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About this book

A major new textbook on International Relations theory written by a leading scholar, suitable for any course on IR theory at either undergraduate or master's level. The text goes beyond an exploration of the main contending theories in IR and provides cross-cutting coverage of current key issues and debates. Jørgensen also examines the philosophical commitments behind the different theories and suggests how different philosophical formats shape theories differently and trigger different research agendas. In addition there is a unique chapter explaining how to do theory, which guides students in applying their own theories about world politics to their studies. An essential read for students of Politics and IR.

Table of Contents

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 science, there are several contending theoretical perspectives and approaches. There is nothing we can do about the fact that the social 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, that is, the main layers of theoretical reflections on international relations.
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 1. 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 1.1 shows ten different yet overlapping reasons).
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 2. 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.
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 3. 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 6). 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.
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 4. The Realist Tradition

Abstract
As the citations above show, realist perspectives span Hans Morgenthau’s strong emphasis on human nature and Kenneth Waltz’s focus on systemic structures explaining the 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.
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 5. 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 4) or in various internationalist perspectives (Knudsen 2000).
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 6. 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.
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 7. 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.
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 8. Contemporary Inter-Tradition Debates

Abstract
Paradoxical perhaps, but exaggerated reliance on methodological rules and procedures for research tend to lax 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.
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 9. A Guide to Creative Theorizing

Abstract
In the previous chapters, six theoretical traditions, 17 currents of thought and numerous examples of applicable theory have been introduced (cf. Table 1.1). 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). Finally, the previous chapters, especially Chapter 1, 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?
Knud Erik Jørgensen

Chapter 10. 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?
Knud Erik Jørgensen
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