Theorizing Theory Theoretically

The question is being raised: has the field of IR reached The End of International Relations Theory?
Hyperbole aside, the question can have several meanings, and so yield several answers.
Here are some answers:
The end of all attempts to devise theories? No.
The end of grand theory, leaving only mid- or mini-theory? Probably not, grand theory seems to fade then return in the human sciences.
The end of theory wars? This can happen when a war-weary generation turns away from the conflicts of their predecessors towards toleration and a modus vivedi. Such generational fluctuation is common in many areas of life. It is said to have happened in Literary Studies and the waning of its theory wars. But eventually new theory wars will likely arise.
The end of new theories? It is possible that a plateau or stagnation in theoretical innovation can arise. In IR, few new approaches have recently entered the recognized roster. But I think there is quite a bit of scope for innovation – such as EvoIR (aka genoIR or Darwinian IR).
The last or highest stage of IR theory? Not likely. The current roster of debates and theories is hardly the best possible.
The end of one phase of IR theory? Quite likely. It may be that there is boredom or dissatisfaction with the two central issues of the recent phase: the debate between the Big Three (realists, liberals, constructivists) and the dispute over positivism. I am inclined to think that new debates will arise. I hope one is over EvoIR, but so far that has been marginalized. I expect that multiculturalism will (as in other fields) become more prominent. But whether it provokes debate or simply ascends to influence uncontested remains to be seen.
The end of ideology? Part of the IR theory debates was a clash of ideologies. The clash was sparked by one of the main trends of the past generation – the rise of various left theories (under various labels: critical, feminist, postmodern, constructivist etc). As did almost all academic fields, IR moved to the left. Now that the left is part of the establishment, the clash of ideologies it sparked is subsiding.


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  1. Pingback: Four Ways to Improve IR Theory | Breviosity

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