Role of Theory in International Politics or International Relations

Role of Theory in International Politics:

“There is no more vicious theorist than the man who says, “I have no theory; I just let the facts speak for themselves”, Prof. Charles O Lerche often raised this issue. In International Politics the facts speaking for themselves is an important issue in discussing the role of theory in International Politics. The facts can only be accomplished through conceptualizing the process of their examination. The purpose of their examination is to present well-ordered phenomena as well as to stimulate others to travel the same path. Today the theories analyze data to develop empirical theories. Now there are as many theories of International Politics as there are theorists and a host of ideas seeking advocates.

As contemporary theorists try to present data to support empirical theories, the dimensions of theories increase. They include many new concerns, which Prof. Abdul A Said has beautifully placed into the five following categories:

First, present-day theorists are concerned with the theory of theory. They raise ontological and epistemological questions. They ask how “scientific” the discipline of international relations can and should become.

The second concern of theorists is what has been called “systems analysis”: the development of hypotheses about the international system itself. Systems analysis has two primary foci: the first, dealing with the state as a responding unit within the international system; the second, concerning itself with the configuration of the international system as a whole.

A third important emphasis is on action theory: the analysis of the ways in which states and their decision-makers conduct foreign policy. Within action theory are found an analysis of ends and means, decision-making, capabilities, institutions, and the interaction of the political system and national society.

The fourth concern is interaction theory. In this area, there is much less agreement on definitions and premises than in action theory. Such theories attempt to generalize about the “patterns” of interaction and the international behaviour of the interacting units. The varieties of interaction theory deal with the balance of power, world equilibrium, gaming, “challenge and response”, and such international processes as competition, cooperation bargaining, and conflict.

Finally, many theorists are applying new research techniques, often appropriating methods from other disciplines. One example is content analysis, borrowed from the study of communications, which has opened new vistas in areas such as threat perception and symbol communication. Another is psychometrics, useful in measuring such attitudes as “friendship” or “hostility” among states. Some efforts have been invested in “political gaming”: the creation of controlled situations or games played by subjects.

Evaluation of the Role of Theory in International Politics (Objections to Theory):

Some scholars in the field have criticized the role of theory in International Politics. They are of the opinion that research of foreign affairs requires no theorizing and that any effort to theorize the subject would be to cloud the understanding of the subject.

Opposition to International Politics theory is also found among political scientists. Their line of thinking proceeds this way-

(1) The relations among nations that are important are political relations.

(2) Even if non-political relations are taken into account, these are dominated by political considerations.

(3) Therefore, it is obvious that a general theory of politics should be relevant at all levels local, national and international. The conclusion is that theoretical inquires, aimed only at explaining phenomena at the international level are somewhat misplaced and that it would be better to rely on the development of a comprehensive framework encompassing the full range of political thought and action.

The non-theorists hold that as international relational characters change from era to era, the logic must be that the rules of the game change, and hence, the theory will be stated for all times and places but instead for different parts of the world for different historical periods.

Merits of Theory in International Politics:

Theory in the study of international relations, as in any other field of social sciences, provides the following services also-

(1) It orients knowledge by furnishing the means “to put the pieces together”; when theory is well-developed, it sets forth the geography of its field; it provides a conceptual map. As Kenneth W. Thompson has aptly stated, theory “gives order and meaning to a mass of phenomena without which it would remain disconnected and unintelligible.

(2) It establishes relative priorities for further inquires by establishing criteria of significance; theory can tell us where to look next; it is as important for identifying subject about which little is known as for organizing what is well known.

(3) It spurs the search for a recurring pattern of experience; each incoming recorded fact is, in some sense, unique, but the theoretical method of grouping and integrating numerous records of unique events according to general characteristics and categories proves entirely practical for our purposes; theory organizes approximations that, to all intents and purposes, are patterns, regularities, and recurrences and events.

(4) It permits, by virtue of its ordering of facts in regular and recurring patterns, the recognition of variations in phenomenon beyond the patterns; that is, it stimulates the awareness of irregularities, accidents and other unanticipated events.

(5) When well-advanced, it is a spare and compact statement about what is known; it becomes a code that describes in short the character of the detailed knowledge within its compass.

(6) It is a vehicle of prime importance in the eventual transfer of material from special cultures to common cultures; here theory is transformed normally into reasons for prescribed conduct- for example, avoid sources of infectious diseases (germ theory) or, more tentatively, do not start a general nuclear war without expecting mutual annihilation (deterrence theory).

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