Monday, December 20, 2004

It Works in Practice, But Will it Work in Theory???

How well do the different schools of international relations (IR) theory do in telling us how the world works? Columbia University's Jack L. Snyder has an interesting article in the November/December 2004 issue of Foreign Policy that attacks this issue. The jist of his piece is that no matter what brand of IR theory one prefers, there are strengths and weaknesses inherent in them all that must be taken into account. This is an important discussion because theory, no matter how much it is dumped upon, always informs policy, even when the practitioner does not explicitly invoke theory. Theory is also important because as Samuel Huntington makes clear in The Soldier and the State (p. vii):

Understanding requires theory; theory requires abstraction; and abstraction requires the simplification and ordering of reality. No theory can explain all the facts…. Obviously, the real world is one of blends, irrationalities, and incongruities; actual personalities, institutions, and beliefs do not fit into neat logical categories. Yet neat logical categories are necessary if man is to think profitably about the real world in which he lives and to derive from it lessons for broader application and use. He is forced to generalize about phenomena which never quite operate according to the laws of human reason.

James Kurth also had an interesting take on the state of international relations theory in the fall 1998 issue of The National Interest.


Blogger Anthony said...

Good stuff. Coincidentally, a member of the faculty at King's made the comment a few weeks ago in a lecture that there's probably quite an interesting PhD thesis waiting to be written on the extent to which IR academics "practice what they preach" when they make the switch from acadaemia to policy implementation.

If memory serves - and I'd need to go and have a refresher read of it as it's been a little while and he tends to go stream of consciousness on an epic scale - the discussion of the "chaotic" (or otherwise) nature of strategy in Colin Gray's "Strategy for Chaos" is also worth looking at on this sort of issue.


5:12 PM  

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