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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - International Relations Theory in an Age of Critical Diversity

from 1 - Theories of International Relations



This chapter introduces students to the range of theoretical perspectives and issues that have animated the study of international relations down the years. First, it explains why theoretical reflection is indispensable to explaining and understanding international relations. Second, it addresses unavoidable ontological and epistemological issues in the quest for theoretical understanding. Third, it traces the growth of mainstream international relations theory. Finally, it analyses the rise of diverse critical approaches to the study of international relations.

The necessity of theory

Students in International Relations (IR) are often wary of ‘doing’ theory. Sometimes they are frightened of it, sometimes hostile to it. The reasons for these attitudes vary. Theory, it is often proclaimed, is too difficult, too abstract or irrelevant to the real world. Thankfully, these attitudes are changing as IR students become more aware of sophisticated debates about the nature and role of theory in understanding and explaining the real world they speak of and live in. These debates illustrate that theorising is not something one can choose to avoid; that in the process of giving meaning to the things, peoples, events and controversies in the world, we are engaged in a theoretical process, explicitly or otherwise.

Further reading
Burchill, ScottLinklater, Andrew 2009 Theories of international relationsLondonPalgrave
Dunne, TimKurki, MiljaSmith, Steve 2007 International relations theories: discipline and diversityOxfordOxford University Press
George, Jim 1994 Discourses of global politics: a critical (re)introduction to international relationsBoulderLynne Rienner
Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus 2010 The conduct of inquiry in international relations: philosophy of science and its implications for the study of world politicsLondonRoutledge
Waltz, Kenneth 1979 Theory of international politicsNew YorkRandom House