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The Third Debate: On the Prospects of International Theory in a Post-Positivist Era

Author(s): Yosef Lapid


Source: International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1989), pp. 235-254
Published by: Wiley on behalf of The International Studies Association
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(1989) 33, 235-254


StudiesQuarterly
International

The Third Debate: On the Prospects of


InternationalTheory in a Post-PositivistEra
YOSEF LAPID

CarletonUniversity
promisefora cumulativebehavioral
The demiseof theempiricist-positivist
sciencerecentlyhas forcedscholarsfromnearlyall the socialdisciplinesto
and axiologicalfoundationsof
reexaminethe ontological,epistemological,
theirscientific
endeavors.The "thirddebate" in the fieldof international
a stillmaturing
relationsparallelsthisintellectualfermentand constitutes
era.
optionsin a "post-positivist"
effortto reconsidertheoretical
disciplinary
This essay explores the etiologyof this debate and criticallyassesses its
implicationsfor currentand futuretheoreticalpractices.Althoughthe
responses,theanalysisfocuseson only
debatehas triggeredmanydifferent
and celebrates
one of them-the optimisticresponse-which bothaffirms
presumablycreatedby the prethe unparalleledtheoreticalpotentialities
sentintellectualtransition.Whileacknowledgingthe considerablepromise
offersnearlyas
of the thirddebate, the essay notes that post-positivism
manydead ends as itopens promisingpathsforfutureresearch.The essay
issues some warningsconcerninghazards of misplaced or extravagant
in the scholarly
theoreticalhopes, and it singles out enhanced reflexivity
to date of
relationsas the notablecontribution
of international
community
the currenttheoreticalrestructuring.

"The searchfora bettertheory


formsthethirddebate. . . [It] is
most
therichest,
potentially
and exciting
thatwe have
promising
relations."
everhad in international
MichaelBanks(1986:17)
showsimportant
"Our enterprise
signsof maturation."
Kal Holsti(1984:361)
Excursions into metatheory are notoriously controversial in the social sciences. One
finds,on the one hand, the conviction that such concerns "are too important to be
taken for granted and too much a part of our ongoing research enterprises to be left
to philosophers to think about" (Fiske and Shweder, 1986:3). Furthermore, as
Mario Bunge notes, "Those who tryto ignore philosophy only succeed in reinventing
Author'sNote: For their support in the preparation of this article, I thank the Leonard Davies Institutefor
InternationalRelationsat the Hebrew UniversityofJerusalemand the Departmentof PoliticalScience at Carleton
Universityin Ottawa. I am gratefulto Meir Stieglitz,two anonymous referees,and the Editorsof ISQ.
? 1989 InternationalStudies Association

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236

ProspectsofInternational
Theoryin a Post-Positivist
Era

it" (Bunge, 1983:270). One finds,on the otherhand, a prescriptionfora rigorous


philosophy-avoidance
strategyfor the practicingsocial scientist.Especiallyin the
earlystagesof theorizing,so thisargumentgoes, misplacedpursuitsof epistemology
and philosophyof scienceare bound to be inconclusiveand are likelyto come at the
expense of actual research(Rosenberg,1986).
Be thatas it may,itis hardlydisputablethatthedemiseof theempiricist-positivist
promisefora cumulativebehavioralsciencerecentlyhas forcedscholarsfromnearly
all thesocialdisciplinesto reexaminetheontological,epistemological,
and axiological
foundationsof their scientificendeavors. As a result,the human sciences are
currentlyundergoingan acute bout of self-doubtand heightenedmetatheoretical
ferment.Indeed, some of the most highlyprized premisesof Westernacademic
discourseconcerningthe nature of our social knowledge,its acquisition,and its
utility-includingshibbolethssuch as "truth,""rationality,"
"objectivity, reality,"
and "consensus,"-have come under renewedcriticalreflection(Fay, 1985).
AnthonyGiddens (1979:238) has identifiedfour typicalresponses to this reawakening of metatheoreticalimpulses followingthe collapse of the positivist
orthodoxy:the"despairing,"the"dogmatic,"the"celebratory,"
and hisown,thecall
for a "systematicreconstruction"
of social theory.Alarmed by the conspicuous
absence of a single shared convictionabout the nature and destinationof social
theory,the despairingresponsearticulatesan instinctive
desirenot to be disturbed
by foundational,or "meta"-scientific,
problems.Notingthatexpertsin metascience
rarelyagree among themselves,thisresponseclingsto pre-Kuhnianveritiesabout
objectivity,
testability,
and falsification
and encouragessocialscientists
to go on with
this retreatistpattern neither
some "useful" or practical work. Unfortunately,
addresses nor settlesthe issues raised by the currentintellectualtransfiguration.
Worsestill,thecreativepotentialof thecrisisis lostin "thehasteofwantingto know."
In the faceof expanding
The dogmaticresponsesuffersfromsimilarlimitations.
confusionand as a resultof a foundationalist
cravingto restoreintellectualsecurity,
thisresponseappeals to an "authoritative"
figuresuch as Karl Marx or Max Weber.
As Giddens indicates,however,this reversionto dogmatismavoids rather than
confrontsthe core problem. Certaintyis perhaps artificially
restored,but at an
excessive scientific price.

In sharp contrastto the firsttwo responses,the thirdaffirmsand celebratesthe


soundsupposedly"liberating"potentialof the Babel of theoreticalvoicescurrently
ing over the ruins of the positivistproject. It casts a new lighton the endemic
diversityof theoriesby questioningthe assumptionthat convergenceof belief is
necessaryformaturityin science.It seriouslyexaminesinsteadthe possibility
that,
withinlimits,diversityof viewpointsmight be fullycompatiblewith scientific
This is an optimisticresponse,and thus Giddens caurationalityand objectivity.
tiouslyapproves. He insists,however,thatsimplyembracing-or compoundingthisconditionof theoreticalpluralismmay inadvertently
aggravatethe crisis.His
fourthresponse,systematic
addressesthisproblembytryingtoorder
reconstruction,
and transcenddiversitywithoutsubstitutinga new orthodoxyfor the old one
(Giddens, 1979:240).
in
and stillevolvingintellectualtransition
As we shall see shortly,thisfar-reaching
the philosophicaland social disciplineshas leftits markon internationalrelations
scholarship.Followingthe "idealismversusrealism"schismof the 1920s and 1930s,
and transcendingthe more recent"historyversusscience"exchangeof the 1950s
and 1960s,in the late 1980s the disciplinestandsin the midstof a thirddisciplinedefiningdebate (Maghrooriand Ramberg,1982; Holsti, 1985a; Banks, 1986). It is
thatin termsof methodologicaland theoreticalinnovationsthe fieldof
noteworthy
internationalrelationswas and stillis "an absorberand importer,nota producerin
itsown right"(Halliday, 1985:408). Hence, primafacie, thereare reasonsto suspect
thatjust as the "second debate"-the "historyversus science" controversy-was

