The New International Studies Classroom: Active Teaching, Active Learning

By Jeffrey S. Lantis; Lynn M. Kuzma et al. | Go to book overview

3 Teaching International
Relations Theory Through
Foreign Policy Cases

Joe D. Hagan

For many theoretically oriented teachers of international relations, this chapter's title might appear to be an exercise in wishful thinking or an outright contradiction. At the heart of this skepticism are suspicions that case studies are simply descriptive narratives about decisionmakers, their perceptions, and how they arrived at decisions; that cases are essentially atheoretical and, at best, provide anecdotal illustrations to supplement lectures on various international relations theories. Furthermore, cases can be dismissed because much of what they describe about leaders and decisionmaking is not crucial to understanding the fundamental dynamics underlying world politics. These skeptics would note that reigning perspectives such as neorealism and neoliberalism persuasively treat government decisions as dictated by deeper systemic forces1 and that even state-level theories such as the democratic peace see leaders as driven by domestic structures. Many international relations scholars likely view cases as a supplement to researching and teaching theories of international relations.

My argument in this chapter is that traditional case studies, that is, detailed narratives, are actually an excellent means of enhancing the theoretical content of both foreign policy and international relations courses.2 I argue that this is true in at least four ways: that cases specifically (1) cover historical events and trends efficiently and thereby create class time for theoretical discussion, (2) illustrate core concepts in foreign policy decisionmaking theories, (3) suggest the deeper domestic sources of foreign policy, and (4) ultimately provide

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