Theories of International Relations
Why do we need theory?
- It’s how we explain things.
- They’re supposed to give an idea of how the world stays together.
Different theories use different lens to see global politics.
- Each theory is a different lens.
Theory and Fact.
- Facts don’t exist independently of explanatory frameworks. Facts are
pieces of information that are thought to correspond to reality and be
true, but the way in which they are perceived and judged is influenced
by theory. (O’Brien and Williams, p. 13)
Theoretical thinking involves …
- Setting the boundaries of what is included in the study. (what can you
see, who’s in the picture? Different types of actors. What is important,
what do you want to put in focus? What are you actively saying that IS
- Organizing all the objects, issues and events that have been identified
as important within the boundaries. (1. Identifying patterns of
interactions. 2. Showing how X and Y are related)
Types of Theory
- Problem-Solving (explanatory). Tries to make relationships and
institutions work better in a world that is given.
o EX. Realism and Liberalism
- Critical (Constitutive). Questions the very framework (the world) that
problem-solving theory takes a given. Stand back and look at politics;
how did we get to the political system we have now? May question why
we consider North and South states instead of other things.
o Many Critical Approaches. REALISM.
It’s the first theory to emerge with a name and a structure, and it’s the simplest.
- Arose as a reaction against Idealism in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
- It’s considered by some to be the dominant theory of International
- It draws a number of older historical scholars and philosophers
(Thucydides, Machiavelli, etc.).
- There were three broad variants -> Classical Realism (1950s, early
‘60s), Structural Realism (1960s and ‘70s) and Neo-classical Realism.
Realism in a nutshell:
- The core of international politics is the struggle for power and survival
by states. (matters the most)
- Conflict between states is the most prominent element of the
- Peace is possible but very unlikely and not permanent. (Peace is the
absence of all-out war; not necessarily the absence of any conflict)
*their definition of peace is COMPLETELY different* nations are
permanently preparing for, taking part in or recovering from war.
3 Assumptions of Realism:
- States are the most important actors (statism).
- States are rational actors in pursuing survival and power (their national
interest). *rational means that the state is unitary*
- States act in an international system of anarchy (lacks a central
government). *realists don’t consider ANY TYPE of Corporation an
actor* ** about the system**
o Anarchy is NOT chaos.it IS the lack of a central world
government to enforce the rules.
o Due to this … states must practice self-help. -> Each state
cannot assume other states will come to their defense. Therefore, each state needs to look out for themselves. *states
will always save themselves over anything else.
Assumptions 1 and 2:
- States are: the most important actors, unitary actors (see them
interacting but not how they appear on the inside) and rational actors
(their interests and make priorities based on them).
- A Realist is interested in Parsimony.
- “the more we simplify, the better we are.”
States’ Goal – their National Interest.
- National Interest: is about survival and a state’s power (which is
necessary to ensure a survival and sovereignty).
- States decisions based on power and not on other elements (ideology,
religion, culture; largely irrelevant.)
Power is Seen as …
- The possession of capabilities that allow for a state to influence the
behavior of others.
o WHAT COULD THESE CAPABILITIES INCLUDE? (geography,
military, diplomacy [sof