so far? Leave them here.

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Morning Link, with Commentary, on the Shrinking Place of Theory in Sociology and IR

I’m crashing on multiple deadlines, so in lieu of “morning linkage”….

Last night I was in a twitter conversation with Phil Arena and Kindred Winecoff about Fabio Rojas’ recent post at orgtheory.net concerning the incredible shrinking vocation of social theory.

Roja’s observations echoe themes that we’ve been talking about at the Duck, both in print and in PTJ and my 10 August 2012 podcast (m4a). After quoting Kieran Healy’s excerpt from his grad-level sociological theory syllabus — about the incredible shrinking character of social theory — Rojas argues that:

  • A humanities style moral/social philosophy/history of thought sub-field is in retreat in every discipline. Political science is the exception.
  • You can still do theory, as in writing fat books that are praised but rarely read. They get published. There are theory journals, and you can still get career points for them.
  • Hypothesis Uno: Old style theory was only advantageous in a data poor environment.
  • Hypothesis Dos: Old style theory was only advantageous in a low tech environment.
  • Hypothesis Tres: Science is now bigger, which gives an advantage to empirical specialists.
  • Conclusion: In a fast paced world where people have real data, high tech tools, and can consume a lot quickly, writing Parsons style magnus opuses is something that few people can pull off.

Final comment: I’ve now spent 9 years between IU and Michigan as faculty and post-doc. Very different departments, but that allows you to see the wide range of sociology. I’ve looked over (and tried to read) *hundreds* of job applications. Very, very few “pure theory” applications. What does that tell me? From time to time, you’ll the fat theory book come out, but the profession collectively says “meh.”

I agree with the correlational analysis, but not the mechanisms. Rojas’ provides the “standard story” but his arguments are about functional efficiency when they should be about sociological forces operating within, across, and upon various social scientific disciplines. To name just a small one: when the safest route to acquiring social capital is to invest heavily in technical knowledge, that trades off with the investments necessary to be good consumers and produces of social (or, in our case, international) theory.

I also think that theorists in International Relations have become worse at explaining why the field should pay attention to what they have to say. In that sense, “international theory” is the victim of its own two-decades long flourishing, during which time it became less important to demonstrate the downstream implications — positive and negative — of different ways of conceptualizing the ontology of world politics.

And that leads to another comment. Kindred said the other night that we need more “big think” in IR, especially in light of the decline of the traditional “paradigms.” A number of people agree, but it isn’t clear what that would like it, let alone how it would be packaged and presented current tastes and reviewer expectations.

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Podcast No. 8 – Interview with Daniel Levine

The eight episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Daniel Levine about his new book — Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Contents

  • Front Matter
  • Who is Daniel Levine?
  • Recovering International Relations
  • Getting Deeper into the Argument
  • Realism, Liberalism, and the Dialectic of Enlightenment
  • Reflexivity and Critique
  • What’s next
  • End Matter

Note: podcasts now seem to be appearing every Friday, give or take. We’ll see how long we can sustain it.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

Comments or thoughts on either this podcast or the series so far? Leave them here.

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Constructivism, Social Psychology, and Interlocking Theory (III)

From https://www.zazzle.com/

This is the last in a series of guest posts by Stuart J. Kaufman of the University of DelawareStuart advances a long-running dispute with PTJ about whether “what goes on inside people’s heads” is relevant to social constructionism. PTJ doesn’t think so; Stuart disagrees. The first post can be found here, the second here. You may also download a complete PDF.


None of this is intended to deny the importance of structural insights offered by constructivist analysis. The argument, rather, is that “psychology provides the microfoundations for the motives behind normative behavior and identity change” examined by constructivist analysis (Shannon 2012, p. 14). Rhetorical coercion is an important mechanism, one I suspect underlay the inability of liberals and thoughtful moderates to articulate a resonant alternative to Bush’s “war on terror” narrative. But it is not the only mechanism of importance. As Kowert (2012) argues, norms are socially constructed, but they require that norm-holders both believe that something is right or wrong, and that they care about the outcome at stake. Understanding norms therefore requires understanding the “ideational triangle” of cognition, norms and social construction. I would be inclined to make it a “quadrangle” to include the pivotal influence of emotions.

Furthermore, for many of the issues in which discursive norm-production is important, there is yet another mechanism whose impact cannot be overlooked: the role of social networks. Neither constructivist discourse analysis nor individual or group psychology is very useful for explaining who becomes active in social movements and who does not. To explain who is likely to join a protest movement or a rebellion, we must look to social network theory as articulated most prominently by Tilly (2005, e.g.). The people who join social movements or rebellions are not consistently the people who feel most strongly about the issue at stake a priori; it is the people with the closest personal ties to those already involved. Explaining the rise of social movements, therefore, requires following Tilly’s insistence on looking to the “social appropriation” of existing institutions for social mobilization; to the brokers who create links between diverse social networks; and other similar mechanisms.

The result of taking seriously the importance of all of these different literatures would be a set of interlocking theories in which each piece of the puzzle fit into its neighboring pieces, each mutually supporting the other. Individual-level psychology would provide foundations for assumptions about human motivation and action tendencies—or, more precisely, which motivations are important when—but would then fade into the background as the focus of analysis shifted to social (including rhetorical, social psychological and sociological) mechanisms involved in political life. The role of the theorist is creatively to link the findings of these disparate fields into more or less coherent explanations of specific phenomena, instead of starting from ad-hoc assumptions considered risible in other disciplines. This approach is not too different from what constructivists typically do now, bracketing issues of agency to focus on discursive structure. I am only calling on constructivists to be more psychologically aware in the assumptions they make.

The centerpiece of this approach, then, is to identify when different modes of analysis are appropriate. For example, from a psychological perspective, the hypotheses of bureaucratic politics theory (“where you stand depends on where you sit”) is easily explicable in terms of the well-known mechanisms of socialization, commitment and role assignment. Bureaucrats advocate their organizations’ interests, that is, because it is their job to do so (role assignment), because once having done so, they feel committed to those values (commitment), and because they come over time to be socialized into those values by their senior colleagues.

Furthermore, attention to these psychological mechanisms helps to explain not only when bureaucratic effects are most important, but also when they are less so. For example, Rhodes’s (1994) finding of the insignificance of intra-service rivalry within the U.S. Navy (between airmen, submariners and surface warriors) should come as no surprise, because naval officers’ primary socialization (and training) is into the navy, not any particular “union” within it. Furthermore, Rhodes is analyzing the behavior of Chiefs of Naval Operations, whose role assignment is to advocate the interests of the entire Navy, not their “union”. On the other hand, these same mechanisms suggest that, especially before the 1986 reorganization, the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have fought like cats and dogs along bureaucratic lines, because the mechanisms of socialization, commitment and role assignment all pointed in that direction, yielding in turn cognitive biases and motivated biases all pushing the Chiefs each to defend his own service’s interests and values, as bureaucratic politics theory would suggest.

