Agency, Structure, and International Politics: From Ontology to Empirical Inquiry

Agency, Structure, and International Politics: From Ontology to Empirical Inquiry

Agency, Structure, and International Politics: From Ontology to Empirical Inquiry

Agency, Structure, and International Politics: From Ontology to Empirical Inquiry

Synopsis

The concepts of agency and structure are of increasing and defining importance to international relations and politics as fields of enquiry and knowledge. This is the first book to explore the two concepts in depth in that context. The agent-structure problem refers to questions concerning the interrelationship of agency and structure, and to the ways in which explanations of social phenomena integrate and account for them. This is an important contribution to the study of international relations and politics.

Excerpt

What is it about the way back that makes it seem shorter? Most likely it is the familiarity and the increased understanding that we acquire along the way out. This study began as a circumscribed critique of Alexander Wendt’s discussion of various ontological, epistemological, and methodological dimensions of the ever-illusive “agent-structure problem,” and of Wendt and Dessler’s claim that structuration theory represents a progressive research program for the study of international relations. We believed that the works of these scholars were limited and weakened by their omission of earlier contributions to the international politics agent-structure problem. These were initially presented in the work of Harold and Margaret Sprout, later revised and popularized in the work of Harvey Starr and his collaborators, especially the publications with Benjamin A. Most. Through the opportunity and willingness framework, Starr had devoted fruitful attention to the agent-structure problem for over a decade prior to the work of Wendt and Dessler.

Despite the relatively limited objectives characterizing the initiation of this study, we soon came to perceive a broader enterprise. We came to recognize that contribution to metatheoretical analysis required attention to some meaningful subset of the vast body of literature contemplating social theory and epistemology. Concomitantly, we came to support the normative view that the ultimate value of metatheoretical considerations derives from their contribution to the construction of compelling frameworks for the conduct of empirical inquiry. the analytic parameters of this study thus evolved from a rather narrow critique of a handful of works by international politics scholars concerned with the agent-structure problem to nothing less than extensive metatheoretical and substantive-theoretic deliberation.

The magnitude of the task has ensured the modesty, if not the incompleteness, of the arguments to follow. the metatheoretical analysis suffers from a most cursory reading of social theory and philosophy of science, and from a failure to represent a thorough review of the international politics agent-structure literature. Similarly, the development of substantively meaningful implications for empirical analysis from these metatheoretical considerations raises at least as many questions as are answered.

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