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This chapter discusses the different theories and approaches that characterize the study of international relations. Mainstream theories focus on the ways that states interact with one another in circumstances where no overarching authority governs their behavior — in other words, under conditions of anarchy. These theories include structural realism, neoliberal institutionalism, and the scholarship on relational contracting. An important alternative perspective — the English School — argues that, even under anarchic conditions, there is a high degree of orderliness in world affairs. Meanwhile, proponents of constructivism assert that states take shape in specific historical contexts, and that the conditions under which states coalesce and become socialized to one another play a crucial role in determining how they conceive of themselves and formulate their basic interests. Scholars of the Middle East have so far addressed only a fraction of the many theoretical debates and controversies that energize the field of international relations.

Chapter

Christian Reus-Smit

This chapter examines debates surrounding the nature and efficacy of modern international law. It begins by discussing the reasons why international societies construct institutions, and why different sorts of institutions have emerged in different historical contexts. It then considers the nature and origins of the modern institution of international law, its relationship with the practice of multilateralism, and the recent cosmopolitanization of the global legal order. It also explores the laws of war and concludes with an overview of different theoretical approaches to international law such as realism, neoliberal institutionalism, and constructivism. Two case studies are presented: the first is about whether international law is an expression of Western dominance and the second is about individual criminal accountability in non-Western countries. There is also an Opposing Opinions box that asks whether international law has any real effect on the nature and conduct of international relations.

Chapter

This chapter examines how actors and structures make foreign policy an extremely complicated field of study and how, in view of this complexity, these actors and structures have been treated in the literature on foreign policy analysis. It first provides a historical background on the field of foreign policy before discussing the role of actors and structures in ‘process’ and ‘policy’ approaches to foreign policy. In particular, it describes approaches to foreign policy based on a structural perspective, namely: realism, neoliberal institutionalism, and social constructivism. It then considers evaluates approaches from an actor-based perspective: cognitive and psychological approaches, bureaucratic politics approach, new liberalism, and interpretative actor perspective. The chapter also looks at the agency–structure problem and asks whether an integrated framework is feasible before concluding with a recommendation of how to resolve the former in terms of a constructive answer to the latter.