Alternative Post-Positivist Theories of IR and the Quest for a Global IR Scholarship

  • Indraneel BaruahEmail author
  • Joren Selleslaghs
Part of the United Nations University Series on Regionalism book series (UNSR, volume 17)


This chapter outlines a few post-positivist theories of international relations and compares them with positivist theories. At its core, the chapter aims to demonstrate that these two camps are not to be viewed as in constant turmoil, but in terms of complementarity and their objective contribution to the advancement of social science and IR. Thus, rather than critically comparing these two schools of thought, or focusing solely on their contradictions or strengths and weaknesses, it elucidates the complementary strengths of both these camps of thought. In addition, it outlines the relative advantages and disadvantages of both camps. In essence, in light of the standards used during that era, positivist theories seek to organise the early social scientific theories by using similar methods to those used to study the natural sciences. Post-positivist theories are a consortium of theories that are not particularly complimentary or unified in perspective with one another, but allied in their rejection, and critiques of core positivist rationales. Positivism was influenced by the wider political and social context of the time, just like post-positivism was, and still is influenced by contemporary social and international contexts. Both of these theoretical schools were conceived in lieu of (contrasting) social and international contexts. Positivism was devised with the advent of the Enlightenment and Renaissance movements. Post-positivism was devised later, after the World Wars and the Cold War, with the advent of new actors, opinions, values, and in sum a much larger variety of variables impacting the global order. In doing so, it has advanced the debate pertaining to theory and method in social science. With the advent of change in the international system and the global order, both schools have undergone revisions. Despite their differences, this chapter essentially strives to portray that both these schools are to be seen not from a perspective of opposing camps, but as genuine attempts to study the social and international systems as driven by the nuances and structural changes of the social and international systems and the resultant changes in global order.


Positivism Post-positivism IR theory Social science Natural science Constructivism Critical theory Postmodernism Relational theory Global IR Project Social and International context Perspective Flux 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Governance and Global AffairsLeiden UniversityThe HagueThe Netherlands

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