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Knowing and judging in International Relations theory: realism and the reflexive challenge


This article addresses the notion of reflexivity in international theory through an attempt to transcend the dichotomy between knowledge and judgement. It intends to demonstrate that neither ‘philosophical’ nor ‘scientific’ approaches to world politics can reconcile cognitive and evaluative claims, but that such an endeavour may be envisaged within a certain conception of knowledge, science and facts. A comparison of Morton Kaplan's approach with Hans Morgenthau's and Kenneth Waltz's suggests what kind of theoretical alternatives can bring together these two seemingly incommensurable orders of discourse under a unified, foundationally reflexive epistemology.

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1 Weber, Max, ‘The Meaning of “Ethical Neutrality” in Sociology and Economics’ and ‘“Objectivity” in Social Science and Social Policy’, in Shils, E. A. and Finch, H. A. (eds), Max Weber on The Methodology of the Social Sciences (Glencoe: Free Press, 1949), pp. 147, 49112 .

2 Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 2005) ; Althusser, Louis, On Ideology (London: Verso, 2008) .

3 I use the terms ‘reflective’ and ‘reflexive’ to convey the two meanings of ‘reflection’: the subject is reflective of external structures (like a mirror is of light) and is reflexive when she reflects on her own thought.

4 Bourdieu, Pierre, ‘l’objectivation du sujet de l'objectivation', Science de la science et réflexivité (Paris: Raisons d'Agir, 2001) .

5 Cox, Robert, ‘Social Forces, States, and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 10:2 (1981), pp. 126155 .

6 Smith, Steve, ‘The Self-Images of a Discipline: A Genealogy of International Relations Theory’, in Booth, Ken and Smith, Steve (eds), International Relations Theory Today (Oxford: Polity Press, 1995), pp. 137 .

7 Mark Neufeld, ‘The Reflexive Turn in International Relations Theory’, CISS Working Papers # 4 (1991); Onuf, Nicholas, ‘Worlds of our Making: The Strange Career of Constructivism in International Relations’, in Puchala, Donald J. (ed.), Visions of International Relations: Assessing an Academic Field (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), pp. 119141 ; Robert Cox, ‘Social Forces’; Steve Smith, ‘Self-Images’.

8 Smith, Steve, ‘The US and the Discipline of International Relations: “Hegemonic Country, Hegemonic Discipline”’, International Studies Review, 4:2 (2002), pp. 6785 ; Geller, Daniel S. and Vasquez, John A., ‘The Construction and Cumulation of Knowledge in International Relations: Introduction’, International Studies Review, 6 (2004), pp. 16 ; Widmaier, Wesley W., ‘Theory as a Factor and the Theorist as an Actor: The “Pragmatist Constructivist” Lessons of John Dewey and John Kenneth Galbraith’, International Studies Review, 6 (2004), pp. 427445 ; Agnew, John, ‘Know-Where: Geographies of Knowledge of World Politics’, International Political Sociology, 1 (2007), pp. 130148 ; Pouliot, Vincent, ‘“Sobjectivism”: Toward a Constructivist Methodology’, International Studies Quarterly, 51 (2007), pp. 359384 .

9 Keohane, Robert, ‘International Institutions: Two Approaches’, International Studies Quarterly, 32:4 (1988), pp. 379396 .

10 Frost, Mervyn, Ethics in International Relations: A Constitutive Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) ; Cochrane, Molly, Normative Theory in International Relations: A Pragmatic Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) .

11 Ashley, Richard, ‘The Poverty of Neorealism’, in Keohane, Robert O. (ed.), Neorealism and its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 255300 ; Cox, Robert, (1985) ‘Realism, Positivism and Historicism’, in Cox, Robert with Sinclair, Timothy (eds), Approaches to World Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 4959 .

12 The author is aware of at least the following simplifications: that the opposition between science and philosophy cannot be asserted outside of a given philosophy of knowledge whereby these terms are defined; that the relationship between philosophy and sociology needs a similar epistemic qualification; that each discipline is characterised by a plethora of contending paradigms that prevents these naked terms from being self-explanatory; and that consequently these oppositions need a whole different inquiry, and another article, to be fully addressed.

