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About this book

This is a major new edition of a highly-regarded textbook on International Relations theory which combines deep analysis into the diversity of thought within the major scholarly traditions and the guidance for students on doing their own theorising. Knud Erik Jorgensen analyses the nuances of the main contending theories and approaches, their philosophical underpinnings, and explains their use and relevance to different research agendas. This is all placed within the context of cross-cutting coverage of key current issues and debates; of the philosophical foundations of IR theory; and of why different theories are addressed to different research agendas.

All chapters have been fully revised and updated, and a new chapter on the Human-Nature tradition has been included to reflect the changes within the field. This text is the most up-to-date and informative text on International Relations theory, and is an essential companion for all International Relations students.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
Theorizing is a process through which we refine knowledge, producing a concentration of insights into international affairs. This nature of theory explains why theory is a prime shortcut to knowledge about international affairs. Of course we can, in principle, spend a lifetime building such knowledge but usually we cannot wait that long. Sometimes we only have one term at our disposal to grasp the essentials of one or more aspects of international relations. In this context, theory can basically do two things for us. First, it can in a very efficient fashion simplify what is otherwise a very complex world that many people find almost incomprehensible or at least difficult to grasp. Second, theory functions as a guide to the analysis of international actors, structures or processes. The guide points out who are or what is important, so that we can focus our attention on that and legitimately ignore other unimportant beings and doings. This sounds relatively easy and is only complicated by the disquieting fact that, as in all areas of social and human science, there are several contending theoretical perspectives and approaches. There is nothing we can do about the fact that the social and human sciences are characterized by more approaches than arrivals. What we can do is become acquainted with the major perspectives and approaches. It is therefore the aim of this book to introduce the main traditions, currents of thought and numerous specific theories, in other words the main layers of theoretical reflections on international relations.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 2. Why Theorize International Relations?

Abstract
Why a book on IR theory rather than a book on the substance of world politics? After all, many superficial policy pundits or journalists would argue that theory is useless and basically a waste of time. Others regard theory as an unwelcome ‘must do’ activity: ‘So much for theory, now to the real world!’ Still others simply cannot figure out why theoretical debates seem inconclusive, contemplating what makes Clifford Geertz’s statement above both accurate and appropriate. Questions like ‘Why theory?’ or ‘What can theory do for us?’ therefore pop up all the time and require upfront and convincing answers. However, different answers have been given to these important questions and, in the following, I summarize five major sets of reasons for engaging in theoretical reflection (for an extended summary, Box 2.1 shows ten different yet overlapping reasons).
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 3. The International Political Theory Tradition

Abstract
International political theory (IPT) is an increasingly important member of the family of IR theoretical traditions. Thus, most thinkers in the classical political theory canon – Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, Grotius, Marx etc. – reflected on international affairs in more or less elaborate ways. Significantly, a prominent group of contemporary political theorists do the same, though often in a much more structured fashion. Importantly, compared to theorists in other IR theoretical traditions, these political theorists theorize about international affairs in different ways, using different keys to approach the topic, and often ask questions that other theorists neglect. The avenues of enquiry are also different, as are some of the objectives, as Chris Brown argues in his usual concise fashion in the above passage. Essentially, political theory is a key part of political science, dealing with the structure of political arguments and justification for political action or preferences. At the centre of attention we find issues concerning ‘just’, ‘good’, ‘valid’ or ‘right’ political ideas. Furthermore, as we will see in this chapter, political theorists examine the role of rights, responsibilities, duties and obligations. Whereas political theory usually examines these issues at the national level, international political theory goes beyond the national level, exploring their role at international or global levels.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 4. The Liberal International Theory Tradition

Abstract
Liberalism is a many-headed creature. Stated differently, it is a multidimensional tradition dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. To begin with, liberalism is a prominent political ideology and has also been heralded as perhaps the most important perspective within Western political philosophy. Thus, the liberal tradition is closely connected to the Enlightenment in Europe, and some simply identify liberalism with Western civilization. Furthermore, liberalism is often associated with strong commitments to individual liberties; at other times liberalism is presented as a doctrine cherishing free markets and pleading for minimizing political (state) intervention in the sphere of economics. Historically, the liberal tradition emerged as a critique of feudal political rule and the dominant foreign economic strategy at the time: so-called mercantilism (see Chapter 7). Finally, liberalism is a rich tradition of thought concerning international relations. The present chapter focuses on this latter dimension which, according to Donald Puchala (cf. above), essentially got it right and, according to critics, somehow got it wrong.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 5. The Realist Tradition

