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International Relations Theory: Changes in the Hierarchy of International Politics

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"Should international relations theory be held accountable for explaining fundamental changes in the hierarchy of international politics and the emergence of new actors?" It seems absurd to answer that international relations theory should not be in the business of explaining fundamental changes in international politics. However, this response paper will argue on both edges of the question. First, it actually does make sense to attempt to hold as many things as possible constant, or as "givens" in attempting to craft explanations for events in international politics. Jumping to an explanation that involves a fundamental shift in the structure of the international system or nature of the actors, should be a last resort, rather than the first. This is a major component of Waltz's neorealism. On the other hand, this paper will demonstrate that although it is desirable to hold some variables constant in attempts to explain great variation with few premises, one must take a broad view (to either expand scope, or break the previous "givens," of neorealism) to create better explanations. Several alternative schools of thought are in fact pursuing this goal, to include rational choice, liberalism, and regime theory. These approaches attempt to craft explanations of change, while holding different elements constant. Finally, a brief word on constructivism must be considered.

Before answering this question further, we must first identify what is meant by "theories of international relations." We might initially remark that there is no unifying theory of international relations that everyone agrees upon, but instead several families / schools of thought, that may or may not form cogent explanations of observable phenomena. It is obvious ...


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...al Organization 52 4 (Autumn): 759-786.

Ikenberry, G. John. 2001. After Victory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Keohane, Robert O. 1984. After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Lake, David A and Robert Powell, eds. 1999. Strategic Choice and International Relations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tilly, Charles. 1985. “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime.” in Evans, Peter R., Dietrich Ruesdchemeyer, and Theda Skocpol, eds. Bringing the State Back In. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wagner, R. Harrison. 2007. War and the State. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1979. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wendt, Alexander. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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