Faced with scepticism about the status of grand theory in International Relations, scholars are re-evaluating Kenneth Waltz’s contribution to theoretical debates in the field. Readers of Waltz have variously recast his work as structural functionalist, scientific realist and classical realist in liberal clothing. We contribute to this re-evaluation by systematically assembling misreadings of Waltz that continue to occur across all of International Relations’ schools — that his theory is positivist, rationalist and materialist — and offering a coherent synthesis of his main contributions to International Relations theory. By linking Theory of International Politics to both Man, the State, and War and Waltz’s post-1979 clarifications, we show that Waltz offers International Relations scholars a coherent vision of the worth and method of grand theory construction that is uniquely ‘international’. In particular, we focus on Waltz’s methodology of theory building and use of images, demonstrating these to be underappreciated but crucially important aspects of Waltz’s work. We finish by proposing methodological, practical and pedagogical ‘takeaways’ for International Relations scholars that emerge from our analysis.
IR scholars have made increasingly sophisticated use of historical analysis in the last two decades. To do so, they have appealed to theories or philosophies of history, tacitly or explicitly. However, the plurality of approaches to these theories has gone largely unsystematized. Nor have their implications been compared. Such historical-theoretic orientations concern the 'problem of history': the theoretical question of how to make the facts of the past coherently intelligible. We aim to make these assumptions explicit, and to contrast them systematically. In so doing, we show theories of history are necessary: IR-theoretic research unavoidably has tacit or overt historical-theoretic commitments. We locate the field's current historical commitments in a typology, along two axes. Theories of history may be either familiar to the observer or unfamiliar. They may also be linear, having a long-term trajectory, nonlinear, lacking such directionality, or multilinear, proceeding along multiple trajectories. This comparative exercise both excavates the field's sometimes-obscured commitments and shows some IR theorists unexpectedly share commitments, while others unexpectedly do not. We argue that better awareness of historical-theoretic reasoning, embedded in all IR uses and invocations of history, may encourage the discipline become more genuinely plural.
Why is there no reactionary international theory? International Relations has long drawn on a range of traditions in political thought. However, no current or recent major IRtheoretic school is expressly reactionary. This is surprising both because reaction was once common in IR, and is now common in world politics. We define reaction as a form of political nostalgia: a belief the past was better than the present and likely future, generally accompanied by a desire to recover that prior condition. The current lack of reactionary IR impacts the field's capacity to make sense both of its own history and of reactionary practice in the world. In this exploratory account, we provide a definition of reaction, then show no current school of IR theory falls within it-but that it nonetheless once deeply shaped the field. We survey reactionary ideas in the history of political thought, finding a cogent and persistent tradition. We then explore the impact of reactionary ideas on the practice of world politics, identifying two distinct varieties of reactionary state and illustrating them empirically. We conclude by considering the question of why reaction is now absent from IR theory-yet all around us in world politics.
History has provided a site of theoretical inquiry for scholars of International Relations since the discipline’s inception. However, serious and sustained historical inquiry has only returned to the foreground of international studies in the last two decades or so, after a prolonged period of postwar uninterest. How can scholars identify moments or processes of systematic change? Does history have a long run structure or trajectory? Moreover, scholars have begun to take seriously the epistemological problem of historicism. International relations scholarship on history during this period addresses the intersection of theory and history in four broad ways. The first encompasses substantive historical studies that take history as a site of theory building about world politics. Here, accounts of early modern Europe, ancient China, precolonial South Asia, European colonial expansion, and other settings have challenged previous historical narratives that assert or assume linear progress or realist cyclicality alike. A second category follows on the first, comprising a plurality of methodological turns. Here, scholars have developed ways of inquiring into history, ranging across macrohistorical or structural analysis, rationalist accounts of international-system building, relational accounts of international hierarchies, discursive accounts of colonialism and resistance, and others. A third focuses directly on theoretical questions drawn from philosophy of history. These works aim to provide not methods of historical inquiry so much as theoretical tools for thinking philosophically about the historical long run itself. Fourth and finally, scholars of the history of international thought have developed contextualist accounts of the intellectual history of international theory. These approaches rethink how theory interfaces with history by interrogating international thought itself.
scite is a Brooklyn-based organization that helps researchers better discover and understand research articles through Smart Citations–citations that display the context of the citation and describe whether the article provides supporting or contrasting evidence. scite is used by students and researchers from around the world and is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health.
334 Leonard St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Copyright © 2024 scite LLC. All rights reserved.
Made with 💙 for researchers
Part of the Research Solutions Family.