Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

The agent-structure problem in international relations theory

  • Alexander E. Wendt (a1)
Abstract

While neorealism and world-system theory both claim to be “structural” theories of international relations, they embody very different understandings of system structure and structural explanation. Neorealists conceptualize system structures in individualist terms as constraining the choices of preexisting state agents, whereas world-system theorists conceptualize system structures in structuralist terms as generating state agents themselves. These differences stem from what are, in some respects, fundamentally opposed solutions to the “agent-structure” or “micromacro” problem. This opposition, however, itself reflects a deeper failure of each theory to recognize the mutually constitutive nature of human agents and system structures—a failure which leads to deep-seated inadequacies in their respective explanations of state action. An alternative solution to the agent-structure problem, adapted from “structuration theory” in sociology, can overcome these inadequacies by avoiding both the reduction of system structures to state actors in neorealism and their reification in world-system theory. Structuration theory requires a philosophical basis in scientific realism, arguably the “new orthodoxy” in the philosophy of natural science, but as yet largely unrecognized by political scientists. The scientific realist/structuration approach generates an agenda for “structural-historical” research into the properties and dispositions of both state actors and the system structures in which they are embedded.

Copyright
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Richard Ashley's The Poverty of Neorealism,” International Organization 38 (Spring1984), pp. 225–86

Immanuel Wallerstein , “The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 16 (091974), pp. 387415

Christopher Chase-Dunn and Richard Rubinson , “Toward a Structural Perspective on the World-System,” Politics and Society 7 (no. 4, 1977), pp. 453–76

Theda Skocpol's Wallerstein's World Capitalist System: A Theoretical and Historical Critique,” American Journal of Sociology 82 (031977), pp. 1075–90

Anthony Giddens , who has articulated its basic problematic in his Central Problems in Social Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979)

Pierre Bourdieu , Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977)

Derek Gregory , “Human Agency and Human Geography,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 6 (no. 1, 1981), pp. 118

Derek Gregory and John Urry , eds., Social Relations and Spatial Structures (London: MacMillan, 1985)

James Rosenau , “Before Cooperation: Hegemons, Regimes, and Habit-Driven Actors in World Politics,” International Organization 40 (Autumn1986), pp. 849–94

Robert Gilpin , War and Change in World Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981)

Richard Ashley , “Three Modes of Economism,” International Studies Quarterly 27 (121983), pp. 463–96

Duncan Snidal , “The Game Theory of International Politics,” World Politics 38 (101985), pp. 2557

Spiro Latsis , “Situational Determinism in Economics,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 23 (081972), pp. 207–45

Fritz Machlup , “Situational Determinism in Economics,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 25 (091974), pp. 271–84

Maurice Mandelbaum , “Societal Facts,” British Journal of Sociology 6 (1955)

Steven Lukes , “Methodological Individualism Reconsidered,” British Journal of Sociology 19 (061968), pp. 119–29

Harold Kincaid , “Reduction, Explanation, and Individualism,” Philosophy of Science 53 (121986), pp. 492513

Terry Moe , “On the Scientific Status of Rational Models,” American Journal of Political Science 23 (021979), pp. 215–43

Christopher Chase-Dunn and Joan Sokolovsky , “Interstate Systems, World-Empires and the Capitalist World-Economy: A Response to Thompson,” International Studies Quarterly 27 (091983), pp. 357–67

Derek Layder , “Problems in Accounting for the Individual in Marxist-Rationalist Theoretical Discourse,” British Journal of Sociology 30 (061979), p. 150

Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff , “The Theory of Transitional Conjunctures and the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism,” Review of Radical Political Economics 11 (Fall1979), pp. 322

James Farr , “Marx's Laws,” Political Studies 34 (061986), pp. 202–22

Bas van Fraassen , The Scientific Image (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980)

Ian Hacking , Representing and Intervening (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983)

Richard Boyd , “On the Current Status of the Issue of Scientific Realism,” Erkenntnis 19 (051983), pp. 4590

Jerrold Aronson , A Realist Philosophy of Science (New York: St. Martins, 1984)

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's Toward a Scientific Understanding of International Conflict: A Personal View,” International Studies Quarterly 29 (061985), pp. 121–36

Elinor Ostrom's An Agenda for the Study of Institutions,” Public Choice 48 (no. 1, 1986), p. 19

Geoffrey Hellman , “Realist Principles,” Philosophy of Science 50 (061983), especially pp. 231–32

Richard Schlagel , “A Reasonable Reply to Hume's Skepticism,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 35 (121984), pp. 359–74

Philip Kitcher , Bas van Fraassen , and Wesley Salmon in “Approaches to Explanation,” The Journal of Philosophy 82 (111985), pp. 632–54

Daniel Hausman , “Are There Causal Relations among Dependent Variables?Philosophy of Science 50 (031983), pp. 5881

David Miller , “Back to Aristotle,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 23 (021972), pp. 6978

Fred Wilson , “Harre and Madden on Analyzing Dispositional Concepts,” Philosophy of Science 52 (121985), pp. 591607

Ira Cohen makes this particular distinction in “The Status of Structuration Theory: A Reply to McLennan,” Theory, Culture, and Society 3 (no. 1, 1986), pp. 123–34

Bear and Mouse or Bear and Tree? Anthony Giddens' Reconstitution of Social Theory,” Sociology 19 (111985), pp. 609–23

Alex Callinicos , “Anthony Giddens: A Contemporary Critique,” Theory and Society 14 (031985), pp. 133–66

Peter Manicas , “The Concept of Social Structure,” Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 10 (071980), pp. 6582

Michael Resnick , “Mathematics as a Science of Patterns: Ontology and Reference,” Nous 15 (111981), pp. 529–50

Stewart Shapiro , “Mathematics and Reality,” Philosophy of Science 50 (121983), pp. 523–48

Theda Skocpol's State and Social Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)

History and Theory 20 (no. 2, 1981), pp. 204–18

Margaret Archer , “Morphogenesis versus Structuration: On Combining Structure and Action,” British Journal of Sociology 33 (121982), pp. 455–83

Nicky Gregson , “On Duality and Dualism: The Case of Structuration Theory and Time Geography,” Progress in Human Geography 10 (061986), pp. 184205

Robert Art , “Bureaucratic Politics and American Foreign Policy: A Critique,” Policy Sciences 4 (121973), pp. 467–90

Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst in Mode of Production and Social Formation (London: MacMillan, 1977)

Theda Skocpol , “Political Response to Capitalist Crisis: Neo-Marxist Theories of the State and the Case of the New Deal,” Politics and Society 10 (no. 2, 1981), pp. 155201

Michael Mann , “The Autonomous Power of the State,” European Journal of Sociology 25 (no. 2, 1984), pp. 185213

Nicos Mouzelis , Politics in the Semi-Periphery (New York: St. Martins, 1986)

Bruce Andrews , “Social Rules and the State as a Social Actor,” World Politics 27 (071975), pp. 521–40

Robert Cox , “Gramsci, Hegemony, and International Relations: An Essay in Method,” Millenium 12 (Summer1983), pp. 162–75

James March and Johan Olsen , “The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life,” American Political Science Review 78 (091984), pp. 734–48

Christopher Dandeker , “Theory and Practice in Sociology: The Critical Imperatives of Realism,” Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 13 (071983), pp. 195210

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 644 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 4352 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 26th May 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.