A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

that established theory is normative in the sense of defining the central puzzles and legitimate concerns of a discipline and that this is not devoid of political implications, there is a dilemma here, since many if not most IR scholars take it for granted that "theory as a set of questions" is indispensable in research. The dilemma is obvious; that is not the issue. The issue is whether we should set out to refute theories by empirical observation and conceptual reflection or by examining whether their implications accord with our preferences--whether, to put it bluntly, our proper professional role is that of a truth-seeker or an ideology-producer. This is one of the matters that the debate in the discipline is about.


V Conclusion

Students of IR disagree about what ought to be their main concern (peace and security, political economy, the situation of women, etc.). They disagree over whether to favor the integration, internationalization and transnationalization of states and politics or the maintenance of national independence and identity. They differ, furthermore, as to whether their proper role is that of an activist, an analyst, or a critic--and, it seems, over the legitimate role of political persuasion in social-scientific writing. Students of IR are thus like other academics, disagreeing over matters that are political rather than academic.

They also differ over matters of substance, most fundamentally about the states system as a political institution (its impact on action, its vulnerability to change) as well as over the relative significance of various factors at various levels in accounting for foreign policy, including in particular the autonomous role of ideas. Differences over substance invigorate research, but only if there is agreement on the fundamentals of method. If there has been an appreciable consensus on these matters in the discipline, it is being challenged on three fronts: (a) what a proper analysis of action is like; (b) whether knowledge is an "arbitrary cultural construct" or whether there can be objective standards; and (c) whether theory is a constructive guide for research or an oppressive constraint on thinking. These challenges, rather than divisions over value and substance, make international relations today a fragmented discipline.

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