The same holds true of rational choice theory. While the assumption that people are rational utility-maximizers is almost always false and is often unproductive, there are circumstances in which social psychology would predict such behavior. Institutional behavior is again the clearest example. The mechanisms of socialization, commitment and role assignment yield the expectation not only that bureaucrats will pursue their institutional interests, but that lobbyists will lobby for their employers; and, indeed, individual self-interest is likely to point in the same direction. When individual self-interest does not align with institutional interest, rationalists rightly point out, greed or ambition may trump socialization, leading to shirking or corruption. Rationalists don’t talk about greed and ambition, but as long as those motives accord with assumptions of individual self-interest, the difference does not matter.  Assuming bureaucrats will behave like bureaucrats is not psychologically dubious.

Outside institutional bounds, in contrast, people usually do not act to maximize their material interests in politics because their judgment is at different times driven primarily by fear (explained terror management theory), group identity (explained by social identity theory), bias or prejudice (explained by cognitive bias or prejudice theory), motivated bias (explained by motivational theory), personal connections (social network theory), the desire for self-expression, or a host of other motives.

It seems plain, then, that interlocking theory provides the only way to move forward in international relations and political science, based on using the findings of allied disciplines. In international relations, the answer to the paradigm debate lies in determining under what conditions key actors behave like realists, or liberal institutionalists, or domestic politics liberals. What are the conditioning hypotheses for each theory? Again, a number of different factors play a role, each explaining a different piece of the puzzle. From this point of view, constructivism in international relations functions as a partial metatheory, pointing out that sometimes international actors behave like realists (“Hobbesean” systems), sometimes like international liberals (“Lockean” systems), and sometimes more like liberals in a domestic setting (Kantian systems). The trouble is that constructivist analysis is terribly thin in identifying when each sort of behavior should occur.

Again, social psychology provides a host of suggestions for how to sort these questions out. Realists note that for their theory, fear is the driving force, and indeed, terror management theory essentially explains why people behave like realists when they feel under threat. But when do they feel under threat? Personality has something to do with it, with trust playing a huge role: only relatively trusting people are inclined to behave the way liberal institutionalism would predict (Rathbun 2011). On the other hand, those who are less trusting tend to see the world as a competitive place—a syndrome identified as “social dominance orientation” (Sidanius)—and to respond aggressively to challenge. Ergo, the hypothesis: states led by people with social dominance orientation are likely to behave in realist fashion; those led by more trusting individuals are more likely to act as liberal institutionalists predict. Prejudice also has something to do with it: people are more likely to perceive threat when they hold negative stereotypes of the source of potential threat, and when they have negative emotional feelings about that outgroup. This approach also helps to explain why past behavior matters in some cases but not others: prejudiced leaders will tend to discount evidence of moderation on the part of the target of their prejudice (e.g., Cold War anti-Communists), and therefore act competitively.

To break down a more specific example, asking why the U.S. behaved like a neoconservative sort of realist toward Iraq in 2003 is actually asking a set of distinct questions, each of which has answers in a different area of theory. From an institutional perspective, there were at least three veto players regarding a war with Iraq: the President, his party, and Congress, with Congress’s position in turn partly dependent on public opinion. Therefore, to explain the war, we must explain the positions of all three veto players. First, George W. Bush decided he wanted to invade Iraq for a variety of reasons explained by personality theory (such as his ethnocentrism) and small-group dynamics (e.g., groupthink). Second, his party enthusiastically supported this course due to a combination of prejudice, institutional incentives in the party, and calculations of electoral advantage. The calculations of electoral advantage, in turn, depended largely on intuitive understanding of prejudice and terror management theory—how threat perceptions and anti-Saddam bias after 9/11 drove public opinion to the right on the issue of the war. Finally, as discussed earlier, a combination of constructivist and psychological factors explain why Democrats in Congress felt they had to go along with the Bush “War on Terror” narrative and vote in favor of the war—and why that course was popular with voters.

The final element of truly progressive theorizing, as suggested by these examples, is attention to the balance of counteracting forces. In the astrophysics of stellar stability, all of the interest is in the balance between the gravitational forces holding the star together and the countervailing forces pushing its mass outward. Similarly, almost any problem in contemporary international relations is likely to be driven by some factors emphasized by realism, some emphasized by liberal institutionalism, some by domestic politics liberalism, and some by constructivism. In the battle for public opinion over the Iraq war, for example, international institutional constraints—notably the position of the UN Security Council—were manifestly significant in constraining the march to war, yet were ultimately swamped by other factors pushing the other way. Meaningful theory means thinking about how to measure these counteracting effects, not simply assuming some of them away.

Parsimonious theories of politics are possible, of course, but not parsimonious theories that work. If we want to achieve anything like scientific progress, we need to put aside debates about which paradigm is best, and begin focusing on when each paradigm best applies, to what degree and in which circumstances.

Works Cited
Benford, R. D., and D.A. Snow. (2000).  Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment.  Annual Review of Sociology 26, 611-639.
Cohen, Florette, Daniel M. Ogilvie, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski (2005), “American Roulette: The Effect of Reminders of Death on Support for George W. Bush in the 2004 Presidential Election,” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 5, no. 1, pp. 177-87.
Cuillier, David, Blythe Duell and Jeff Joireman (2010), “The Mortality Muzzle: The Effect of Death Thoughts on Attitudes toward National Security and a Watchdog Press,” Journalism 11(2): 185-202.
Greenberg, Jeff, Tom Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, Abram Rosenblatt, Mitchell Veeder, Shari Kirkland, and Deborah Lyon (1990).  “Evidence for terror management theory II: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58, 308–318.
Haidt, Jonathan (2012)  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion (Pantheon).
Kaufman, Stuart J., Richard Little, and William C. Wohlforth, eds. (2007), The Balance of Power in World History (Palgrave Macmillan).
Kowert, Paul A. (2011) “Completing the Ideational Triangle: Identity, Choice and Obligation in Interntional Relations,” in Vaughn P. Shannon and Paul A. Kowert, eds.  Psychology and Constructivism in International Relations: An Ideational Alliance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), pp. 30-56.
Ronald R. Krebs and Patrick Thaddeus Jackson (2007), “Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms: The Power of Political Rhetoric,” European Journal of International Relations 2007; 13; 35
Ronald R. Krebs & Jennifer K. Lobasz (2007): “Fixing the Meaning of 9/11: Hegemony, Coercion, and the Road to War in Iraq,” Security Studies, 16:3, 409-451.
Larson, Deborah Welch (1985)  Origins of Containment: A Psychological Explanation (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Rathbun, Brian C. (2011) Trust In International Cooperation: International Security Institutions, Domestic Politics, and American Multilateralism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Rhodes, Edward (1994) “Do Bureaucratic Politics Matter?  Some Disconfirming Findings from the United States Navy,” World Politics vol. 47, no. 1 (October), pp. 1-41.
Shannon, Vaughn P. (2011), “Introduction: Ideational Allies: Psychology, Constructivism and International Relations,” in Vaughn P. Shannon and Paul A. Kowert, eds.  Psychology and Constructivism in International Relations: An Ideational Alliance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), pp. 1-29.
Tilly, Charles (2005) Identities, Boundaries and Social Ties (Boulder : Paradigm).
Westen, Drew (2007) The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (New York: PublicAffairs).
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Constructivism, Social Psychology, and Interlocking Theory (II)

