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International Relations *

A guide to databases and scholarly online sources that support conducting research in international relations and comparative politics.

IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories, O-S

The descriptions below are from The IR Theory Web Site created by Mark Beavis of University of Southern Queensland, Australia. Entries are supplemented using sources from the Credo Reference and Gale Virtual Reference Library databases, with additional references to selected books and journal articles. To search for studies that utilize these theories and apply them within the context of IR research and practice, go here.

Offensive Realism
Offensive realism is a covering term for several theories of international politics and foreign policy that give analytical primacy to the hostile and unforgiving nature of the international system as the cause of conflict. Like defensive realism, some variants of offensive realism build upon and depart from Waltz's neorealism. Offensive realism holds that anarchy (the absence of a worldwide government or universal sovereign) provides strong incentives for expansion. All states strive to maximize their relative power because only the strongest states can guarantee their survival. They pursue expansionist policies when and where the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. States face the ever-present threat that other states will use force to harm or conquer them. This compels them to improve their relative power positions through arms build-ups, unilateral diplomacy, mercantile (or even autarkic) foreign economic policies, and opportunistic expansion. Ultimately every state in the international system strives to become a regional hegemon - a state that enjoys a preponderance of military, economic, and potential power in its part of the globe. Offensive realists however, disagree over the historical prevalence of hegemonic regional systems and the likely responses of weaker states to would-be regional hegemons (e.g., balancing, buck-passing, or bandwagoning). In particular, there is a sharp disagreement between proponents of the balance-of-power tradition. (John Mearsheimer, Eric Labs, Fareed Zakaria, Kier Lieber, and Christopher Layne) and proponents of the security variant of hegemonic stability theory (Robert Gilpin, William Wohlforth, and Stephen Brooks).

Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, "Security-Seeking Under Anarchy: Defensive Realism Reconsidered."' International Security 25 (Winter 2000/2001): 152-186; John J. Mearsheimer, John J. Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002.

Parallelism Theory
Based on a fusion of Weberian and Freudian concepts, Parallelism argues that, at the macro level, states fall into two general categories, paternal and fraternal, and that the struggle between the two types characterizes international relations. In the ancient world, paternal systems were predominant because they were militarily superior, but since the rise of the nation-state, fraternal states have become predominant. The engine of historical change is the revolution-hegemonic war cycle, which brings paternal and fraternal systems into conflict with one another. There are at least four examples of this type of hegemonic conflict occurring in documented history: 1) the rise of Macedonia and Alexander the Great's war with Persia; 2) the rise of Mongolia and Gheghis Khan's war of expansion; 3) the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars; and 4) Weimar Germany and World War II. There are other types of hegemonic conflicts (e.g., WW I, Seven Years War), but these four represent parallel events. Victory in revolutionary and hegemonic conflict has determined the direction of the world system, towards paternalism or fraternalism.

For more information, refer to the Center for the Study of Political Parallelism.

Peripheral Realism
A foreign policy theory arising from the special perspective of (Latin American) peripheral states and represented by the work of Carlos Escude, for example. This view of international relations regards the international system as having an incipient hierarchical structure based on perceived differences between states: those that give orders, those that obey, and those that rebel. The peripheral approach introduces a different way of understanding the international system: that is, from the unique viewpoint of states that do not impose 'rules of the game' and which suffer high costs when they confront them. Thus, the foreign policies of peripheral states are typically framed and implemented in such a way that the national interest is defined in terms of development, confrontation with great powers is avoided, and autonomy is not understood as freedom of action but rather in terms of the costs of using that freedom.

Escude, Carlos. “An Introduction to Peripheral Realism and its Implications for the Interstate System: Argentina and the Condor II Missile Project.” In International Relations Theory and the Third World. Stephanie G Neuman. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998), pp. 55-76; Mark Beavis. IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.