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YOSEF LAPID

237

wedded to the ascendance of positivismin Westernsocial science,so is the "third


to the confluenceof diverse antidebate" linked, historicallyand intellectually,
positivistic
philosophicaland sociologicaltrends.
Submittingthat the thirddebate in internationalrelationstheoryparallels the
intellectualfermentthatothersocialsciencesare presentlyundergoingand thatthis
toreassesstheoretical
debateconstitutes
a diffuseand stillmaturingdisciplinary
effort
optionsin a "post-positivist"
era, thisessayexploresthedebate'setiologyand assesses
itsimplicationsforcurrentand futureprospectsfortheoreticalgrowth.Althoughall
fourresponsesenumeratedby Giddensare embryonically
presentin the contextof
the thirddebate,thisstudysinglesout one of them-the celebratory
pattern-as its
main focus.' This optimisticreactionhas been chosen forthreeprincipalreasons.
in view
First,itis a salientand provocativeresponsewhichmeritsspecialconsideration
of a lingeringsuspicion that somethingis stillradicallywrongwithinternational
theory.2
What,one mightask, is the natureand theoriginof thisapparentsurgeof
optimism?Are we trulyon thevergeofa newera in theoryor are we simplywitnessing
an internationalrelationsversionof the "obsessivediscoverer'scomplex"?3
Second, froma more practicalpointof view,thecelebratorypatternis intriguing
which
because of itsexplicitfocuson some putativemomentsof specialproductivity
in
are presumablyimplicitin the currentintellectualtransition.It is interesting,
otherwords,to see what typesof theoreticalopportunitiesand potentialities
have
been attributedto the currentdebate and what kind of theoreticalprojectsare
expected to best realize such promises.And finally,as hintedby Giddens'sfourth
pattern,systematicreconstruction,the celebratoryresponse needs constructive
in orderto anticipateand preemptthedangersof indiscriminate
criticaldelimitation
theoreticalelation.
In directanswerto thesequeries and concernswe positthatthedeeper rootsand
implicationsof the currentseason of hope in international
relationstheoryare best
explored in the contextof a focused effortto understandsome seeminglyfarreaching ramificationsof the "new," post-positivist
philosophyand sociologyof
science. The followinganalysisis presentedin four consecutivestages.The first
some have in identifyinga coherent
acknowledgesand explains the difficulty
"debate" in the emergingBabel of discordanttheoreticalvoicesin the international
relationsfield.The second seeks to bringthe thirddebate into sharperfocus by
highlighting
its distinctivepost-positivist
profile.The thirddelimitsthe parameters
of thecelebratoryresponseand exploresthegroundsfortheoptimistic
equationof
the currentdebate witha promisinggrowthin internationalrelationstheory.The
fourth section issues a general warning concerningsome notable hazards of
misplacedor extravaganttheoreticalhopes. Whileacknowledgingthe considerable

' Brief reference will be made later to the "despairing" response. The orthodox Marxist attack on the
"dependency" and "world system"approaches provides good examples forthe "dogmatic"pattern(see Denemark
and Thomas, 1988). The "systematicreconstruction"response is certainlyveryimportantand deserves separate
attention. But I agree with Preston that as formulatedby Giddens it comes close to "step number one in the
direction of a new orthodoxy" (Preston, 1987:75). And like him I believe that havingjust escaped from one
straitjacketthereis no point in pushing so earlyfora new one (Preston, 1987). As an example, however,Hoffman's
(1987) plea foradopting "CriticalTheory" as "the nextstage" in internationalrelationstheorycertainlyqualifiesfor
the systematicreconstructioncategory.For an interestingexchange sparked by Hoffman'ssuggestion,see articles
by Renger (1988b) and Hoffman (1988).
2 See, for instance, Waltz's (1979:18) lament: "Nothing seems to accumulate, not even criticism."Or see
Rosenau's (1980:129) despair over the "process of paradigm deterioration"which,in his view,"is underwayin the
studyof world affairs."Reflectingthis spirit,Gilpin (1984:287) has recentlysuggested thatthe discipline,no less
than its object of study,is in a state of anarchy.

' This "complex" originatesfromSorokin (1956:3-20) and refersto the periodicemergencein thesocial sciences
of would-be "new Columbuses" who "discover" hereto undetected leaps of growthin social theory.

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238

ProspectsofInternational
Theoryin a Post-Positivist
Era

promise of the currentintellectualferment,the concludingsection singles out

enhanced reflexivity
as the most importantcontributionto date of the current

theoreticalrestructuring.

The Third Debate: Disarrayor TheoreticalRestructuring?


Few observerswould seriouslycontestthe suggestionthatthe fieldof international
studies has experienced in recent years sustained theoreticaleffervescence.But
beyonda vague uneasinessover the factthatno reductionseemsto be obtainingin
of conceptualizations
and higher-order
thediversity
theories,one looksin vain fora
more specificconsensuson the currentstateand futuredirectionof the discipline.
Echoing Giddens's despairing response, we find at the pessimisticend of the
spectrumscholarswho are eitherreluctantor unable to detecta coherentpatternin
the rampanttheoreticalspeculation.Such observersdeplore the dazing pace with
whichnewideas are superficially
introducedintointernational
relationstheory,only
to be discarded subsequentlywith inexplicableurgency.They seem thoroughly
confused by the "amount of debris on the battlefieldof internationalrelations
at facingthisvast
theory"(Der Derian, 1987:11) and feelunderstandably
frustrated
intellectualdisarray"withfewguideson makingchoices"(Lyons,1986:643). Hence,
theyconclude that"in both theoryand practiceinternationalpoliticscan bringon
despair. This is an occupationalhazard in the fieldforwhichthereis no remedy"
(Morgan, 1987:301).
Others,to be sure, would stronglydisagreewithsuch a gloomyreading(Holsti,
1985a:4). They would counterthatthelivelychorusof contendingtheoreticalvoices
a "dialogue"or a "debate"withthe
in the fieldof internationalrelationsconstitutes
theinternational
relationsdiscipline.Yet evenamongthisgroup
powerto transform
thereis conspicuouslylittleagreementaboutwhois debatingwhom,along whatlines
of contention,and withwhatprospectsof success.For in sharp contrastwithboth
previous debates, the residual confusionover the source, nature,direction,and
potentialconsequencesof the currentintellectualtransitionremainsextensive.It
reaches far beyond technicaldisagreementsover nomenclatureor head countsof
would-beparadigmaticcombatants(Holsti, 1985a:5).4
At firstsightit is thereforedifficultto avoid the conclusionthat international
relationstheoryhas recentlyup-graded its profileas "a fundamentally
contested
domain"(Biersteker,forthcoming).
This perhapspartiallyexplainsthereluctanceto
bringthe currentexchange into focusas an intelligible"debate." But, preciselyin
view of this reluctance,it is imperativeto highlightsome notable commonalities
among those who do acknowledgea coherentand consequentialpatternin the
currentintellectualcacophonyin theinternational
relationsfield.For at a minimum
one finds,forexample,a sharedrecognitionthatthethirddebate marksa clear end
to thepositivist
consensusthatwas hardlyshakenin thecourseof the
epistemological
"historyversusscience" controversy.
Whereas the second debate was preoccupied
with quarrels over methodologynarrowlydefined,the third debate is typically
expected to facilitatetrailblazingideas about the natureand progressionof knowl4 The natureof the thirddebate may varyconsiderablyalong ontological,epistemological,and axiological lines.
Its scope may fluctuatewidelydepending on whetherone opts for a restrictivedescriptionof the debate-as a
focused exchange between realism and neorealism versus all comers and challengers(Keohane, 1986)-or for a
far broader characterization which specifies the emergence of a genuinely multiparadigmaticinternational
relationsdiscipline as the outstanding noveltyof the currentintellectualtransition(Alker and Biersteker,1984;
Holsti, 1985a). And finally,movingalong the plane of knowledgeversuspower,the significanceof the debate may
varydepending on whetherone sees itas a battlebetween"good" and "bad" ideas in an insuLlated
scienitific
areniaor
as a series of "intenselypolitical happenings" (Ashley, 1989) occur-ringbetween vested cuLltuLral,economic, and
politicalinterests(Biersteker,forthcoming).

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YOSEF LAPID

239

edge in the internationalrelationsfield.One also findsa shared appreciationthat


a restructuring
whichis
theoryin thisfieldis "in the processof beingrestructured,"
recognizedmoreoveras being"linkeddirectlyto a similarsetof debatesoccurringin
contemporary
social and politicaltheory"(Hoffman,1988:91).
The followinganalysis makes no attemptto deny or expunge the possibly
irreducibleambiguitiesof the currentintellectualtransitionin the discipline.Its
purpose is simplyto referto certainthemesin the new philosophyand sociologyof
sciencein order to clarifythe etiologyof the currentdebate and its promisesand
limitations.