This is the second in a series of guest posts by Stuart J. Kaufman of the University of DelawareStuart advances a long-running dispute with PTJ about whether “what goes on inside people’s heads” is relevant to social constructionism. PTJ doesn’t think so; Stuart disagrees. The first post can be found hereAfter the final post, we will make the entire piece available as a PDF — consider it our first true “working paper” publication.

Since each theory begins with a metatheoretical judgment about human nature, I think the place to start looking for insights is in psychology, which focuses on the empirical questions of how people actually think and feel under what circumstances, and what they tend to be inclined to do. For an example of how psychology can inform constructivism, let us return to Krebs and Jackson’s “Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms,” which suggests a constructivism based on the notion that rhetoric operates as a sort of coercion. In this very creative piece, they lay out a model in which much of the action of politics comes in the form of rhetorical competitions in which competing forces try to frame issues in terms of societal values that favor their argument. One side wins if the other runs out of plausible responses to refute the implications of its opponent’s frame.

One gap in this argument is that the plausibility of arguments depends fundamentally on pre-existing “rhetorical commonplaces” familiar to the public audience, but in their empirical illustration Krebs and Jackson do nothing to show what the relevant rhetorical commonplaces were before the debate they analyze. In principle, constructivists can do this by sampling the discourse prior to any particular debate to get a sense of what those commonplaces are.

What constructivists cannot do, however, is measure how widely believed and strongly influential those commonplaces are with the relevance audience. This audience is always multiple—divided into subgroups by myriad cleavages. How is the constructivist to know which rhetorical commonplaces are the ones that most powerfully influence the relevant audiences, and therefore demonstrate the power of rhetorical jiujitsu? Krebs and Jackson do so by assumption, picking out one particular rhetorical commonplace in Israel—the notion that those who serve in the military have thereby earned equal rights—to explain why Druze Arabs, who do serve in the Israeli military, have been granted rights other Israeli Arabs have not.

The trouble with this argument is that, even if one retains a constructivist methodology, Krebs and Jackson fail to consider other discourses that may better explain the outcome. For example, perhaps the key point in Israeli discourse is not that the Druze have earned citizenship, but that they have proven their loyalty—their military service proves that they are not a security threat. Much Israeli discrimination against Arab citizens is justified on security grounds. How do we know that the more important reason for the outcome was not that the notion of earned citizenship was unanswerable, but that the notion of Druze as a threat was a non-starter?

The deeper problem is that even if Krebs and Jackson had considered both discursive effects, constructivism offers no way to assess which one was more important, if both were present and prominent. The only way to assess these competing hypotheses is to think more systematically about the interaction between discourse at the social level and attitudes and beliefs at the individual level. In other words, one must resort to the methods of sociological framing theory (e.g. Benford and Snow 2000) that Krebs and Jackson reject—examining the pre-existing beliefs, values, attitudes and perceptions of the audiences (including their perceptions of the credibility and other qualities of the leaders proposing alternative narratives) to explain why some rhetorical moves resonate with different audiences while others do not.

The study of pre-existing beliefs, values, norms, attitudes and perceptions, in turn, leads us back to the realm of political psychology. It is political psychologists who have studied these issues most carefully, and have come to some important conclusions about the power of different discourses with different audiences. One of the most important of these findings is the importance of emotional or symbolic predispositions in influencing attitudes. Some stark examples are in the work of Drew Westen (2007, pp. 107-8). For example, when a group of respondents were asked their views about whether President Clinton deserved to be impeached, 85% of the variance in their answers was predicted by their emotional feelings about the political parties, Clinton, infidelity and feminism as measured in those same respondents six to nine months earlier. When cognitive constraints were added to the model, they increased the explanatory power only to 88%. Obviously these respondents had been exposed to some combination of pro- and anti- impeachment discourses, but their responses varied with their symbolic predispositions.

The basis for my hypothesis about the role of security fears in Krebs and Jackson’s Israeli case comes from another strand of political psychology, the unfortunately named “terror management theory” (see., e.g., Greenberg et al. 1990; Cuillier et al. 2010). In a series of experiments, these scholars have shown that subconscious concerns about death systematically drive political opinions to the right, making respondents more respectful of their own national and religious values and symbols, more favorable to those who praise such values and symbols, more unfavorable toward those with different values of any sort, more punitive toward moral transgressors, more physically aggressive toward those who differ politically, and less concerned with incidental harm to innocents. In a particularly striking study, Cohen et al. (2005) found that respondents who were asked to think about death preferred George Bush over John Kerry by 45% to 20%, while respondents in the control condition preferred Kerry to Bush by 57% to 13%. If this pattern holds up in Israel, then it seems plausible that security arguments against Arab rights are more important than failure-to-serve arguments regarding Muslim and Christian Arabs. Therefore the lack of credibility of such arguments regarding Druze Arabs should similarly be more important than rights-for-service arguments.

The reason that systematic attention to audiences’ actual beliefs and values (as measured in survey research) is so important is that failure to do so makes it too easy for the analyst implicitly to impute his or her own values to the audience. For example, in a generally persuasive and well-executed study, Lobasz and Krebs (2007) show how Democrats were “rhetorically coerced” by the “war on terror” discourse into acquiescing in the Iraq invasion that many of them were uncomfortable with and later opposed. While this positive argument is persuasive as far as it goes, the counterfactual argument is not: the suggestion that the most promising alternative discourse would have been a “jeremiad” arguing that the 9/11 attacks were a reaction to American behavior, and that the U.S. should reform itself rather than launching a crusade in the Middle East.

