Lecture at: 01/13/2014
C LASS N OTES FOR : 2J03
McMaster University, Fall 2013
Monday, January 13, y
- Nigerian author talking about the dangers of a single story
GPE T HEORIES
- Think of this section as methods, talking about things such as rational choice, constructivist, etc.
- These can be different ways of presenting a ‘story’
- The role of theories:
- Why do we need theories or use theories?
o Theories are used by different people for different purposes*
o Ordering facts
When we look at the world and trying to understand what is happening
We are faced with a complex picture with millions of acts
Need to decide where we will start
Which are those that are important and those that are not?
Theories alert you to what relationships are particularly important and where you
should start your investigation
• Example of climate change:
• There are so many facts behind climate change; it is useful to have a
theory to start off.
• Perhaps science of climate change?
• Other theory political conspiracy (certain groups are out there to further
their own interest and to take advantage of you)
Many theories are created to help us predict what is going to happen next.
Economics - posits a world that operates according to certain principles
• These principles are studied and then applied to help us predict what is
going to happen
• If you raise interest rates it will money more expensive and costly to
• It will slow down economic activity because people can’t borrow so much
• Theory that if you lower interest rates, money becomes cheaper and
people spend more and as such the economy will grow.
Prediction and understanding are alternatives way of looking at the world
This is about trying to figure out why things have happened and why things will
The reason why its different from prediction, because most people that claim that
their main goal is to understand, BELIEVE that you CANNOT predict
Social reality is so complex that you cannot get all of the variables correct.
Cannot do everything in a vacuum - there is always something that is changing.
Angie © McMaster University 1
Fall 2013 Lecture at: 01/13/2014
Approach is trying to understand how things are working, and being reluctant that
if we do this, this is going to happen.
Theories are important for action, need to have some sort of theories about what
the CAUSAL mechanisms are!
To secure something - need to understand what creates power, wealth and so on.
How do we get this and how do we deploy it?
Need to have theoretical framework in order to understand how to get something
- Why so many theories?
o (1) ROBERT COX - “Theory is always for someone and for some purpose”
Theory is not neutral or natural
That there is always some group looking for a theory and looking to use to do
• Russia in 1900s - Different theories about how the Russian state works
and what it does.
• CZAR - Particular theory about how the state should be operated.
Modernization, to secure the power of the Czar and imperial Russia.
• CONTEMPORARY OF LENIN - Oppressive institution, serving the
class interests of the aristocracy, ideas about what should be done. Seize
the state, overthrow the aristocracy and implement a different
• Two different sets of social interests and goals
Alot of different theories about how the world works and what should be done
o (2) HARD TO DISPROVE -
If in the natural sciences; can run experiments to test tenants of the theory
Even if argued from cases, the adherence of a theory falls back that it wasn’t a
E.G Communism in Soviet Union - Communism fai