Show Summary Details
Page of

(p. v) Preface 

(p. v) Preface

Tim Dunne

, Milja Kurki

, and Steve Smith

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD POLITICS TROVE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Politics Trove for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

Subscriber: null; date: 17 September 2019

Welcome to the fourth edition of International Relations Theories. The responses to the previous three editions have been overwhelmingly positive and so again we haven’t made any unnecessary amendments to the content. While the theoretical ground we cover is the same, we have made two changes: first, the postcolonialism chapter is now written by Shampa Biswas; second, we have moved the normative theory chapter to later in the book, to reflect the place of discussions on normative theory in many courses. Additionally, all the chapters have been updated to reflect recently published work and the cases have been revisited to include considerations of new developments in world politics.

Rationale for the book

Underpinning the ethos of the book are a number of thematics about theory and the nature of the discipline of International Relations (IR). When using this term, we are following the important convention that distinguishes between uppercase IR denoting the academic study of International Relations, and lowercase international relations which is shorthand for the object of the discipline’s investigations (the actors, interests, institutions, and identities on a global scale). This distinction enables us to examine the sociology of knowledge of IR as a discipline: how and when it became a distinct subject, what kinds of topics get taught, where the subject is studied, and what kinds of research get funded. If we were to do away with the distinction, we would end up assuming that there is a direct read-across from the discipline to the interactions that constitute the real world of international relations.

What thematics, then, underpin this book? We highlight seven as follows:

  1. 1. Theory is the discipline’s centre of gravity. Academic IR is a broad church. It includes a number of very active subfields, many of which are motivated by applied agendas. We would argue that the centre of gravity of the field is IR theory (a point made by Ole Wæver in the concluding chapter). It is no coincidence that histories of the discipline tend to map directly onto the major theoretical contestations or debates.

  2. 2. Theory helps us to explain the world of international relations. All contributors agree that theory is central to explaining the dynamics of world politics, whether one is interested in regionalism, identity, security, or foreign policy. To put it more graphically, there is no hiding place from theory; there is no alternative but to engage with issues concerning causation, interpretation, judgement, and critique. The introduction and the opening chapter deal at some length with what theory is, how it is interpreted differently, and what is at stake in applying theory to the world.

  3. 3. Theoretical diversity is to be valued. All books on IR theory include a variety of different theoretical positions, particularly the historically dominant traditions of realism, liberalism, and Marxism: latterly, it is commonplace, especially in US-based scholarship, to include constructivism in the mix. We go much further in terms of defending diversity. To these four we have added the English school (resurgent in the last two decades), feminism, critical theory, (p. vi) and poststructuralism (powerful critical voices since the 1980s), and two relatively recent theories in the form of postcolonialism and green theory. The order of the chapters proceeds along a continuum, from established at the beginning of the book to the newer theories at the end. This does not mean, however, that we believe the established traditions ought to be discounted for being ‘old’; indeed, the fact that we allocate two chapters to realism and neorealism, and liberalism and neoliberalism, underscores the importance we attach to these two rich theoretical perspectives, as well as recognizing the presence of a significant fault line within each.

  4. 4. Theoretical diversity is contested. Related to the above, we are aware of the fact that the positive value we attach to theoretical diversity is not universally shared. Many established scholars think that the core of the discipline—the focus on interstate dynamics of conflict and cooperation—is being undermined. We disagree. We think more is better, and that theoretical pluralism not only enables old issues to be addressed in new ways, but also opens up new agendas which speak more directly to changing threats and potentialities. As Steve Smith shows in his introduction, inside the thick walls of the academy, this debate has generated a great deal of anxiety. Those committed to a particularly narrow concept of theory as a set of propositions formulated as testable hypotheses have unnecessarily sought to discipline diversity.

  5. 5. The limits to theoretical diversity. The book does not have a clear answer to the question whether there are limits to theoretical diversity. On the one hand, the arguments we advance for letting new voices be heard must be extended into the future. Yet, on the other, we agree with Ole Wæver that theoretical innovation within existing perspectives is more likely (hence the proliferation of different ‘wings’ within each overarching theory, discussed in the chapters themselves).

  6. 6. Choosing between theories. Those who advocate theoretical diversity need to confront the question—often posed by students—how to decide between them. The introduction goes into this issue in some detail. At this stage we remind our readers that each contributor is defending his or her particular theory. As Milja Kurki and Colin Wight put it in the first chapter, it is important that we remember theorists are ‘selling’ their ideas. They may not always admit to the weaknesses in their own position, which is why it is important for ‘buyers’ to read the alternatives.

  7. 7. Diversity and the reinvention of the discipline. The penultimate chapter by Colin Hay differs from the previous fourteen chapters in that it is not ‘selling’ a particular IR theory in the same sense as the others. Instead, the reader will find an analysis of the impact globalization is having on mainstream IR theories such as realism. Rather than concluding that changes in global politics have brought the legitimacy of the entire discipline into question, both Hay in Chapter 15 and Wæver in Chapter 16 recognize that there are powerful structures at work which will ensure the ongoing resilience of IR.