Lobasz and Krebs, not inattentive to findings in political psychology, note that there are some psychological obstacles to acceptance of the “jeremiad” discursive mode, mentioning in particular the fundamental attribution error. However, they vastly underestimate those obstacles, in particular by overlooking the values widely embraced by conservatives and moderates but not liberals or leftists (Haidt 2012). Most important of these is the value of loyalty. The trouble with the jeremiad narrative is that it leaves the would-be Jeremiah vulnerable to the question: “Whose side are you on, ours or the terrorists’?”

The power of the “war on terror” narrative is further boosted by other psychological effects Lobasz and Krebs overlook. First, any “us against them” narrative draws its power from the ingroup-outgroup effect demonstrated by decades of experiments in the social identity theory tradition. Just making the ingroup-outgroup distinction salient leads to increased stereotyping of the outgroup and increased pressure for ingroup cohesion (adding to the power of the “whose side are you on” question). Second, the credibility of the “war on terror” justification for the Iraq war was enhanced by prejudice—both cognitive stereotypes of Arabs and emotional dislike for them—that was prominent among an important subset of the American population. Third, the terror management effect from the lingering fear of terrorism was simultaneously driving attitudes toward the right on issues of nationalism.

Finally, the jeremiad narrative lacked credibility on the issue of 9/11 itself: even if I believe that most Arabs dislike the U.S. for what it does, not what it is, that does not invalidate the logic of a war on terror. If I make that distinction, I must also make another: most Arabs were not involved in the 9/11 attacks, either. Those that were—the militants of al-Qaeda—were violent extremists who did need to be fought. The only plausible alternative to Bush’s War on Terror, then, was Obama’s later war on al-Qaeda. Many plausible discursive traditions were available to purse this argument against the Iraq war, most importantly the security discourse itself, perhaps stated frontier-style: “You’ve got the wrong man (Saddam) there, Sheriff. We can’t let the real culprit (bin Laden) get away with this”.

My argument, then, is that responsible theory-building requires that we build not only on the findings of those within our narrow academic niche, but much more widely beyond it. For the relationship between psychology and constructivism, there is a whole host of psychological mechanisms—in social identity theory, terror management theory, prejudice and ethnocentrism theory, cognitive dissonance theory, cognitive network theory, etc.—that provide important insights into which rhetorics are most likely to resonate with which audiences and in which conditions. Sociological framing theory additional insights regarding the importance of the credibility of the leader offering a particular frame or narrative, among other factors. All of these considerations widen the scope for agency in constructivist analysis, not only by identifying the psychological tools available for leaders to manipulate, but also by identifying the psychological resources available to audience members in deciding how to respond.

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Communities and otherness: a typology

I have long been intrigued by Orson Scott Card’s typology of relations to the other, as expressed in his novel Speaker for the Dead. I like it so much that I used it as a central part of my argument (in Chapter 2 of this forthcoming edited volume) that the depicted relations between Colonials and cylons in Battlestar Galactica can tell us something about how to construct a more humane social order. But teaching the novel for the umpteenth time in my sci-fi course this week — it and its prequel Ender’s Game have been in every iteration of the course since I wrote the first draft of the syllabus when I was about fifteen — it occurred to me that the Card typology needed some analytical tightening before it could be truly useful. I did a first run at working through the issues in class on Wednesday; this post is my second attempt. And it has prettier diagrams than the ones I scrawled on the whiteboard in class.

Card’s typology contains four orders of otherness or foreignness:

The first is the otherlander, or utlanning, the stranger that we recognize as being a human of our world, but of another city or country. The second is the framling…This is the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another world. The third is the raman, the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another species. The fourth is the true alien, the varelse, which includes all the animals, for with them no conversation is possible. They live, but we cannot guess what purposes or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it.

The major advantage of this typology, and the potential that I find in it, stems from the fact that it is a typology of relations, not a typology of already-fully-formed communities.
There is no danger here of reifying a contingent social arrangement, and imbuing it with more stability and solidity than it warrants; a community is, in this approach, more or less completely endogenized to the relations between and among its members. Community is a function of how we relate to one another, and is as such located “between” us rather than “outside of” us. The other thing I particularly like about this typology is that it does not make the self a residual effect of differentiation from the Other; exclusion and separation are not the fundamental or foundational aspect of identities and communities, but emerge instead as one possible mode of relation. There can thus be identities and communities that are not premised on deliberate exclusion as much as they involve a focus on “internal” matters — a potential that often gets minimized or sidelined in certain kinds of poststructural and critical accounts of identity. (There’s a very nice 2005 APSR article by Abizadeh — couldn’t find a link that wasn’t behind a paywall, sorry — that makes this point quite cleanly.)

That said, there are three problems with the Card typology. First, although he refers to it as a “hierarchy of exclusion” and thus implies a single criterion that gets more or less intense as we move up and down the scale, the typology actually contains two quite different logics and thus envisions two very different kinds of communities emerging from two different kinds of relations. Second, and related, Card hasn’t actually presented four different types of relation; he’s only presented three (utlanning and framling actually collapse into one another), and only two of them are related to possible communities (no conversation with the varelse means no community with the varelse). Finally, because Card treats this as a classification of actually-existing relations rather than as an ideal-typical typology of possible relations, he is unable to really probe the intriguing dilemmas that arise in actual communities that are never completely characterized by any one kind of relation. The right question is not “what kind of relations to the other do we have in our community?” but instead is something like “what kind of community is envisioned by our ways of relating to the other?” and the reformulated ideal-typical typology helps us sort out the answer to that second question.

I’ll take these in sequence. First of all, notice that both utlanning and framling are relations that presume a shared connection between the people involved, and that the shared connection in question is more or less “backgrounded” or naturalized in the course of any interaction that people engaged in performing or enacting that relation have. In Card’s terms, this prior connection is that both parties are “human,” but I want to suggest that the specific character of the prior connection is less relevant than the fact of its existence as a taken-for-granted presupposition. Relations of the utlanning and framling type actually both look basically the same:

In this diagram, A-D are the relating parties, and for the sake of visual clarity I have drawn their network of relations as a maximally connected one. The green circle around A-D represents the common membership of all of the relating parties in some broader set characterized by something that they all have in common — some attribute or feature by virtue of which they are all members of a single category that is larger, conceptually speaking, than each of them themselves. Call this a categorical community: differences between the relating parties are in a sense overshadowed by their common membership in a broader community, and note that in order for this to work the category in question has to be socially/culturally/politically salient — mere physical resemblance will not cut it. In fact, in a categorical community, the relating parties in some sense think of themselves as belonging to that broader category; if they do not, it matters not at all whether the relating parties share some characteristic in common. (I am setting aside for the moment the complexity of how one recognizes common characteristics and how they become socially/culturally/politically salient, because I am ideal-typifying the kind of community envisioned by the utlanning and framling modes of relating to the other. My point is that in utlanning and framling relations, there in some sense already is a salient category.)