The Third Debate: A Post-PositivistProfile


Especiallywhencomparedwiththesimplistic
coherenceof thepositivist
philosophical movement,post-positivism
is not a unitaryphilosophicalplatform.It presents
itselfas a ratherlooselypatched-upumbrellafora confusingarrayof onlyremotely
related philosophicalarticulations.Hence, if one wishesto refermeaningfully
to
as an alternativephilosophicalposition-perhaps usheringin a new
post-positivism
era in internationalrelationstheory-one firstmust identifysome areas of convergencein the general ideas presentedby this"new philosophyof science."
A detailed analysis of such convergentpost-positivist
views is, however,well
beyond the scope of this paper.5 I will deliberatelyrestrictmy attentionto three
influentialin determiningthe tone,
themeswhichseem to have been particularly
agenda, and mood of the currentdebate in internationalrelationstheory.These
themes-the preoccupationwithmeta-scientific
units(paradigmatism),
the concern
withunderlyingpremisesand assumptions(perspectivism),
and the drifttowards
methodologicalpluralism (relativism)-are, of course, interrelated.They will,
however,be treatedseparatelyhere to elucidatemoreclearlytheirdistinctimpacton
the currenttheoreticaldebate.
TheConcernwithMeta-Scientific
Units(Paradigmatism)
has wroughta notablechange in the understandingand choice of
Post-positivism
In sharpcontrastto
properunitsof analysisin the studyof scientific
development.6
the positivistchoice of the empiricallycorroboratedlaw or generalizationas the
fundamentalunitof scientific
thenewphilosophyof scienceinsiststhat
achievement,
constructs-suchas "paraonly relativelylong-lived,large-scale,and multi-tiered
digms"(Kuhn, 1962), "research-programmes"
(Lakatos,1970),"researchtraditions"
(Laudan, 1984), "super-theories"
(Gutting,1980), "globaltheories"(Hooker, 1987),
and "weltanschauungen"(Wisdom, 1987)-should qualify as basic knowledgeand knowledge-conserving
units.For theories
producing,knowledge-accumulating,
do not come to us separately;hence theyshould not be handled as self-contained
entities.
Above all, the new philosophicalpostureportraysscientific
knowledgeas a triadic
complex consistingof 1) a "phenomenic"axis coveringthe empiricalcontentof
scientifictheories; 2) an "analytic"axis coveringhypotheses,explanations,and
theoreticalmodels; and 3) a "thematic"axis coveringreality-defining
assumptions,
epistemologicalpremises,and other typesof distinctly
"ideological"or "metaphys'There is now a voluminous body of literaturewhich seeks to identifythe basic themes of the dramatic
revolutionsin our understanding of science. See Laudan et al. (1986:141-224), in particular,for a readable
summaryof both convergentand divergentthemes in the "new philosophyof science."
6This change is known in the philosophical literatureas the problem of choosing a proper unit of epistemic
appraisal (Bernstein, 1983:24; Pandit, 1983:19; Campbell, 1984:28-30; Laudan et al., 1986:154).

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240

Era
ProspectsofInternational
Theoryin a Post-Positivist

ical" ingredients.7
The noveltyof thisunderlyingpost-positivist
project-postulating
an irreduciblythree-dimensionalspace for scientificknowledge-is the explicit
of the
negationof the cardinal positivistpremisewhichaffirmsthe "eliminability
human"(Margolis,1987:xxii)and places (or replaces)the scientist"at the centerof
the social-intellectual-ethical
complexknownas science"(Hooker, 1987:10).
thusassertsthatmeta-scientific
constructs
comeand go in complete
Paradigmatism
packages.It followsthatonlybroaderconjuncturesof interrelated
theories,includcan qualifyas properunits
ing theirunstatedpremisesand underlyingassumptions,
of developmentand appraisal in science. It follows,furthermore,
that empirical
evidence in the usual sense of registering"objectively"what one sees is of only
limitedutilityin scientificevaluative appraisal. For in sharp contrastwith the
phenomenicaxis, the thematicaxis-although challengeableperhapsin some other
way (Wisdom, 1987:160)-is not refutableby directempiricalobservation.This
partiallyexplains,as Holton pointsout, whyscience is not "one great totalitarian
to the same inevitablegoal" (quoted in Stent,
engine takingeveryonerelentlessly
1988:37). At the same timeit also raises the challengeof formulating
alternative,
"rational"criteriaof evaluativeappraisal whichacknowledgeand confrontrather
thandenyor ignorethe non-empiricalnatureof at leastone integralcomponentof
all scientific
knowledge(Wisdom,1987:160).
Returningto our principalconcernwithinternationalrelationstheory,I submit
that"paradigmatism"-in the specificsense of an enhanced post-positivist
concern
withmeta-scientific
constructswhichincorporateintegralthematiccomponentsas a
itselfas one of the most notable
preconditionof scientificintelligibility-presents
of thethirddebate. For even a cursoryglanceat theliteraturereveals
characteristics
thatstudiesinvolvingbivariateand multivariate
relations,whichflourishedthroughout the 1960sand early1970s,noware held in generaldisrepute(Viottiand Kauppi,
1987:580). The intellectualexchange is no longer betweenindividualscholarsor
isolated theories,but between"models" (McKinlayand Little,1986), "paradigms"
(Banks, 1985; Holsti,1985a), "researchprograms"(Keohane, 1984; Kratochwiland
Ruggie, 1986; Hermann and Peacock, 1987), "research traditions"(Biersteker,
or "discourses"(Ashley,1989). The chosenunitdiffersin accordance
forthcoming),
withrespectivepreferencesfor Kuhnian, Lakatosian,Laudanian, or other more
constructs.But we find in each case a remarkable
fashionally"post-modernist"
concurrencewiththe underlyingtenetwhichpostulatesthatsignificant
theoretical
modificationsand choices must always take into account the supportivemetadomainsin whichtheyare holistically
embedded.
scientific
It is in thisgeneral context,I suggest,thatone can best understandthe marked
popularityof countlesseffortsto recastthe fragmentedtheoreticalturnoutof the
internationalrelations field in terms of contendingmeta-theoretical
constructs
(Banks, 1985; Holsti, 1985a; McKinleyand Little,1986; Viottiand Kauppi, 1987).
There is also the relatedpropensityto go beyondsimpleshoppinglistsof would-be
paradigms or perspectivesby launching more ambitiousprojects of paradigm
demolition(Vasquez, 1983), paradigmsynthesis
(Maghrooriand Ramberg,1982),or
paradigmproliferation(Rosenau, 1980). And, arguably,such is the logic thatalso
informs,for instance.Kratochwiland Ruggie's choice of the historically
evolving
"researchprogram"(international
organization)overtheisolatedtheory(regimes)as
theirprimeunitof evaluativeappraisal (1986).
The common denominatorof these endeavors is the implicitbelief that the
formoretraditionalunitsof scientific
substitution
of new meta-theoretical
constructs
7 In thisanalysis I followarguments presented by Holton (1987) and Wisdom (1987). Holton's triadconsistsof
phenomentc,
analyttc,
and themattc
axes (Stent, 1988:36-37). Wisdom's roughlysimilarconstructconsistsof empirical
content,
embedded
ontology,
and weltanschauung
(Wisdom, 1987:140).