13 Crawford, Robert M. A., Idealism and Realism in International Relations: Beyond the Discipline (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 10 .

14 Williams, Michael C., ‘Introduction’, in Williams, Michael C. (ed.), Realism Reconsidered: The Legacy of Hans J. Morgenthau (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 117 .

15 Hoffmann, Stanley, ‘Theory and International Relations’, in Hoffmann, Stanley (ed.), The State of War: Essays on the Theory and Practice of International Relations (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965), p. 7 .

16 Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of International Politics (Reading: Addison Wesley, 1979) .

17 Morgenthau, Hans, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: MacGraw Hill, 1993) .

18 Morgenthau, Hans, Scientific Man Versus Power Politics, 5th edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965) .

19 Morgenthau, Scientific Man.

20 Morgenthau, Hans, Dilemmas of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958) .

21 Cozette, Murielle, ‘Reclaiming the Critical Dimension of Realism: Hans J. Morgenthau and the Ethics of Scholarship’, Review of International Studies, 34 (2008), pp. 527 .

22 Morgenthau, Scientific Man, pp. 154, 162.

23 Ibid., p. 123.

24 Ibid., p. 141.

25 Ibid., pp. 142–3.

26 Ibid., p. 144 (emphasis added).

27 Ibid., p. 161.

28 Ibid., p. 195.

29 Ibid., p. 167.

30 Weber, Max, The Vocation Lectures (edited by Owen, David and Strong, Tracy) (London: Hackett, 2004) .

31 Morgenthau, Dilemmas, pp. 51–2.

32 Morgenthau, Scientific Man, p. 165.

33 In Politics Among Nations, Morgenthau develops the notion of ‘ideology’ to account for the axiological, moral, and normative discourse that accompanies, serves, and sustains national foreign policies. He also considers ‘normative systems’ such as ‘morality, mores, and law’ as sociologically important manifestations of ‘restraints on power’, similar in function to the state-led mechanism of the ‘balance of power’. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, pp. 104–5.

34 Morgenthau, Scientific Man, p. 163.

35 Morgenthau, Dilemmas, pp. 27–8.

36 Williams, Michael C., The Realist Tradition and the Limits of International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 124 .

37 Aron, Raymond, ‘Qu’est-ce qu'une théorie des relations internationales?', Revue Française de Science Politique, 27:5 (1967), pp. 837861 .

38 Waltz, Theory, p. 69.

39 Ibid., p. 8.

40 Waltz, Kenneth, Man, the State and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959) .

41 Waltz, Theory, p. 6.

42 Waltz, Man.

43 Waltz, Kenneth, ‘The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 18:4 (1988), pp. 615628 .

44 Ashley, ‘Poverty’.

45 Kenneth Waltz, ‘Reflections on Theory of International Politics: A Response to My Critics’, in Keohane (ed.), Neorealism, pp. 322–45.

46 Wendt, Alexander, ‘The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory’, International Organization, 41:7 (1987), pp. 338343 ; Griffiths, Martin, Realism, Idealism and International Politics: A Reinterpretation (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 115116 ; Guzzini, Stefano, ‘A Reconstruction of Constructivism in International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 6:2 (2000), pp. 147182 .

47 Waltz, ‘Reflections’ and ‘Origins’.

48 Waltz, Man.

49 Waltz, Theory, pp. 1–2.

50 Ibid., pp. 5–6.

51 Ibid., p. 91 (emphasis added).

52 Rosenau, James, ‘International Studies in a Transnational World’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 5:1 (1976), pp. 120 .

53 Viotti, Paul and Kauppi, Mark, International Relations Theory: Realism, Pluralism, Globalism (New York: Macmillan, 1987), p. 562 ; Brown, Chris (with Ainley), Kirsten, Understanding International Relations, 3rd edition (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 34 .

