Paradigmatic Faults in International-Relations Theory


  • Authors’ note: For helpful comments and criticisms, we thank the editorial team at International Studies Quarterly, a surprising number of anonymous reviewers, J. Samuel Barkin, Jeffrey Checkel, Raymond Duvall, Stacie Goddard, Peter Howard, Victoria Hui, Yosef Lapid, Richard Ned Lebow, Jennifer Mitzen, Jennifer Sterling-Folker, as well as participants at panels at the 5th Annual Pan-European Conference on International Relations, the International Studies Association, and a conference on “Realist Constructivism” sponsored by the Mortara Center for International Studies at Georgetown University. We are particularly grateful to Michael D. Gordin and Rom Harré for general comments and suggestions. Finally, we extend special appreciation to the late Steven Poe, whose careful consideration, honesty, and willingness to take a chance on this manuscript made its publication possible.


American scholars routinely characterize the study of international relations as divided between various Kuhnian “paradigms” or Lakatosian “research programmes.” Although most international relations scholars have abandoned Kuhn’s account of scientific continuity and change, many utilize Lakatosian criteria to assess the “progressive” or “degenerative” character of various theories and approaches in the field. We argue that neither specific areas of inquiry (such as the “democratic peace”) nor broader approaches to world politics (such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism) deserve the label of “paradigms” or “research programmes.” As an alternative, we propose mapping the field through Weberian techniques of ideal-typification.