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YOSEF LAPID

241

appraisal is somehow essential to locating and stimulatinggenuine theoretical


growth.Fortunately-as indicatedbythe tendencyto up-gradetheoreticalrevisions
or "degenerativeproblemto would-be"paradigmclashes"or putative"progressive"
shifts"-the impactof paradigmatismon currenttheoreticalpreoccupationsin the
wellbeyonda technicalrecasting
international
relationsfieldhas startedpenetrating
of its fragmentedtheoreticalcorpus into revampedand more fashionablyholistic
blueprints.New questions are being raised about the dynamicsof emergence,
constructsin the field(Biersteker,
persistance,and the decline of meta-theoretical
forthcoming).The extent to which contending paradigms are truly "incommensurable"-incompatibleand even incommunicablewithone another-is more
dialogue between
seriouslyexamined(Krasner,1985). And thepotentialforfruitful
explored
or synthesesof contendingparadigmaticapproachesis moresystematically
(Keohane and Nye, 1987; S. Smith,1987:201).
in thisprocessof expandingparadigmatism
the thirddebate has
Mostimportant,
progressively
taken the formatof "a discourseabout the choice of analyticframesense paradigmatism
focuseson
works"(Banks, 1985:20). In thismoresophisticated
the difficulttask of formulatingand applying valid-as opposed to invalidevaluativeproceduresat the paradigmaticlevel (McKinleyand Little,1986:269).
Needless to say, for the timebeing these promisingdevelopmentshave expressed
themselvesmainlyin a fargreatersensitivity
to,ratherthantheactualresolutionof,
problems.But giventhis,it is still
new and heretoignoredsetsof meta-theoretical
theremarkablerole playedbythepost-positivist
possibleto summarizebyreiterating
reformulationof the unit of scientificappraisal in determiningthe specifically
relationstheory.
profileof the currentdebate in international
"inter-paradigmatic"
in a fundamentalratherthana faddishwaythecurrent
This I submitdifferentiates
fromits twopredecessorsin the field.
controversy
and Assumptions:
Thefocuson Premises
Perspectivism
of theunitof scientific
In additionto thereformulation
achievement,
post-positivism
also invokes a deliberate shiftto the thematiclevel of underlyingontological,
epistemological,and axiologicalpremisesand assumptions.8Such a refocusingis
of bothnaturaland social
considerednecessaryin viewof theremarkablewillingness
scientiststo disregardempiricaldata that appear to contradicttheoriesthat (for
impassesin thegrowthof
them)have reachedthematicstatus.Sometimes,therefore,
knowledgemay be created and reproducedless by observationalmistakes(in the
phenomenicaxis) or bynarrowlydefinedtheoreticalflaws(in theanalyticaxis) than
by generalizedcrisesof basic presuppositions(the thematicaxis).9
Once a set of guidingassumptionsis elevatedto thematicstatus,the perspectivist
argumentsuggests,itbecomeshighlyresistantto bothevidenceand logicalcriticism
underthefiatof premisesthatendure in
(Laudan et al., 1986:154). And occasionally,
the face of all negativetests,the entire process of theorizingmay be forced to
or misleadinglines.For instance,as indicated
preceedalong unacceptablyrestrictive
by the bizarre lack of interestmanifestedby Marxismtowardsnationalism,such
malfunctions
mayresultin an excessivepreoccupationwithmarginalproblemswhile
even critically
importantphenomenaare ignored.
8 See, however,Dawson's (1985:373-80) criticaldistinctionbetween"strong"and "weak" perspectivesand their
betweenparadigms
implicationsforthe objectivityof the social sciences. For an interestingattemptto differentiate
and perspectives,see DeMey (1982:222-26).
9 Gadamer's "prejudgments,"Holton's "themata,"Schumpeter's"vision,"Polanyi's "tacitdimensioll,"or Lakainsightwhichpositsthat,although
tos's"hard core" are, in a sense, differentarticulationsof the same post-positivist
it is oftenleftimplicit,what is assumed by a given theorycan be far more significantthan whatis explicitlystated.

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242

ProspectsofInternational
Theoryin a Post-Positivist
Era

Highlightingassumptionsas an importantsource of our scientific


ignoranceis
different,however,fromsubmittingthat theyalwaysserve to distorttheoretical
inquiry.To the contrary,similar sets of assumptionsinvariablyserve as enabling
sourcesof valid scientific
knowledge.'0Perspectivism
submits,in short,thatwe are
encapsulatedin sets of presuppositionswhichmay hinderor facilitatetheoretical
growth.And if guidingassumptionsare the source of bothour ignoranceand our
knowledge,itfollowsthat"thefocalpointof challengein scienceshouldbecomeour
weltanschauungen"
(Wisdom,1987:154).
It should not be difficultto establishthat the currentdebate in international
relationstheoryalso is characterizedby a shiftof attentiontowardthe domain of
thematicpremisesand assumptions(Haas, 1986). This refocusingexpressesitselfin
a manifesteagernessof international
relationsscholars,fromeven radicallyopposed
theoreticalcamps, to leave the phenomenicand analyticplanes in order to devote
more energeticattentionto the "hidden" domain of key underlyingassumptions.
Perspectivism
is implicit,for instance,in insightsconcerningthe "inescapability
of
theory"and in ensuingconcernswithbecoming"the prisonerof unstatedassumptions"(Keohane, 1986:4). It is manifestalso in a moreexplicitsensitivity
to theneed
"to become clearlyaware of the perspectivewhichgives rise to theorizing"(Cox,
in thefieldseemfarmorewillingnow to
1981:128). As a result,editorsand theorists
concede thatreadersare "entitled"to an expositionof underlyingpresumptionsin
theoreticalanalyses (Rosenau, 1986:854). Notably,one even hears the echoes of
perspectivismin the embattledbastionof internationalrelationsempiricism,the
"data movement,"withprospectivecustomersnowdutifully
advisedto check"which
dataset is the most suitable in termsof the nature of its underlyingtheoretical
assumptions"(Maoz, 1988:165).
To be sure,the perspectivist
accentis mostaudibleamonga smallbutvocalgroup
criticsof mainstream
of "post-positivist,"
and "post-modernist"
"post-structuralist,"
internationalrelationstheory.As indicatedby RichardAshley'srecentwork,these
"rebels" utilize"deconstructive"
and "genealogical"tools deliberatelydesigned to
automatically
"target"assumptivetheoreticalheadquarters.These intellectualtechnologies postulatethat meaningand understandingare not intrinsicto the world
are continuously
but,on thecontrary,
constructed,
defended,and challenged.Their
mainpurposeis to "problemize"answers,make"strange"whathas becomefamiliar,
in order to revealhow problematicare the
and reversethe processof construction
structures("anarchy"for instance)of our social and political
taken-for-granted
world(Ashley,1988, forthcoming;
Alker,forthcoming).
The growingfascinationwiththe thematiccomponentof our currentknowledge
of world politicsis by no means restrictedto an elite vanguardof post-modernist
as that termis used in thisessay,
rebels. In a perfectexample of perspectivism,
RobertJervis(a leading internationalrelations"modernist")has recentlydemonstratedthatmodernistscan be quite effective-and,of course,far more accessible
than their post-modernistcolleagues-in exposing major assumptivetraps in
currenttheory(Jervis,1988). To be sure,unliketherebels,Jervishas no intentionto
"deconstruct"
the "anarchyframework."
On thecontrary,
he is evidentlyimpressed
withitssupposedlyprovencapacityto stimulateand sustainvalidtheoreticalgrowth
(Jervis,1988:319). But he is nonethelessdeterminedto demonstratehow the
of the anarchy framework-especiallywhen amplifiedby game
simplifications
on questionsthatare notcentral,while
theorysimplifications-leadus to concentrate
at the same time,we marginalizemanyimportantqueries (Jervis,1988:349).
' As Wisdom points out, "What the Weltanschauungeffectsis to promote whatcomes withinthe poinltof view
and discourage what fallsoutside it: what is discovered in its name can be valid if satisfactorily
tested; what is not
investigatedis a loss. But whatts gainedis notthereby
invaltdor dstorted"(Wisdom, 1987:138; myemphasis).