Abstract
As these citations show, realist perspectives span Hans Morgenthau’s strong emphasis on human nature and Kenneth Waltz’s focus on systemic structures explaining the likely behaviour of great powers. Despite the broad scope, realism is a well-established and very rich theoretical tradition that has produced some of the finest studies within the discipline. Theorizing within the realist tradition of thought is characterized by six main features. In the first place, realism is a tradition that essentially claims a monopoly on really understanding the realities of international politics. In this context, it is telling that the category of antonyms for realism includes notions such as idealism, utopianism, illusions, wishful thinking, symbolism and rhetoric. Second, realism is characterized by a strong sense of tragedy or, stated differently, a considerable degree of pessimism as regards the prospects of a more peaceful world. The tragedy is that we can know our fate without being able to do much about it. Hence, we are doomed to live with conflict and war. Third, most theorists within the tradition have an almost exclusive focus on ‘the political’ (as opposed to, e.g. economics, culture or religion). In addition, they employ a distinct conception of politics, defined as the kind of social action through which all human beings and states seek to exercise or maximize power. Fourth, the tradition is characterized by a clear-cut distinction between domestic and international politics, and almost exclusive priority is given to the latter sphere of politics. Fifth, the theories within the tradition are all theories of conflict. If cooperation is considered at all, it is typically in the form of military alliances, or cooperation is seen as a reflection of the balance of power. Finally, the tradition tends to cultivate a cyclical view of history, that is, power politics is considered to be an endless, repetitive form of social action to which there is no enduring solution.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 6. The International Society Tradition

Abstract
The international society tradition is a distinct major tradition of thought, mainly cultivated in Europe, yet increasingly popular worldwide, and defined by five key features. In the first place, the distinctiveness of the tradition rests on its holistic conception of international society; an anarchical society, but a society nonetheless. This anarchical state society is constituted by common values, rules and institutions. Second, theorists within the tradition refuse the relevance of the so-called domestic analogy – that is, order conditioned by hierarchical authority – pointing out the possibility and existence of a non-hierarchical international order. Third, the tradition represents an institutional approach to the study of world politics, although the so-called ‘fundamental’ institutions include a number of fairly unusual institutions, including diplomacy, balance of power, international law, great powers and war. Fourth, though the tradition is somewhat split between more or less state-centric conceptions of international society, it is a question of degree rather than kind. Finally, the tradition represents a via media perspective on international relations, that is, a middle-of-the-road perspective. Somehow, situated between realism and liberalism, it can be characterized as a splinter grouping which used to be at home either in the realist tradition (see Chapter 5) or in various internationalist perspectives (Knudsen 2000). Being a via media tradition, it is always forced to argue for its distinct nature – being more than just a blend or a diluted version of the traditions we find along the roadside. Indeed, some critics claim that the break-away from realism was merely a half-hearted farewell to (English) realism.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 7. The International Political Economy Tradition

Abstract
In the previous chapters we have seen that international political theory, liberalism, realism and the English School are theoretical traditions which primarily focus on international politics. By contrast, the international political economy (IPE) tradition focuses on the linkages between international politics and economics. This simple shift in focus produces a number of distinct theoretical currents and a rich theoretical domain in which the issues addressed and questions asked differ significantly from politics-centred traditions. In negative terms, IPE is not economics, because the discipline of economics does not usually show much interest in either the economics–politics relationship or in politics. IPE is not the study of politics, because this field of study tends to neglect the role of international economics. As just emphasized, IPE addresses the multifaceted relationship between international politics and economics, that is, the relationships between states and markets as well as between states and civil society actors, for example firms, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and a range of commercial interest groups. At the heart of the IPE tradition, we will therefore find important issue areas such as the production of commodities and services as well as the politics of trade, currencies, financial flows and export control regimes. IPE also includes topics such as globalization, foreign direct investment, development, competitiveness, economic sanctions, regional economic blocs and environmental regulation.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 8. The Post-Positivist Tradition

Abstract
During the last two decades of the 20th century and onwards, a wealth of post-positivist approaches went beyond conventional perspectives. When characterizing the tradition in general terms, it is important to remember that positivism is a philosophy of science. Hence the name of the post-positivist tradition refers to contending views within philosophy of science and, significantly, to the ramifications these different views might have for our understanding of international relations. Proponents of post-positivist approaches share a basic dissatisfaction with what are typically referred to as ‘orthodox’ or ‘mainstream’ theories; in addition they share at least some sources of inspiration; and they obviously do not subscribe to positivist criteria for knowledge production. However, the prime characteristic of the tradition is difference; indeed, some post-positivists would hate the idea of belonging to a tradition. In a sense, such reluctance is justified, because the sources of inspiration are exceptionally diverse. Thus, some draw on the so-called linguistic turn within philosophy (whether represented by philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein, John L. Austin or John R. Searle) and study the role of language, speech acts and institutional (or social) facts in world politics; others draw on French philosophers (whether Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida or Jean-Francois Lyotard) and produce genealogical, discourse analytical or deconstructive studies; still others draw on the tradition of critical theory, such as the Frankfurt School, and investigate the international political community or explore dimensions of world society, while seeking to identify emancipatory strategies.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 9. The Human–Nature Tradition