The reason that this diagram could be both utlanning and framling — and, if we get less interplanetary about things, it could be states within a region or civilization, towns within a nation, individuals within an organization, etc. — is that utlanning and framling relations only differ from one another in their physical and geographic size. Utlanning relations are bounded by a planet, which would be the green line in the diagram; scale up, make A-D planets instead of states or cities or countries, and for have framling relations. Scale down to get one of the other varieties I mentioned a moment ago. All of these are relationally similar, and all feature the same basic arrangement: the relating parties may differ from one another on a whole variety of issues and attributes, but their commonality provides a broader basis on which to recognize one another as in some sense belonging together.

Belonging to a categorical community makes possible one of the most striking (and arguably one of the most effective) types of rhetorical coercion: the “nesting” gesture in which a speaker appeals to the broader category as part of a socially sustainable argument about a proposed course of action. In some of my work I have explored this gesture in some detail, as nesting is what makes appeals to “the West” so politically effective during the post-WWII era and well into the Cold War. Nesting is the inner logic of claims about civilizational identity, regional solidarity, national unity, etc. In all of these cases and many more besides, nesting works as a rhetorical gesture because the relating parties in some sense understand themselves to belong to a larger category, which makes possible the appeals to that category that can function as a rhetorical trump card in a public debate: we have our differences, but now the tribe/nation/planet/species to which we all belong has need of us, so we have to put aside those differences for the sake of the greater whole.

Lose the salient category and you lose this possibility, along with the categorical community itself. What you have instead is a category of relating parties that only share in common their ability to relate to one another, and nothing more fundamental than that:

Again, for visual clarity I have drawn this as a maximally connected network, but it need not be. The key point is that in this kind of noncategorical community there is no agreed-upon categorical boundary within which and on the basis of which all the parties can relate; there is just the web of relations itself. Obviously there’s no nesting here.

This is, I would say, a diagram of the community envisioned by Card’s raman relations. The word “human” in “human of another species” doesn’t mean the same thing as it meant in Card’s definitions of utlanning and framling relations; indeed, “human” in raman relations seems to mean nothing other than the ability to converse and communicate, since the primary conceptual distinction is between raman and varelse on the grounds that varelse relations do not include the possibility of conversation. (“They live, but we cannot guess what purposes or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it.”) There would thus be no community envisioned by varelse relations, and no categorical community envisioned by raman relations.

Of course, any student of world politics will have already recognized the parallels here: a categorical community is like “domestic politics,” and a noncategorical community is like “international politics.” Unlike Waltz, what I am prioritizing here is categorical membership, not hierarchy/anarchy, but the basic opposition is the same: presumptive commonality inside the state, and something much more explicitly process-dependent outside. (Again, remember that I am not describing actually-existing entities yet. Actual communities inhabit the tension between these ideal-types.) Precisely because there is no readily-available salient common category to appeal to in a noncategorical community, relations have to be conducted on the basis of ongoing diplomatic negotiation, and the only controlling authority would be the previously-agreed-upon consent of the contracting parties, a.k.a. “precedent.” (This is perhaps starting to sound even more familiar to IR folks.) And any hierarchy would have to be either illegitimate or a-legitimate — or a temporary exigency that was extremely fragile, dependent on independent calculations of benefit and interest…

So what have we learned? Raman relations, which envision a noncategorical community, are similar to what we IR scholars often imagine to be “international relations” — states in anarchy, sure, but more to the point, independent entities that only share in common the ability to relate to one another. (I am quite deliberately shifting to the more generic “relate” rather than Card’s “conversation,” because there is an implicit teleology in Card’s formulation: “conversation” makes violence less likely, because — and this is a general theory of Card’s — understanding makes conflict evaporate. I am not so sure about this, and more to the point, my argument doesn’t depend on it: the “diplomacy” in a noncategorical community could easily consist of an exchange of gunfire, as long as the various parties involved thought of one another as actors rather than as natural forces or something.) Utlanning and framling relations, which envision a categorical community, are similar to what we IR scholars often imagine to be “domestic politics,” with the hierarchy that we sometimes think of as characteristic of domestic politics linked to legitimation claims involving the rhetorical gesture of nesting. And encounters with “true aliens,” the varelse relations: no community is envisioned. Three categories, not four, and two logics: a logic of scale for utlanning-framling, and a logic of recognition for raman-varelse. (And note that Card implicitly realizes this; at the beginning of the first chapter of Speaker he has the author of the typology point out that “When we declare an alien species to be raman, it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity. It means that we have.”)

I presume that anyone who has made it this far into this essay has already raised about a hundred objections to the distinctions I am drawing here, all of which boil down to some form of “but actual communities don’t look like this!” Precisely. I agree. The point of an ideal-typical typology is not to describe actually-existing objects or entities or relations; the point is to tease out certain logical relations which can then be used instrumentally in the course of an explanation of some puzzling actual situation or case. It is doubtful, for instance, whether there is any such thing as an actual noncategorical community; international society developed a “standard of civilization” detailing who could play and who could not play, and liberal societies with roots in a social-contractarian understanding of social order and government have tended to rest, even if only implicitly, on some categorical community to determine whose voices needed to be taken into account: white people, men, property owners, etc. Indeed, I would speculate that, precisely because categories are so useful in managing daily social relations, a noncategorical community, by virtue of repeated transactions among its members, might incline toward being a categorical community at some point, as raman relations gave way to utlanning or framling relations. But by the same token, a categorical community might break down if one of the relating parties did something that was simply so beyond the pale that it appeared to be the action of an inhuman alien (utlanning/framling -> varelse) or, less dramatically, something happened that revealed that the presumptively stable category on which the community was based was in fact considerably more evanescent (utlanning/framling -> raman). How particular people react to changing situations, and how particular institutions and practices function, would then be explicable in terms of the tension between these different visions of community and the different relations that give rise to them.