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243

Althoughit is possibleto argue thatthe preoccupationwithunderlyingassumptions is anythingbut new to internationalrelationstheory,my point is that this
preoccupationhas acquired new significancein the contextof the thirddebate.
Perspectivism,
as definedin thisstudy,denotessomethingmore fundamentalthan
a ritualisticinsistencethat"we mustexamine our assumptionsabout the behavior
of the actorsin internationalarenas more carefully"(Young, 1986:121). It refers
more to "a rejectionof empiricismin favorof a theoreticalapproach thataccepts
the place of data in a subordinateposition"(Halliday, 1985:412). On the basis of
these briefillustrations,
it seems reasonable to conclude thatperspectivism
in the
sense of a strongpost-positivist
focus on thematicpremisesand assumptionshas
been internalizedas a foremostcharacteristic
of the thirddebate in international
relationstheory.
TheDriftTowardMethodological
Pluralism:Relativism
"The currentfierceattackon science,objectivity,
truth,and even rationalityand
logic," says J.O. Wisdom, "may well be the fiercestever mounted in history
(1987:159; also see Bernstein,1986). The new epistemologyassociatedwithFleck,
Polanyi,Kuhn,Feyerabendand othersis,indeed,oftenattackedas havingextremely
relativisticimplications(Bunge, 1983:261). This new relativism,posits Robert
D'Amico,is farmoreradicalthanpreviousversionsbecause itis "secondorder,"that
is, "it questionsnot individualassertionsfortheirlack of evidencebut the implied
and embedded standards,criteria,normsand principlesthatmakejudgments
possible
and givethem
privileged
status"(D'Amico, 1986:139; myemphasis).By undermining
and truth,thisrelativization
of philosophicalthinkinghas greatlycomobjectivity
of knowledgeand has rendered
plicatedthe taskof providingeffective
legitimation
problematicthe demarcationof sciencefromnon-science.
The massivemove towardrelativismhas had at least threenoteworthy
ramificamonism
standardtions.First,all versionsof methodological
seekingto institutionalize
ized, explicit,and unchangingcriteriaforregulatingscientific
domains-including
the positivistconceptionof the scientificmethod (Tianji, 1985:415)-have been
renderedsuspectbythisnew intellectual
climate.Far fromconsentingthatepistemic
criteriaare destinedto remainessentiallyunchangedover timeand place, the new
epistemologyunapologeticallysuggeststhatit is itselfsociallymutableand historifromsuchepistemologicalrelativcallycontingent.And, followingmethodologically
ism,"a vigorouspluralismis called for.When it comes to theoreticalideas 'let the
hundredflowersbloom"' (Hooker, 1987:56).
Second, the growingrecognitionof a multitudeof potentiallyfruitfulresearch
strategiesalso has facilitateda betterunderstandingof scienceas a polymorphicas
opposed to monolithicentity(Wisdom,1987:140). As the end productof scientific
activity,social knowledge is now more typicallyseen as a complex of equally
privilegedbut only loosely integratableforms(Margolis, 1987). And since these
distincttypes of knowledgeare set apart by characteristicmodes of theoretical
themaccordingly(Wagnerand Berger,1985).
growth,it is essentialto differentiate
endorsementof epistemologicaland methodological
Finally,the post-positivist
withscientific
has underminedtheclassicfascination
diversity
consensus,resultingin
"a new-wavepreoccupationwith scientificdissensus" (Laudan, 1984:13)11 This
intriguing
eclipseof consensusas a primedesideratumin socialscienceis of primary
Kuhnianequationof an
importance,foritsignalsa collapseof the highlyinfluential
" This trend is fed partiallyby the post-modernistportrayalof consensus as "a horizon thatis never reached"
(Lyotard, 1984:61).

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244

Era
Theoryin a Post-Positivist
ProspectsofInternational

inabilityto achieveparadigmaticconsensuswithan inabilityto achieve significant


theoreticalgrowth.'
bent
Returningto our main focus of interest,we note that the post-positivist
have clearlyinflutowardrelativismand its ensuing methodologicalramifications
relationstheory.It
enced thetoneand substanceof thethirddebatein international
is hardlyaccidental,forinstance,thatdespitehighemotionaland intellectualstakes,
that
has notbeen characterizedbythefocusedintransigence
thecurrentcontroversy
"plea fortolerance
markedthe twopreviousdebates.In tunewiththepost-positivist
in matterstheoretical"(Ball, 1987:34), scholarshave resistedthetemptationto seize
upon the currentintellectualtransitionas an opportunityto impose a new set of
exclusiveepistemologicalprinciplesand prescriptions.
Reflectinga deepening suspicionof methodologicalmonism,even scholarswho
are otherwisesympatheticto positivistorthodoxynow feel obliged to concede the
dangersof "monolithicdogmatism"(J. Snyder,1988:190). The disciplineas a whole
now seems favorablydisposed to consideralternativeepistemologies"ratherthan
replacementof one kindof sciencebyanother"(R. Snyder,1985:531). In tunewith
the new polymorphicimage of science,it is now possibleto positthat"bothold and
foreach"
newwillbe sciencesalthoughthepurposesand evaluationswillbe different
(R. Snyder,1985:531).
The growingacceptance of methodologicalpluralismalso is manifest,in the
endorsementof "pluralistrigor"as the mostpromisingmethodologicalposturefor
the fieldof internationalrelations(Jervis,1985), in the insistenceon "opennessto
criticismat every turn" (Ashley, 1989:30), in the vision of thriving"multiple
disciplinesof internationalrelations"(Alker and Biersteker,1984:123), or, even
more explicitly,in promptingsto adopt the dictumof "let a thousandtheoretical
flowersbloom" (Beal, 1980:55). In summary,the presentpositionis indeed "one of
fermentand transition,marked by pluralismin values, methods,techniquesand
perspectives"(Dunn, 1987:79).
Finally,it was perhapsinevitablethattheexpandingacceptanceof a polymorphic
imageof scienceand thegrowingpopularityof methodologicalpluralismalso would
toscientific
progress.
ofscientific
dissensusand itsrelationship
lead toa reexamination
As a result,thesearchfor"un-Kuhnian"versionsofprogressis alreadywellunderway
in internationalrelationstheory(Beal, 1980; Mansbachand Ferguson,1986). Irreprospectsof thefield,one
concerningthetheoretical
spectiveof otherdisagreements
relations
now findsconsiderableconsensusthat"thewayforwardfor[international
is notto pursue'normalcy'of theKuhniankind
theory]thatfindsitselfin difficulties
of strongparadigms"(Halliday, 1985:412).
but to worktowardsa diversity
The Grounds forPost-PositivistOptimism
down fromthe new
messageshave been trickling
Grantedthatsome post-positivist
philosophyof science,whyshould thesetenetstranslateintogreateroptimismabout
relationstheory?On whatbasisand in whatsense can
theprospectsof international
one positthatthethirddebate "providesstimulus,hope,and even excitementin the
demandingbusinessof analyzinginternationalrelations"?(Banks, 1985:20). What
are the new promises of internationalrelations theory from a post-positivist
substituteforthe embattledand rapidly
standpoint,and whatis the post-positivist
fadingEl Dorado of positivistscience?
In seekingan answerto thisquestionit willbe usefulto takea second look at the
themesthatsurfacedin our previousdiscussion.Closerscrutiny
threepost-positivist
12 Ball (1987:15-16) identifiesthree more or less distinctphases in Kuhn's receptionby politicalscientists,
with
the currentstage being one of "outrightrepudiation."

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245

suggeststhat,under certainconditions,each of themcan providefertilegroundfor


rejuvenatedtheoreticaloptimism.To begin,the preoccupationwithmeta-scientific
constructs
providesan attractive
substitute
forthepositivist
choiceof theempirically
corroboratedlaw or generalizationas the fundamentalunit of scientificachievement.'3For despitemanyvaliantefforts,
scholarswereultimately
forcedto concede
the manifestabsence of cumulativeprogressdefinedin the rigoroustermsof the
empiricist-positivist
scientificblueprint(Rosenau, 1980:195-241; Hermann and
Peacock, 1987:16).
Providedthatone is willingto live withcharitabledefinitions
of "paradigms"or
"researchprograms,"it is possibleto documenta ratherimpressiverecordof actual
and forthcoming
theoreticalgrowthin international
relationstheory.The relentless
effortsto produce currentinventoriesof internationalrelationsparadigmshave
resultedin counts rangingfromzero to a maximumof no less than twenty-four
candidates (Holsti, 1985a:4-7). And if the popularityof Lakatos's methodology
continuesto riseamong theorists,
one maysafelyanticipatethatwe willsoon have as
many,if not more,correspondingly
reconstructed
"researchprograms"(Keohane,
1984; Kratochwiland Ruggie, 1986; Hermannand Peacock, 1987: 13-32). Surely
thisprovidesgroundsfor optimism,for now-at least in termsof looselydefined
meta-theoretical
constructs-theinternational
relationsdisciplinecan consideritself
on a par withmanyothersocial and even naturalsciences.
to thepost-positivist
Turningbriefly
interestin guidingpremisesand assumptions,
we encountera similarpicture.The portrayalof scientific
failuresas thedirectresult
of assumptivemalfunctionscertainlyleaves ample room for the possibilityof
vigoroustheoreticalgrowththroughavailablesubstitutions
or revisionsof "defective"thematicpremises.A look at theliteraturestrongly
suggeststhata considerable
part of the currentsurge of theoreticaloptimismis derived frompreciselysuch
origins.Noting,forinstance,the "anomalyof mutualassured boredom"(MAB)which unjustifiably
separates comparativeforeignpolicy(CFP) and international
politicaleconomy (IPE)-Rosenau submitsthat "the anomaly would seem to be
conceptual and not empirical so that its resolutioncan be achieved through
reconceptualization
ratherthan research"(Rosenau, 1988:24). An additionalillustrationis providedby Wendt'sforcefulargumentthatboth neorealismand worldsystemtheoryare incapacitatedby theirrespectiveassumptionsabout the relationship of systemstructureto human agents,a problemwhich in his view can be
resolvedby theadoptionof a scientific
realistperspectiveon ontological
satisfactorily
and epistemologicalmatters(Wendt,1987).'4
Andjust as in some cases assumptivemalfunctioning
is blamedfortheoreticaland
is invokedto compensatefor
empiricalfailures,so in othercases assumptive
sagacity
admittedtheoreticaland empiricalpoverty.As formaltheorizingefforts,suggests
Donald Puchala,integrationtheoriescould hardlyqualifyforeven a footnoteto the
intellectual
developmentof theinternational
relationsfield.But at thethematiclevel,
in theircapacityas philosophiesthatin the 1950sand 1960s nearlysingle-handedly
sustaineda challengeto the increasingly
hegemonicrealistweltanschauung,
integrationstudieshave presumablyhad a lastingimpacton the field(Puchala, 1988). To
13
Some scholars suggest,in fact,that it is "primarilythe associationof paradigms withsuper-theoriesthat has
made Kuhn's account so attractiveto social scientists"(Gutting,1980:12).