Abstract
Theories within the human–nature tradition (HNT) focus on relations between humans and nature, i.e. their material environment. The tradition is among the oldest yet most controversial traditions. Human beings have always cultivated relations with their material environment yet while humans have been viewed as separate from nature, they are also, as biological creatures, part of nature. Over time, the relationship has been given different labels, including ‘man and nature’, ‘civilization and nature’ and ‘society and nature’. This chapter focuses on ways in which theorists have theorized the international or global dimension of human–nature relations. In general terms, the human–nature tradition is characterized by six main features. First, theorists within the tradition have thoroughly conceptualized human nature, i.e. the features that go into the definition of human beings as well as the characteristics of relations between human beings and nature. These conceptions have taken a number of forms. Some theorists separate humans from nature and theorize – for instance geopolitics-style – human interaction with nature, sometimes mediated through technology. Other theorists consider humans to be part of nature and extract insights from the life sciences. Still other theorists reject the notion of ‘human nature’, claiming it is too abstract and, for example, in feminist theory-fashion dichotomize humans beings into men and women (but see Witt 2011). The following examples indicate that the human–nature tradition overlaps with other theoretical traditions. Classical realist Hans Morgenthau (1948) conceptualizes humans as animus dominandi, that is, characterized by a desire to dominate. Rational choice theorists do not focus on the complexity of human nature, but use specific assumptions – such as that human beings are self-interested, purposeful and utility-maximizing – to explain outcomes.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 10. Contemporary Inter-Tradition Debates

Abstract
Paradoxical perhaps, but exaggerated reliance on methodological rules and procedures for research tend to encourage laxity in the mind. It is likely that Hedley Bull had this risk in mind when coining his famous reminder, emphasizing that even when applying a highly ritualized methodology, we should continue to think. Political theorist Terence Ball points out a similar risk: leaning on ‘agreeable’ positions alone can impede learning. In other words, we should not forget to learn from our opponents and from contending, perhaps counter-intuitive theoretical positions. In the context of the present chapter, these statements are highly relevant because the chapter focuses on debates among theorists from contending theoretical traditions. Whereas the previous seven chapters have introduced distinct traditions of IR theory, the present and following chapters will address issues that go across these traditions. With an emphasis on contemporary debates, the present chapter introduces the debates between traditions. It is widely agreed that the IR discipline has experienced a number of inter-tradition debates and is therefore thoroughly marked and characterized by such debates. It is exactly when challenged that theorists are forced to present or defend their positions in the most succinct and efficient fashion. Furthermore, it is when challenged in such debates that theorists reach for their strongest arguments. Finally, some theorists are actually compelled, on occasion, by arguments that lead them to change their minds, indicating that they are prepared to be proven wrong.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 11. A Guide to Creative Theorizing

Abstract
In the previous chapters, seven theoretical traditions, dozens of currents of thought and numerous examples of applicable theory have been introduced (cf. Table 2.1). The chapters contribute considerable evidence to frequent claims that there is ‘One World, Many Theories’ (Walt 1998) and ‘One Field, Many Perspectives’ (Hermann 1998). Furthermore, the chapters demonstrate and confirm that the discipline is truly diverse and characterized by numerous contending perspectives. Such diversity has been praised and celebrated (Lapid 1989) though also observed with various degrees of scepticism (Lijphart 1974; Holsti 2001; Lake 2011). Finally, the previous chapters, especially Chapter 2, have addressed the issue: why theory? In the present chapter, a related issue will be addressed: how theory? How do we theorize? How do we learn to think theoretically? In this context, it is important to point out the obvious, that ‘theory’ is a noun. It refers to something that can be approached and, in principle, can be comprehended. In our context, it is something we will find in introductions to IR theory such as the one you are reading right now. In Chapter 2 of this book, we were also introduced to the pros and cons of thinking theoretically. Indeed, it is possible to learn about and account for theories without developing the competence to think theoretically.
KnudErik Jørgensen

Chapter 12. Conclusion and Perspectives

Abstract
Are textbooks simply supposed to reproduce simple popular images and well-established certainties? Are they supposed to ‘box’ theoretical richness into simple formats or reduce diversity to Mickey Mouse unity, for example by claiming that ‘realists argue’ or ‘constructivists claim’? Should founding myths be reproduced and heuristically convenient narratives outlined, for example that the discipline has developed through a number of ‘great debates’ among grand theorists? Any student can count to three or four and subsequently, with some effort, reproduce the main points about each ‘great debate’. But is such a narrative sufficient to understand the development of the discipline, not to mention the contending perspectives and theoretical debates throughout the 20th century? As demonstrated elsewhere, the idealism–realism debate took quite a distinct route and form in continental Europe (Jørgensen 2000); elsewhere, it assumed no form and took no direction at all. Furthermore, Peter Wilson (1998) has convincingly argued that the idealism–realism debate was not really a debate but rather an act of admonition by self-righteous realists in need of some idealism bashing in order to establish themselves as the new holders of the dogma of the discipline. Finally, Brian Schmidt and David Long (2005) have argued that if ever there was such a debate, it was certainly not the first debate; indeed, previous debates were characterized by themes such as imperialism and internationalism. Likewise, John Hobson (2012; see also Vitalis 2015) has convincingly demonstrated that a significant part of early 20th century theorizing had a dark side to it, specifically racism, that subsequently was whitewashed resulting in a retouched image of the early discipline. And all these qualifications concern just one self-image of the discipline – the ‘great debates’ image – cultivated in some parts of the world only.
KnudErik Jørgensen
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