The reason this isn’t just redescription, or recoding in exotic language, is that the perspective I have sketched here does three things with respect to thinking about identity and community that other typologies do not do, or at least do not do as well:

1) community here is a function of social relations, and not an ex ante presumption. The kind of community that is envisioned depends on the kind of relations its members have to one another.

2) community here is not necessarily premised on exclusion — what matters is less who we don’t incorporate, and more how we relate to one another. A categorical community can exclude, sure, but that exclusion is a consequence, not a cause.

3) the important empirical questions to ask about a community are not where its boundaries are and how it maintains them. The important empirical questions are instead: a) how is the category on which a categorical community is based made to seem natural and inevitable to the members of that community? b) how is the determination made that a given other is raman and not varelse, or vice versa? (In this last register especially, I wonder about the principle of indefinite detention and the preference for “surgical” drone strikes and other targeted killings of alleged terrorist masterminds, but I have gone on long enough so I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.)

Final thought. The idea of a noncategorical community, although it may lack an empirical referent, serves an important moral function. If we are actually committed to the idea of a community in which the members share in common only their capacity to converse and communicate — their moral worth and practical agency — then we have to be perpetually on guard against the all-too-human tendency to fill the “human” in “human of another species” with specific categorical content. It matters not at all whether that content comes from some presumptively natural attribute (as though the question of what constitutes a human or a sentient being with moral worth could be definitively answered in some objective manner) or from some presumptively transcendental exercise of pure communicative reason (Kant and Habermas, you’re on notice here) or doctrinal revelation (the traditional “faith-based” solution to this conundrum is to have some deity show up and simply tell you who is worthy of moral recognition, and perhaps more importantly, who is not worthy). Instead, if we have the courage of our convictions, we need to oppose any and all attempts to unequivocally bound the human, rather than staking everything on some categorical definition of who and what we are. Perpetual negotiation in a noncategorical community of raman relations may be uncomfortable and murky, but such a vision — one might even call it a prophetic provocation — might be the only way to preserve our humanity, and to stay open to possibilities yet unknown.

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Duck on a TRIP

The new TRIP survey is out. While the overall findings don’t hold many surprises, there are some nuggets of interest. We’ll have more to say later, but for now I want to call out a particular finding. 

Every survey asks the question “aside from you, please list four scholars who have produced the most interesting scholarship in the past five years.” In some respects, this question functions as a proxy for “most influential,” as the list:
  • Is very similar to the one for “four scholars who have had the greatest influence on the field of IR in the past 20 years”; and 
  • Contains a few people who, despite their big brains and mighty influence, haven’t produced much in the way of published work in the past five years. 

Given those two points, I’m particularly impressed by the presence of a single scholar from my cohort among the top twenty. 

W00t!!!
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Historical Institutionalism and International Relations

[warning: this post and the piece attached to is is only of interest to a handful of academics]

The April 2011 issue of International Organization included a very interesting review essay by Orfeo Fioretos entitled “Historical Institutionalism in International Relations.” The thrust of Fioretos’ argument, developed through a discussion of books ranging from John Ikenberry’s After Victory to Abe Newman’s Protectors of Privacy, is that international-relations scholarship would benefit from an historical-institutionalist turn. Although I found myself in agreement with the broad claims in the piece, I had difficulty with some of its specifics.

Anyone seeking to forward an historical-institutionalist agenda faces a basic problem: the approach doesn’t have what many would consider a coherent core. It emerged, as such, when a few scholars came up with a name for a motley body of work that they saw as distinguished by its opposition to “presentism” and to a rigid adherence to rational-choice theories. In his essay, Fioretos deals with this by, as far as I can tell, deciding that behavioral psychology in general, and prospect theory in particular, supplies historical institutionalism with microfoundations.

This didn’t make much sense to me, as I couldn’t recall seeing this claim advanced from within the ranks of self-proclaimed historical institutionalism. It also got a little under my skin. I’ve always considered my work as, at least, cognate to historical institutionalism and yet I don’t adopt such microfoundations.

The result of my discomfort was a response piece that I shipped off to International Organization. A few weeks ago I received a very nice note from the editors declining to send the piece out for review on the grounds that the issues raised weren’t sufficiently important to merit publication. I don’t have a problem with this, but as journals in our field don’t generally publish responses to articles that appear in other journals, there’s not much left to do with the response. So I’ve decided to make it available here in the hopes that someone will get something useful out of it.

UPDATE: also available, in convenient HTML format, at e-International Relations.

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What Good is Network Theory in IR?

In between ultimate frisbee and lying around in bed sick, I managed to attend a workshop on network theory at the International Studies Asssociation.

I spent some time there thinking about different things scholars mean when they say they are doing network theory, and what is the value added to IR of this basket of approaches.

Here are some tripartite thoughts on the matter, and you can probably guess which approach I’ll be taking in my new book.

1) Network theory provides a way to describe social relations that are neither hierarchies nor markets. This approach is associated with Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s work on advocacy networks and continues to hold some sway among “network analytic” scholarship, like Taylor Seyboldt’s recent analysis of the network structure of the humanitarian aid community. I actually don’t buy this approach however. Hierarchies are also networks (Wendy Wong’s great new book uses network theory as a way to describe and analyze variation in the organizational structure of different NGOs, and the same analysis could be applied to firms.) Furthermore, networks can be hierarchical rather than flat. Markets are distinct not in terms of structure but substance.

2) Network theory provides different conceptual tools for measuring (and visualizing) “structure.” IR theorists talk a lot about structure versus agency and yet have tended to have a very thin understanding of what structure is, generally arrived at deductively and treating it as a constant rather than measuring how it may vary by context. Emilie Hafner-Burton, Miles Kahler and Alex Montgomery have a good overview of the kinds of tools we’re talking about, and they distinguish this approach explicitly from the “networks as organization” approach above. The problem with this approach, I think, is that it equates network “theory” with “network analysis tools” and that the use of the tools as a method for measuring or visualizing often doesn’t involve very sophisticated theorizing about what those relationships mean and how they relate to the agency of actors embedded in network structures.

3) Network theory provides a set of propositions about the sources of political outcomes that are relational rather than instrinsic to actors.
I like this approach the best because it both limits network theory to something analytically useful (that is, it’s not just another form of organization) and broadens it to include many methodologies besides social network analysis. For example, one could take the theoretical propositions associated with SNA (such as “actors with a high level of betweenness centrality will have the ability to function as brokers”) or “actors with high in-degree centrality within a network will exert greater influence over the categorical meanings within a network” and then examine the extent to which these insights hold true in different network settings by using more qualitative methodologies including comparative case studies, process-tracing, elite interview or focus groups. I think what’s most important is not that we’re able to create colorful maps or measure ties precisely, but that we’re taking relational factors seriously as causal and constitutive forces in world politics.

