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International Relations Theory A New Introduction. Chapter 1 Why Theorize International Relations?. Why Theory?. This chapter seeks answers to questions such as: If the objective is to understand international relations, then what can theory do for us?

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international relations theory a new introduction
International Relations TheoryA New Introduction

Chapter 1

Why Theorize International Relations?

why theory
Why Theory?
  • This chapter seeks answers to questions such as:
    • If the objective is to understand international relations, then what can theory do for us?
    • What is the added value of theoretical reflection?
    • What is Theory?
    • What is Meta-theory?
why theory five key sets of reasons
Why Theory?Five key sets of reasons
  • Research guidance
  • Excellent tool to challenge prejudices or traditional world views
  • Theory makes it easier to grasp the modern world
  • Theory can play an important role when we want to evaluate political practice
  • International Relations is a discipline defined by its theories, therefore knowledge of “its theories” is a precondition for becoming acquainted to the discipline
what is theory
What is Theory?
  • S. Burchill (2001):
    • The term “theory” is not limited to its “scientific” or positivist formulations
    • Explanatory theories of the kind which flow from the adoption of a positivist methodology, are only one type of international theory
  • Several avenues of theorizing; see C. Brown (1997)
    • Explanatory Theories
    • Normative or Prescriptive Theories
    • Interpretative Theories
what is meta theory
What is Meta-theory?
  • Theoretical reflections on theory!
  • Key aspects of Meta-theory:
    • Ontology
    • Epistemology
    • Agent-Structure Problem
    • Level-of-Analysis
john vasquez set of criteria
John Vasquez´ set of criteria

‘Good’ theories should be:

  • accurate
  • falsifiable
  • capable of evincing great explanatory power
  • progressive as opposed to degenerating in terms of their research programme(s)
  • consistent with what is known in other areas
  • appropriately parsimonious and elegant

(Vasquez 1995: 230)

theoretical traditions
Theoretical Traditions

To achieve an adequate balance between inclusion and exclusion, this book offers six theoretical traditions:

  • International Political Theory
  • International Liberalism
  • Political Realism
  • The International Society Tradition
  • International Political Economy
  • The Post-Positivist Tradition
currents of thought
Currents of Thought
  • Individual currents are part of a tradition but more specific and dynamic than traditions
  • Examples:
    • In International Society Tradition: pluralism and solidarism
    • In Realism: classical realism, neorealism and post-neorealism
    • In Liberalism: strong and weak liberalism; ideational, republican and commercial liberal theory (A. Moravcsik); neoliberal institutionalism, republican and commercial liberalism (R. Keohane)
six theoretical debates
Six Theoretical Debates
  • Inter-tradition and intra-tradition debates
  • Numbers 1-3 represent intra-tradition debates
  • Numbers 4-6 represent inter-tradition debates
theorists do it yourself theory
Theorists & Do-It-Yourself Theory

Theoretical traditions, currents of thought and specific

individual theories can be presented in three different


  • As a kind of pre-given complex structure of ideas
  • As creation of one or more individuals and as accomplished in a specific context of time and space
  • As Do-It-Yourself Theorizing: Theory builder vs. Theory consumer
what is the field of international relations
What is the field of international relations?

Some theorists

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

The nature of international relations is historically contingent