54 Guzzini, Stefano, Realism in International Relations and International Political Economy: the Continuing Story of a Death Foretold (London: Routledge, 2002) .

55 Waltz, Theory, pp. 113–4.

56 Schroeder, Paul, ‘Historical Reality vs. Neo-Realist Reality’, International Security, 19:1 (1994), pp. 108148 .

57 George, Jim, ‘Of Incarceration and Closure: Neo-Realism and the New/Old World Orders’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 22:2 (1993), pp. 197234 .

58 Cox, ‘Realism’; Ashley, ‘Poverty’; Griffiths, Martin, Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations (London: Routledge, 1999) .

59 Bull, Hedley, ‘International Theory: the Case for a Classical Approach’, in Knorr, Klaus and Rosenau, James (eds), Contending Approaches to International Politics, 2nd edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), pp. 2038 ; Crawford, Robert M. A., and Jarvis, D. S. L., International Relations – Still an American Social Science? Toward Diversity in International Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000) ; Jørgensen, Knud Erik, ‘Continental IR Theory: The Best Kept Secret’, European Journal of International Relationsm, 6:1 (2000), pp. 942 ; Battistella, Dario, Théories des relations internationales (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2003) .

60 Holsti, K. J., The Dividing Discipline: Hegemony and Diversity in International Theory (London: Allen and Unwin, 1985) ; Wæver, Ole, ‘The Sociology of a Not So International Discipline: American and European Developments in International Relations’, International Organization, 52 (1998), pp. 687727 ; Crawford and Jarvis, International Relations.

61 Brown, Chris, ‘Turtles All the Way Down: Anti-foundationalism, Critical Theory, and International Relations’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 23:2 (1994), pp. 213236 .

62 Crawford, Idealism and Realism, p. 28.

63 Kaplan, Morton, System and Process in International Politics (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1957) .

64 Vasquez, John A., The Power of Power Politics: A Critique (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1983) .

65 As illustrated by the re-publication of the book by the ECPR Press in 2005.

66 This could be explained by the combination of several factors: IR theorists' utilitarian focus on Kaplan's IR contribution, Kaplan's segregation of his philosophical writings from his IR publications, and the division of disciplinary labour in modern academia.

67 Kaplan, Morton, Macropolitics: Essays on the Philosophy and Science of Politics (Chicago: Aldine, 1969), p. ix .

68 This stand is anti-positivist insofar as it denies the existence of naked ‘facts’ and acknowledges the role of consciousness/judgment in the production of truth and accumulation of knowledge, even with respect to natural science.

69 Kaplan, Morton, ‘Evolving Human Nature and Objective Moral and Political Obligation’, International Journal on World Peace, 19:4 (2002), pp. 6388 .

70 Kaplan, Morton, ‘My Post-postmodern Objective Account of Theory and Moral Analysis’, The Review of Politics, 62:4 (2000), pp. 675706 .

71 Kaplan, System and Process, pp. 6–7.

72 Wendt, Alexander, ‘Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics’, International Organization, 46:2 (1992), pp. 391425 .

73 A ‘multistable system’ is composed of more than one ‘ultrastable system’.

74 Kaplan, Macropolitics, p. 39.

75 Kaplan, ‘Post-postmodern’.

76 Sterling-Folker, Jennifer, ‘Realism and the Constructivist Challenge: Rejecting, Reconstructing, or Rereading’, International Studies Review, 4:1 (2002), pp. 7397 .

77 Kaplan, Macropolitics, p. 36.

78 Kaplan, System and Process, p. 218.

79 Kaplan, Macropolitics pp. 43–44.

80 Those that include states as unit-actors.

81 Agnew, ‘Know-Where’.

82 Guzzini, ‘Reconstruction’.

83 Smith, ‘Self-Images’.

84 Bourdieu, Pierre, Les usages sociaux de la science: pour une sociologie clinique du champ scientifique (Paris: INRA, 1997) and Science.

* I am grateful to Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Stefano Guzzini, and the anonymous colleagues who reviewed the article, for their invaluable comments and suggestions.

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Review of International Studies
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