History and Structure in the Theory of International Relations (1989)

  • R. B. J. Walker


The explanation of social and political life is a notoriously contentious enterprise, and the Anglo — American discipline of international relations is no exception to the general rule. As with so many other disciplines that have been shaped by the broader ambitions of post-war social science, controversy has occurred largely on the terrain of epistemology. All too often, the more far-reaching epistemological problems, posed by those who seek to understand what is involved in making knowledge claims about social and political processes, have been pushed aside in favor of more restricted concerns about method and research techniques. Narrowing the range of potential dispute in this manner has undoubtedly enhanced an appearance of professional solidarity. But it has also obscured many of the more troublesome and, in my view, more important fractures visible to anyone now canvassing contemporary debates about the general nature and possibility of social and political enquiry.


International Relation Political Theory Political Community Political Life World Politics 
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  1. 1.
    R. B. J. Walker, State Sovereignty, Global Civilisation and the Rearticulation of Political Space (Princeton: Center of International Studies, Princeton University, World Order Studies Program, Occasional Paper, 8, 1988) and R. B. J. Walker, ‘Ethics, Modernity and the Theory of International Relations,’ paper presented at the Conference on New Directions in International Relations: Implications for Australia, Australian National University (Canberra, 15–17 February 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
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  3. 3.
    Typical discussions include Richard J. Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976)Google Scholar
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    The main papers from this debate were collected in Klaus Knorr and James N. Rosenau (eds.), Contending Approaches to International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969).Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society (London: Macmillan, 1977). Cf., Friedrich N. Kratochwil, Rules, Norms and Decisions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The most instructive formulations of the realist — idealist distinction remain E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919–1939, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1946)Google Scholar
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    See, e.g., the relatively accessible discussions in R. J. Holton, The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London: Macmillan, 1985) and Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
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    See the important analysis in Friedrich Kratochwil and John Gerald Ruggie, ‘International Organizations: A State of the Art on an Art of the State’, International Organization 40 (4) (Autumn, 1986).Google Scholar
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    For a more extended discussion are R. B. J. Walker ‘Realism, Chance and International Political Theory’, International Studies Quarterly, 31 (1) (March 1987); and ‘The Territorial State and the Theme of Gulliver’, International Journal, 39 (Summer 1984).Google Scholar
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    In international relations the adequacy of these images become especially important in the literature on systems analysis. For a helpful discussion see Richard Little, ‘Three Approaches to the International System: Some Ontological and Epistemological Considerations’, British Journal of International Studies 3 (1), (October 1977).Google Scholar
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    On this theme see especially Der Derian and Shapiro (eds.), International/Intertextual Relations, and Michael Shapiro, The Politics of Representation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).Google Scholar

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© Millennium Journal of International Studies 1995

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  • R. B. J. Walker

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