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The constructivism that wasn’t

[Note: This post is almost entirely “inside baseball” for IR academics.]

For this year’s ISA conference I was supposed to write a paper called “The Constructivism That Wasn’t: On the Non-Inevitability of Sociological Liberalism.” The idea was that I would go back and carefully reconstruct those moments of historical contingency in which an alternative IR constructivism — one which did not so neatly track with sociological liberalism, roughly defined as the notion that individuals’ thoughts and beliefs shape their behavior an thus the social world that they inhabit — might have emerged. The alternative history is simple: accentuate Morgenthau’s debt to Nietzsche and Weber and play up his sense of the tragic, reclaim Waltz as an analytical systems theorist instead of the prophet of the inevitable consequences of systemic anarchy for state behavior, push Jervis’ work on the manipulation of images and symbols into a more semiotic direction by rooting things in social/discursive instead of cognitive psychology, and then place Nick Onuf’s 1989 book (about to be released in a new edition, so people can actually read and assign it!) at the center of an alternate way of worlding, and knowledge-producing, in the field as a whole. Presto, a constructivism that would be just as anti-utopian as the field’s founders would have liked: rules, Onuf reminds us, produce rule, and domination (whether legitimate in the Weberian sense, or just naked force) is an omnipresent factor in political life. And then you can fill in the blanks for yourself: insert a whole variety of social and political theorists at appropriate points in the lineage, produce a mashed-up remix of The Culture of National Security and Cultures of Insecurity, and so on.

But as we all know, this didn’t happen, and constructivism came to mean “ideational variables matter,” where matter = systematic cross-case co-variation, best captured in statistical studies whether large-n “quantitative” or small-n “qualitative” — and that’s not a methodological distinction, that’s a lifestyle choice. All of this to the point where I usually don’t feel comfortable self-identifying as a “constructivist” without a great deal of qualification. So the more I have thought about it, the more I have become less and convinced that this really could have happened differently in mainstream Anglophone IR, because mainstream Anglophone IR is dominated by US IR, which is constituted as a subfield of US Political Science — and both US Political Science and US IR bear the traces of the way in which they were legitimated and justified within the US social and political context. In global IR, there may be space for a plurality of voices and visions, and a robust debate about important theoretical and methodological issues like the nature of scientific explanation, the fundamental structure of the world system, and the legacies of imperialism and colonialism (particularly the issue of whether what we have nowadays is any significantly different than what we had during the period of formal colonial empires). But in US IR, as a subfield of US Political Science, the organization of intellectual life forces virtually every interesting question into the liberal cookie-cutter with its twin blades of neopositivism and actor-centric reductionism, and thus neuters anything like a radical critique or even the envisioning of a significantly different alternative future by assuming virtually all of the interesting things away at the outset. If there is actual contingency here, it is the contingency of IR as a separate field of study having been nurtured in the United States.

I should be clear that the kind of liberalism I have in mind  is neither left-leaning politics nor a simple translation of the classical liberal tradition of political philosophy and its confidence in free markets. What I mean instead is a specific triumvirate of value-commitments: individual liberty, equality, and reason, with the third usually being cashed out in intellectual/academic circles as “science.”  Grant for a moment that the US is a constitutively liberal society (and if you doubt this, may I refer you to the aforementioned Alexis de Tocqueville, and to Louis Hartz’s diagnosis of the “irrational Lockeianism” of US society and political culture?).* It therefore follows that social and political science, in such a society, would have to — if it wanted to be taken seriously — concern itself with individuals and their decisions, lest it be accused of ignoring individual liberty. It would have to be impersonally abstract, lest it be accused of ignoring equality. And “scientific” in such a society would have to mean something like “objective and nonpartisan, accessible to all who have the proper training” — disenchanted knowledge, to make a Weberian gesture. Putting this together we have two basic implications for political science in a liberal society: a kind of explanatory individualist reductionism (in technical language we now call this “microfoundations”), and the kind of advisory role that — as Jack Gunnell so brilliantly sketched in The Descent of Political Theory — comes from a withdrawal of science from politics so as to subsequently correct and improve political activity. (Call this “the Enlightenment legacy/hangover,” and insert all the E. H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau-inspired comments about the limitations of reason in politics you want at this point.)

The dominance of neopositivism is and has to be understood sociologically. Although I have argued elsewhere — I think pretty conclusively — that there is no generally compelling philosophical warrant for neopositivism as a philosophy of science, because there are alternative approaches to science that do as good if not a better job accounting for science and clarifying the foundations of scientific knowledge, it unfortunately does not follow that all philosophies of science are created sociologically equal. Indeed there is something of an elective affinity between the situation in which US IR finds itself, and neopositivism as a methodological stance. For two reasons: neopositivism appears to offer a firm demarcation criterion for the boundaries of science (“falsifiability”; leave aside for the moment that it doesn’t actually work philosophically, it works pretty well rhetorically because it figures prominently in the self-narratives of many self-identified “scientists” especially when they argue against religion in public settings); and neopositivism holds out the promise of a general notion of truth that can be used to discipline policy makers (leave aside for the moment that fact that this doesn’t work, that policymakers generally take from social scientists only those findings that support their already-existing goals).

As for the other implication of liberalism, actor-centric explanations seek to relate social outcomes of any sort to the motives and interests of individual actors, and regard any explanation as incomplete until it has specified the various internal commitments that compel individuals to act in certain ways rather than others. Sometimes we call these “microfoundations,” and it makes absolutely no difference whether we are talking about calculations of expected utility, ideas about appropriateness or moral rectitude, or emotional attachments to one or another option. In all of these cases, and more like them, the important causal factors inhabit the subjective space within actors, and more or less compel their choices and decisions. Whether those factors are interests or beliefs or desires or whatever does not effect the form of the explanation one bit, since in all cases it remains an explanation of external behavior by means of an internal state of mind.

One might object that states don’t have minds, so that state-centric mainstream US IR can’t be actor-reductionist in this sense. But the objection has no value, because regardless of the ontological issue of whether states do or do not have minds, the dominant theoretical frameworks with which US IR scholars seek to explain state behavior (and thus “international relations,” which in an actor-centric reductionist approach is nothing but a bunch of states and their behavior) treat states as if they were big people, and routinely refer to the state’s interests, beliefs, and desires. The form of explanation remains firmly actor-centric and reductionist, inasmuch as an explanation that does not specify the motives and interests of the relevant states is routinely taken to be incomplete.