14 Further examples abound in recent evaluative appraisals of internationalregimes theories. Identifyinga


varietyof would-be assumptive problems caused by uncriticalacceptance of politicalrealist(O'Meara, 1984) and
positivist(Kratochwiland Ruggie, 1986) commitments,some scholarshave expressed optimismabout the prospects
of furthertheoretical progress in this currentlyfashionable field of enquiry through revisions (R. K. Smith,
1987:278-81; Haggard and Simmons, 1987:515-17), additions (Kratochwiland Ruggie, 1986), or substitutions
(O'Meara, 1984) of thematicsets of ontological,epistemologicalor axiological assumptions.

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246

Era
ProspectsofInternational
Theoryin a Post-Positivist

summarize,in both theirhinderingand theirenablingcapacity,thematicassumptionscan inspireconsiderableoptimismabout the growthand prospectsof internationalrelationstheory.


The belief that social scientistsare invariablybetterequipped to cut through
assumptiveas opposed to empirical impasses is perhaps overlyoptimistic.'5By
pointing,nonetheless,to the nonempiricalsphere of thematicpremisesand presuppositions,perspectivismhas facilitateda relative"liberationof theoryfrom
observation"(Gergen,1987:2). And thisliberationwas destinedto be interpretedby
at least some scholarsas a good reason for renewedhopefulness."Having passed
through a phase in which facts have dominated theory,"one of them notes
"thelogicof our scholarshipis carryingus intoa phase in whichtheory
approvingly,
dominatesfacts"(Banks, 1986:9).
This takesus directlyto perhaps the richestmine of optimismembedded in the
international
post-positivist
credos of the thirddebate. Like othersocial scientists,
relationstheoristscan deriverenewedconfidencein theirscientific
credentialsfrom
the post-positivist
move towardrelativismand methodologicalpluralism.For the
positivistscientificpromisewas arrogantand brutalin its simplicity:"This is the
model of a scientific
enterprise,take it or leave it" (Elias, 1987:xix).
For too longthetragedyof international
relationsscholarswas,ofcourse,thatthey
proved incapable of either fruitfully
adopting or decisivelyrejectingthe grail of
positivistscience. Via positivismthe discipline became locked in a sterile and
frustrating
worshipfulrelationshipto thenaturalsciences.Presentlyemergingfrom
thisself-imposedpositivisttrap,manyscholarsare favorablyimpressedby the new
latitudeof maneuverofferedbya multitudeof post-positivist
idiomsofenquiry.And
althoughnotablylackingtheexclusivelusterof thepositivist
"mantleof science,"the
post-positivist
counterpart-or counterparts-are farmoreaccommodatingin their
acknowledgedpostureof toleranceand humility.
The endorsementof methodologicalpluralism,the emergenceof a polymorphic
image of science, and the reassuring notion that in the social sciences even
disasterhave neutralizedthe once intimidatpermanentdissensusis not a scientific
label. Small wonder thatcurrentlyissued
ing bite of the positivist"anti-scientific"
verdictsof condemnationto "a lifeof intellectualpluralism"(Holsti, 1985b:695) no
longer carrytheirtraditionalmessage of scientificdespair. Followinga necessary
period of digestionof post-positivist
ideas, it is now more fashionableto positthat
"'muchof the strengthof the disciplinecomes fromthe pluralityof its theoretical
orientations"(Walker,1987:8).
Arguablyit is thisfeelingof an exceptional"openingup" of internationaltheory
which above all sustainsthe hope that,by presentingunprecedentedtheoretical
theimpactof thethirddebatemayexceed byfarthesignificance
of the
potentialities,
two previousones. For some the main opportunityis to overcomeU.S.-inspired
nationalistic
parochialismand createa "genuinelyinternational
theoryapplicableto
all" (Holsti, 1985a; S. Smith,1987:204). Othersseem moreconcernedwithrelated
problemsof paradigmaticsectarianism,
identifying
opportunitiesfornew and more
energeticsynthesesof realismand Liberalism(Nye, 1988) or realismand Marxism
(Linklater,1986; Halliday, 1987b).
Stillothershave identifiedopportunitiesfor revampingthe empiricist-positivist
orthodoxywith"holistic"(Snyder,1988) or "interpretive"
(Kratochwiland Ruggie,
1986) correctives;grounding political realism and internationaltheoryin the
supposedly superior principles of a "realist philosophy of science" (Wendt,
15 In fact, as Wisdom points out, problems at the weltainschauungen
level may prove far more difficultto
overcome than problems at theoreticalor empirical levels (see Wisdom, 1987:153-54).

