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Book description

What do we mean by theory in international relations? What kinds of knowledge do theories seek? How do they stipulate it is found? How should we evaluate any resulting knowledge claims? What do answers to these questions tell us about the theory project in IR, and in the social sciences more generally? Lebow explores these questions in a critical evaluation of the positivist and interpretivist epistemologies. He identifies tensions and problems specific to each epistemology, and some shared by both, and suggests possible responses. By exploring the relationship between the foundations of theories and the empirical assumptions they encode, Lebow's analysis enables readers to examine in greater depth the different approaches to theory and their related research strategies. This book will be of interest to students and scholars of international relations theory and philosophy of social science.


'Lebow offers an impressively grand tour of important debates and distinctions in IR, seasoned with his own eyewitness accounts as a participant in many of the discussions he surveys. He also doubles down on the the project of defining and pulling together a relatively coherent 'interpretivist' approach to juxtapose to a 'positivist' canon. Does the campaign succeed? Read the book and judge for yourself!'

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson - American University

'Ned Lebow’s Quest for Knowledge asks what scholars can come to know about international relations. Lebow provides a powerful argument advancing his highly-nuanced interpretivist-reflectivist methodology. At the same time, Quest surveys the range of current methodological approaches, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each, including his own version of interpretivism. Methodology is, as Lebow rightly observes, only the tip of an iceberg, in that each approach is built upon a complex of metaphysical and epistemological premises - premises that the book makes explicit. Quest for Knowledge is another superb scholarly work by Lebow, and is essential reading for anyone interested in the legitimacy of various social science methods.'

Fred Chernoff - Harvey Picker Professor of International Relations, Colgate University

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