Another way to say this is that mainstream US IR, like mainstream US Political Science, is largely if not quite exclusively about specifying actor interests and motives, by way of explaining the choices that individuals make — choices that result in particular social arrangements and outcomes. It is not that there are not structures and interactions and processes in US IR theory; it is rather than all such factors have to be related to individual states of mind in order to explain anything. Norms work by penetrating the heads of relevant decision-makers; the threat of force works by affecting the decision-calculus of the target of the influence attempt; and rhetoric works by altering the preferences or values of those at whom it is aimed. The relevant action takes place inside the individual, which is precisely what a liberal view of society and social action would suggest: autonomous individuals are the fundamental reality, and if other things are taken to exist (not all liberals are Thatcherites or libertarians; liberalism in the sense I am using it here is not a fundamental ontology, but a value-laden ordering of a class of ontologies, some of which contain things like social structures and some of which do not) then they have to be related to individuals in order to have any role to play in a valid explanation.

I’m not going to tell the old, old story of the change between Wendt 1987 and Wendt 1992 [these articles are behind paywalls at JSTOR so I am not going to link to them, and besides, if you have gotten to this point in the post then you have read these articles already] in terms of the pre-social ontology of the state, except to say that I do not believe that this transformation of constructivism is Wendt’s fault, but the fault of what we might call the structural selectivity (borrowing a term, but not necessarily the whole analytical package, from Bob Jessop’s state theory) of mainstream Anglophone IR: actor-centric theory literally makes more sense to irrational Lockeians and their intellectual progeny, so that’s the version that catches on. (There’s a parallel story here about realism, which declined from tragic realpolitik to “material factors matter.” but that’s material for another essay.) And subsequently we have Keohane and Goldstein 1993, “ideas matter,” various statistical studies of norms and ideas, etc. The only way for US IR to have been different would have been for it not to be a subfield of US Political Science. And even then I am skeptical, since I can more easily envision a free-standing US IR adopting neopositivism and actor-centrism (just as Political Science did) in order to justify itself to the wider public, then I can imagine an alternate US IR that went in a completely different direction.

But there is cause for cautious optimism, as long as IR graduate students can avoid the kind of hyperprofessionalization that Dan points to and remain focused on the breadth of IR beyond the “top” US academic institutions. For one thing, since we are talking about domination and not hegemony, there is both active resistance and strategic accommodation on the part of the subordinate. The position of mainstream US IR might be thoroughly actor-centric and neopositivist, but it is not (or at least not yet!) the case that every US IR scholar is similarly inclined. (It is possible that in the future the hiring market will be so thoroughly overrun by neopositivist actor-centrists that no one else will be able to get a job at all; that hasn’t happened yet, and despite the fact that many of the “top” US IR programs are pretty thoroughly dominated by this kind of IR, the overall market is still, I think, big enough for other entrants. And at some level I am still convinced that a good story goes further than the most sophisticated models and methods, so non-neopositivists interested in structures and processes still have a fighting chance, at least in some places.) The problem is, as it has always been, that the vast majority of academic IR scholars in the US work in Political Science departments, and those departments tend to be dominated not by the IR faculty, but by other subfields of Political Science which are much less methodologically and theoretically diverse (cough cough American Politics). But as long as departments need people to teach IR (in this respect, the invention of interdisciplinary undergraduate majors in things like Global Studies is a very welcome development), and as long as such people have publication outlets that are open to their kind of work, there is a fighting chance for an alternative to neopositivism and actor-centrism.

And this in turn points to what I would say is the most important change in the IR scholarly landscape in the past two decades or so: the consolidation of a vibrant English-language IR journal space that is not US-dominated. It is not that mainstream US-style IR doesn’t show up there, it that the overall space is not so heavily dominated by neopositivism and actor-centrism. This is an important point, so let me make it explicitly again: my problem is not with actor-centrism or neopositivism, but with the way that mainstream US IR equates those two commitments with social-scientific IR per se. I have argued that this is because US IR lives within and as a subfield of US Political Science, and both of these live within a liberal society where there is very little space to question the core values of individual autonomy, equality, and reason expressed through science; criticizing neopositivism and actor-centrism in such a context looks like an undermining of the basic rationale for the whole enterprise, which helps to explain why frontal assaults are met with such caustic and dismissive criticism (and the ever-popular misinterpretation-through-reinterpretation: “you can’t possibly have meant X, so I am going to treat you as having meant Y”). It is therefore nigh upon impossible for mainstream US IR to be as pluralist and ecumenical as global IR can potentially be, because the space for intellectual engagement is so narrow: we can argue about variables and hypotheses and specifications of actor motivations, but little else.

I think that the task of building and defending a pluralist space in IR would be immensely strengthened if we stopped having to deal with US Political Science, because that would help make US IR one voice among others in a much more global intellectual space. Global IR has already built some of the scholarly capacity in terms of journals and book publishers that it would need to be genuinely autonomous, and it seems to be the case that alternate centers of graduate training (i.e., not exclusively US institutions) are playing a more significant role in forming IR scholars worldwide. IR in many parts of the world does not have to deal with the legacy of US Political Science, which increases its capacity to foster a diverse scholarly dialogue. We don’t have a good and clear picture of what global IR looks like, exactly, but I hope to shortly launch a mapping project that will assemble a global directory of IR scholars and their career trajectories, and that will hopefully give us a better sense of things.

I am not at all optimistic about the discipline of US Political Science. Indeed, I think it is largely a lost cause, if one is interested in vibrant pluralism and an ecumenical approach to knowledge-production. That said, things emanating from US Political Science still have a disproportionate impact in US IR and hence in global IR, so it is incumbent on those of us interested in preserving pluralism to keep working to broaden those messages as much as possible — not to change US Political Science, which I think largely impossible, but to keep open the space for global IR, including those parts of global IR that live and work in the United States. Part of that is focusing on the right things; the culprit is not and never has been “statistics” or “quant” or “rationalism,” but neopositivism and actor-centrism. But an even larger part of it is building the practices and institutions that can sustain an IR beyond US Political Science: global studies programs, free-standing IR departments, interdisciplinary journals and book series, and conversations across theories and methodologies about world politics broadly understood.


* at the panel Nick Onuf wisely pointed out to me that “irrational Lockeanism,” although dominant in the US, was perpetually locked in combat with a much weaker strain of (neo)classical republicanism of the sort that manifests as communitarianism etc. — and a lot of the bitterness of dissident social science in the US might be attributed to the ressentiment of frustrated republicans. It’s a good and intriguing point, and a fuller genealogy of US IR probably should take that into account.

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