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247

1987:369); endorsingtheepistemologicalfoundationsof criticaltheoryas "the next


stage in the developmentof InternationalRelationstheory"(Hoffman,1987; see
also Ashley,1987); and adoptinga "post-structuralist
discourse"which,we are told,
"expands the agenda of social theory,posingquestionsthatotherdiscoursesmust
refuseto ask" (Ashley,1989:1).
Other interpretations
of the precise nature of the post-positivist
promise are
readilyavailable.Whatseems commonto manyof thesetheoreticalprojectsis their
strikingambition.In theircombinedeffectthe themesof paradigmatism,
perspectivism,and relativism-inconjunctionwiththe post-positivist
plea fortolerancein
matterstheoretical-apparentlyhave generateda reservoirofenergywhichseemsto
be best released by theorizingon a grandiosescale. Indeed, as Rosenau remarks,
"thisis nota timefornit-picking,
forfindingfaultwithrogue definitions,
imprecise
formulations
and skeweddata" (1986:850).
The Limitsof Post-positivistOptimism
How durable and consequentialwillthe currentseason of hope be in the internationalrelationsdiscipline?Are we trulyon the vergeof a new era in international
theoryor is itmorelikelythattheadrenalinerushof thethirddebate,likeothers,will
have only negligiblelong-termimplications?A definitiveanswer to thisquestion
would be riskyand prematureat this point,for we must keep in mind that the
currentsurgeof optimismis admittedly
heuristic.It is,in otherwords,an enthusiasm
of newlyinitiateddeparturesratherthana sobercelebrationof safe arrivals.Hence
prudence and fairnessand the post-positivist
spiritof toleranceitselfdemand a
patientawaitingof further,more substantive,
researchfindings.
Having acknowledgedthisit is nonethelessappropriateto add some observations
on the hazards of excessive post-positivist
optimism.In referringto possible
theoretical
problemsand difficulties,
mypurposeis not to deprecatetherevitalizing
energyreleased by the thirddebate. It is ratherto furtherdelimitits scope in the
For clarityand consistency
we willreturn,forthelast
criticism.
spiritof constructive
time, to the three post-positivist
trademarksof the thirddebate. Startingwith
one should noticein particularthe danger of misappropriating
"paradigmatism,"
correctivefor propaganda and polemicaluses. Philosothisvaluable post-positivist
phersof sciencehave long suspected,in fact,thatone major reasonsocial scientists
turnto philosophyis to fabricatea more"respectable"anchorfortheclaimof beinga
"progressivescience"(Rosenberg,1986:340). There are reasonsto suspectthatsuch
a line of reasoningmay stand behind some currentattemptsto reconstructthe
corpus of internationaltheoryin termsof "paradigms,""researchprograms,"and
unitsof analysis.
othermeta-scientific
Consider the fact that,as typicallyapplied to the internationalrelationsfield,
resultedin rather
Lakatos's methodologyof scientificappraisal has consistently
optimistic
readingsof bothitspasttheoretical
growthand itsfutureprospects.'6This
mightbe a fortunatecoincidence,but one is alerted by Hermann and Peacock's
candid confessionthat the main reason for theirdecision to move fromthe two
"prevailinglogics of inquiry" (the neo-positivistand Kuhnian methods) to a
Lakatosianmethodologyof scientific
appraisalis thatthe firsttwo-but presumably
not the third-lead invariablyto negativeassessmentsof the comparativestudyof
of Lakatos'smethodologyis
foreignpolicy.The excessivelycavalierinterpretation
16 Such is, indeed, the warrantforthe passportsof hope recentlyissued forneorealism(Keohane, 1984), regimes
analysis (Kratochwil and Ruggie, 1986), and the comparative study of foreign policy (Hermann and Peacock,
1987:16-22).

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248

Era
ProspectsofInternational
Theoryin a Post-Positivist

particularly
strikingin thiscase. For one looks in vain foreven gesturesto the key
termof "progressiveor degenerativeproblem-shift."
Yet in the absence of this
conceptitis virtually
impossibleto accomplishwhatthesetwoscholarshaveexplicitly
to Lakatos'smethodforpurposesof theoretical
set out to do, to refermeaningfully
appraisal(Hermann and Peacock, 1987:16-22).17
But the problemgoes far beyondcavalierinvocationsof would-bephilosophical
authorities.With the consolidationof internationalrelationsas a "dividingdiscipline," contendingsets of criteriaforjudging scientificacceptabilityproliferate.
Ironically,thisopens up temptingopportunitiesforinstantscientific
redemptionof
vast bodies of theoreticalliteratureby simple shiftsof epistemicstandards of
appraisal. Would-be scientificcontributionssuch as Allison's"models" of foreign
whichmightbe consideredunacceptableifjudged by strict
policydecision-making,
or "hermeneutical"
positivist
criteria,may appear more promisingif "interpretive"
standardsare invoked (Ball, 1987:104-09). Withoutquestioningthe considerable
meritsof multiplecriteriaforevaluatingclaims,scholarsin the fieldshould beware
lest theycome to resemblethe proverbialarcher who shoots his arrowand then
draws a bull's eye around it.

. .

. Especially if seen as a miracle drug, enthusiastic

paradigmatismwhichmakes lightof the criticaldistinction


betweenpromisingand
levelmightlead us straightintonew
misleadinglinesof inquiryat themeta-scientific
but equallydamagingtrapsat the paradigmaticlevel.
A moresoberlook at thetruemeritsof post-positivist
perspectivism
revealsat least
threenoteworthy
risks.First,the preprogramming
capacityof assumptiveframeworksis oftenvastlyexaggeratedor reified.Perspectivism
can play a constructive
role onlyin so faras itacknowledgesthe historicand dynamiccharacterof cognitive
schemesand assumptiveframeworks.
Otherwise,"we lock the subjectinto himself
unable ever to see more than he knows"(DeMey, 1982:225). This reminderseems
particularlypertinentin view of the stillpopular rehearsalsof rigid matrixesof
underlyingassumptionswhich mechanistically
incapacitaterealistthinkingabout
contemporaryworld affairs(O'Meara, 1984:250; Taylor, 1984:4). Seen in this
as revealedin thedebate over
simplisticmanner-but nototherwise-perspectivism
realismmayjustifiably
be dismissedas "a sourceof confusion"(Goldmann,1988).18
This takesus to a second setof hazards,namelythatof embeddingthefixationon
of whathas
guidingassumptionsin a superficialunderstandingof the ramifications
thesis.
been popularizedby Kuhn and by Feyerabendas the "incommensurability"
This in turncan resultin equallydamagingdenialsorexaggerationsof the problem
of comparisonand communicationbetweensets of thematicassumptions.Rather
thandefiningtheproblemawaybyassumingautomaticcommensuration
(portraying
"models" as merely different"facets" of the same complex "reality"[Young,
1986:120] and instead of building up the problemto "suicidal" proportions(by
insistingthat"genuine"paradigms"are definedbytheirfundamentalincommensuscholarsinterested
rabilitieswithotherinterpretations"
[Biersteker,forthcoming)],
In fairness,these scholars do acknowledge that"It maybe stretchingtoo farto call these various contributions
a research program in the spiritof Lakatos" (Hermann and Peacock, 1987:30). But the factremainsthatthey
do invoke Lakatos's authorityfor what can be uncharitablyportrayed as propaganda purposes. For to take
Lakatos's scheme seriously would involve among other things"that we distinguishbetween core and auxiliary
assumptions,directingour defenses and/or criticismsaccordingly. . . that our criticismsbe retrospectiveand
directed against adjustments in the protectivebelt of the program in question; and . . . that we judge the
success-to-date
ofa researchtradition
and ofthetheonescomposing
it in termsofprogressiveness
or degeneration
ofsuccessive
adjustments
and auemptsat problem-solving"
(Ball, 1987:34-35, my emphasis).
7

18 Fortunatelyothers have acknowledged the factthatassumptionsdo not stayunmodifiedover time and have
approached realism as "a knot of historicallyconstituted tensions and contradictions"which "might be reconstitutedin a more criticaland creativemanner" (Walker, 1987; see also Ashley,1984). As Musgrave pointsout
(1981:378), it is necessarynot only to distinguishbetweendifferenttypesof assumptionsbut also to rememberthe
possibilityof a concealed change in the nature of a single assumptiondue to ongoing criticism.

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249

forinternational
perspectivism
in understandingthe implicationsof post-positivist

theory must pay considerably more attention to philosophical effortsto devise new

(Pearce, 1987; Rengger,1988a).


roads to commensurability
A thirddangerwhichmeritsbriefmentionin thiscontextlurksin theoften-voiced
concernthatthe shiftof focustowardthe loftydomainof guidingassumptionswill
come at the expense of empiricalor lowerlevel theoreticalstudies.Should it drift
"liberationof theoryfromdata"
into such parasiticdirections,the post-positivist
(Skocpol, 1987:12).
could indeed lead us "intothe dead end of metatheory"
relativism.
Finally,we willbrieflyexamine the notoriouspitfallsof post-positivist
To be sure, methodologicalpluralism richlybenefitsfrom all the virtues of
italso suffersfromsomeof itsworsevices(Gellner,1985).
relativism.
Unfortunately,
or takento its logicalconclusion,methodologicalpluralism
If adopted uncritically
anarchyunderwhichalmostany
maydeteriorateintoa conditionof epistemological
claimequal hearing.And to theextentthatsuchan equality
positioncan legitimately
between differenttypes of knowledge prevails, mere theoreticalproliferation
fromgenuinetheoreticalgrowth.
becomespracticallyindistinguishable
It is hardlya secret,of course, that the internationalrelationsfieldis already
methodologicalpluralism.
seriouslyafflictedby some of the hazardsof unreflective
Withincertainlimits,the fieldseems well advised to distanceitselffromeconomics
itsown "lackof definition"
and followin the footstepsof sociologyin reinterpreting
and "theoreticalcacophony"as "selectiveadvantages"(Hirschet al., 1987:333). For,
deal with"multiple
relationsmusttypically
like sociology,the fieldof international
realities"(Holsti, 1986). Hence it must resolutelyresist the seductive lure of
economicswith"itsself-imposedincapacityto see more thana singledimensionof
mostphenomena"(Hirschet al., 1987:333). Havingsaid that,one mustadd thatthe
"Newton syndrome"and the seeminglyuniversaldesire to engage in grandiose
of the field.To
theorizinghave already resultedin an excessivefragmentation
borrow an apt metaphor,the field of internationalrelationsindeed "resembles
nothingas muchas the Learnean Hydra; each timeone conceptualhead is lopped
excesses
off,anothertwoappear in itsplace" (Rengger,1988b:81). If therelativistic
of methodologicalpluralism and fickleallegiances lead to hopeless theoretical
pluralismironicallymayresult
incoherence,theoptimisticmessageof post-positivist
in a backlashof some new dogmaticversionof methodologicalmonism."
In Lieu of Conclusion: A "Pianissimo" Bravo?
in
Much more could be said on the promises and hazards of post-positivism
internationalrelationstheory.It is certainlyuseful to note that the thirddebate
offersas many dead ends as it opens promisingpaths for futureresearch.But
maybe greater
creativity
acknowledgingsuch hazardsis notto denythattheoretical
relationsas a distinct
todaythan at any timesince the emergenceof international
discipline.For we mustkeep in mindIsaiah Berlin'sbrilliantinsightconcerningthe
propensityof all great liberatingideas to turn into "suffocatingstraitjackets"
(1979:159). When all angles are carefullyconsidered,the hazardsare not sufficient
to seriouslychallenge the conclusionthat the thirddebate has indeed generated
Indeed, "the nextdecade could be an
some unparalleledtheoreticalpotentialities.
excitingtimeforscholarship"(Keohane and Nye, 1987:753).
will bear fruitin the foreseeablefuture
Whetherthese theoreticalpotentialities
remains to be seen, but one thing seems reasonablyclear. For many years the
international
relationsdisciplinehas had thedubioushonorof beingamongtheleast
'9 To appreciate how compellingthe fearof disciplinaryparalysisthroughexcessivepluralismand relativismcan
become, consider Peter Rossi's 1980 presidentialaddress beforethe AmericanSociological Associationin whichhe
argues for a dominant model even if such a model were to exclude his own work (cited in Crane, 1986:443-44).

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250

Era
ProspectsofInternational
Theoryin a Post-Positivist

of the Westernsocial sciences(Frost,1986:11). In the wordsof one


self-reflexive
critic,thefieldhas alloweditselfto deteriorateto thelevelof "a welcomingrepository
forphilosophicaland theoreticalcaricature"(Walker,1988:84). The thirddebate is
the beginningof a slow but progressiveloss of patience with this posture of
intellectualhibernation.The debate has stimulatedtheoreticaland epistemological
fermentin internationalrelations theory,forginglinks with other disciplines
undergoinga similarprocess. It has called attentionto new notionsof scientific
of theroleof theinternational
objectivity,
forcinga reconsideration
relationstheorist
in the scientific
process. It has called into questionreceivedcriteriaforevaluating
theoreticalconstructs(such as empirical validity,prediction,and explanation),
allowing theories to be reexamined in terms of their historicalcontext,their
ideologicalunderpinnings,
theformsof societywhichtheyfosteror sustain,and the
metaphorsand literarytropesthatinformtheirconstruction.
Although the controversyfueled by post-positivist
ideas in some ways has
aggravatedthe dangersof epistemologicalanarchism,it also has alertedscholarsto
the problemof understanding"the notionof criticismwhere knownmethodsof
refutationare inapplicable"(Wisdom, 1987:136). Althoughwe may be unable to
disprovea "themata"or a "weltanschauung"withtraditionalempiricalor logical
or impossibleto workwith,as
methods,we may findthemto be overlyrestrictive
shownbyJervis'scritiqueof the"anarchy/game
theory"framework
or byKratochwil
and Ruggie'srebuffof positivism
in thecontextof regimeanalysis(1986:766).2 One
wouldthinkthatanalysessuchas Jervis's(1988) wouldreducetheveryreal threatof
the internationalrelations field being "seduced" by economics. And although
is stillverymuchalivein thefield(Alkerand Biersteker,1984),ithas been
positivism
retreatingto ever thinnerand moretolerantversions,as indicatedbyJackSnyder's
(1988) advocacyof "hybridmethods."
In the space cleared by the weakeningof deeply rootedurges forfirmfoundations,invarianttruths,and unitiesof knowledge,an optimistichope is now being
planted-as hintedbythedemand to makeroomfornew"problematiques"
(Ashley,
1988:189) and "to open up thefieldto criticalapproacheswhichhave hithertobeen
marginalised,neglected,or dismissedby the discipline"(Der Derian, 1988:189)relations
that,as in othersocial disciplines,knowledgein the fieldof international
may be cumulative "not in possessing ever-more-refined
answers about fixed
questionsbutin possessingan ever-richrepertoireofquestions"(Cronbach,1986:4).
In thisprocess,thediscipline'slevelof reflexivity
and itsmeansforsustainingcritical
and self-conscious
directionhave been vitallyenriched.And as Der Derian saysin a
differentcontext,"Taking into account the complexityand the breadth of the
over-rather thanunder-equipped for
subject,one is inclinedto be intellectually
the task"(Der Derian, 1987:5).
"The task,"as highlightedby the thirddebate,is neitherthe discoveryof some
ahistoricaland universalscientificmethodnor the attainmentof some objectively
validatedtruthaboutworldpolitics.It is rathera matterofpromoting
a morereflexive
intellectualenvironmentin whichdebate,criticism,
and noveltycan freelycirculate.
The international
ofinquiry-is
relationsscholarlycommunity-likeall communities
and its successis partiallyconditionedby itsabilityto
communicatively
constituted,
sustainand enhance the qualityof argumentin the contextof deeplyentrenched
The properattitudeforsuch situations,suggestsTerence
paradigmaticdiversity.2'
Ball, "is less one of live and let live thanof talkingand listening"(1987:4).
20 Wisdom calls this"the cenablinig
cr-iterion."
It asks whethera weltanschauting"canido itsjob or gets in thewvay
of its own goal" (Wisdomii,1987:161).
21 Reflexivity
is buiilt,above all, on a "dialogical niotioni
of scientificr-ationality"
(Colapictro, 1987:283). Fol all
in the directionof praxis,see Jackson anidWillmott(1987).
attemptto go beyond dialogical reflexivity

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YOSEF LAPID

251

The internationalrelationsdisciplinemust locate and eliminateRosenau-type


"MABS" (relatedresearchareas separatedby redundantwallsof "mutuallyassured
boredom"). Those who labor hard to integratedeconstructioninto the normal
business of internationalrelationsscholarshipmust be on alert not to give the
impressionthat to show a subject to be a "construction"is to render its deimperative(Connolly,1984:164). Should thathappen,Rosenau'smore
construction
familiar"MAB-type"mines could be accidentallyreplaced by "MAD-type"booby
traps (paradigmsor discourseslocked in a deadly embrace of "mutuallyassured
deconstruction").
the fieldmusttakecare
As it delightsin the lightof itsnewlyfound"reflexivity,"
(Rose, 1979). To an unprecedented
notto burnup in theheatof "hyper-reflexivity"
degree, however,internationalrelationsscholarsnow seem ready to concede that
theymustcome to understandwhattheycannotor willnotembrace(Geertz,1986).
Arguably,there is some cause for optimismin the realizationthat the current
intellectualtransition"portendsa new pluralismas the cutting-ratherthan the
polemical-edge of internationaltheory"(Der Derian, 1988:190). On thataccount
worldof the 1950s
alone we can agree,I hope, thatthe"exclusiveand chloroforming
. . . is one to which few friends of International Relations or social science more

generallywould wantto return"(Halliday,1987a:216). And on thisminimalbasis I


for one am prepared to add a pianissimo"bravo" to the cheers of those already
in internationalrelations
celebratingthe would-be splendors of post-positivism
theory.

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