A tradition in international relations that argued that politics, and hence policy, was the product of a myriad of competing interests, hence depriving the state of any independent status. Pluralism can be seen to derive principally from a liberal tradition, rooted in Locke's 'Second Treatise of Government', and to pose an anti-realist vision of the centrality of the state in world politics. Pluralists make four key assumptions about international relations. Primarily, non-state actors are important entities in world politics. Secondly, the State is not looked upon as a unified actor, rather, competition, coalition building, and compromise between various interest groups including multinational enterprises will eventually culminate into a 'decision' announced in the name of the state. Thirdly, pluralists challenge the realist assumption of the state as a rational actor, and this derives from the second assumption where the clash of competing interests may not always provide for a rational decision making process. Finally, the fourth assumption revolves around the nature of the international agenda, where it is deemed extensive by the pluralists and includes issues of national security as well as economic, social and environmental issues. Hence, pluralists reject the 'high politics' 'low politics' divide characteristic of realism. They also contend with the predominance of a physical conception of power inherent in realism.

Berman, Paul Schiff, A Pluralist Approach to International Law. Yale Journal of International Law 32 (2007): 301-; Princeton Law and Public Affairs Working Paper No. 07-001. Available at SSRN:; Jackson, Robert H. “Review Articles: Pluralism in International Political Theory.” Review of International Studies 18 (July 1992): 271-281; Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.

Policy-Relevant Theory
Policy-relevant theories may have explicit purposes that stem from the value preferences of the theorist, such as reducing the likelihood of war or curbing the arms race. Acting on such theories, of course, is the domain of the policy maker, a task separate from that of the empirical theorist. Theorists who become policy makers may well make choices informed by what theories say will be the likely outcomes of implementing one or another alternative. Their choices may be informed by empirical theory or understanding of world events, but the decisions they make are still based on value preferences.

Herrmann, Richard K. “Policy-Relevant Theory and the Challenge of Diagnosis: The End of the Cold War as a Case Study.” Political Psychology [Special Issue: Political Psychology and the Work of Alexander L. George] 15 (March 1994): 111-142; Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, eds. International Relations Theory. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987.

Poliheuristic Theory of Foreign Policy Decision Making

Poliheuristic theory suggests that leaders simplify their choice problems according to a two-stage decision process. During the first stage, the set of possible options and outcomes is reduced by application of a 'noncompensatory principle' to eliminate any alternative with an unacceptable return on a critical, typically political, decision dimension (Mintz 1993). Once the choice set has been reduced to alternatives that are acceptable to the decision maker, the process moves to a second stage 'during which the decision maker can either use a more analytic, expected utility-like strategy or switch to a lexicographic decision strategy.' (Mintz 1997; Mintz et al. 1997; Mintz and Geva 1997; Mintz and Astorino-Courtois 2001). In setting out a pivotal preliminary stage to expected utility decision making, the poliheuristic theory bridges the gap between research in cognitive psychology (Taber and Steenbergen 1995) and the considerable insights provided by rational analyses of decision making (e.g., Bueno de Mesquita 1981; Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman 1992; Morrow 1997).

Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce and David Lalman. War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992; Mintz, A. Integrating Cognitive and Rational Theories of Foreign Policy Decision Making. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003; Taber, Charles S. and Marco R. Steenbergen. "Computational Experiments in Political Behavior." In Political Judgement: Structure and Process. Milton Lodge and Kathleen M. McGraw, eds. (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1995), pp. 141-178.

Positivism is sometimes used to denote a “scientific” approach, but positivism is far more than this. It asserts that science can only deal with entities that can be directly experienced. Positivism is based upon an empiricist rejection of value judgements and argues that science must be confined to the “is” rather than the “ought.” Positivism can be traced back to the empiricism of Hume, but in the nineteenth century it was developed by Comte (1798–1857) who sought to integrate all sciences into an overarching system of what he called ‘positive philosophy’. Positivists have generally taken natural sciences as their model. Positivists seek to stress the quantitative aspects of political and social life, and behavioralism is attracted to a positivist view of science. The positivist view of society is now regarded as naïve. Imagine a discussion about democracy that does not indicate normative preferences. The attempt to separate facts from values denies that facts are relational, and it is out of the relationships that facts presuppose, that values emerge. The fact that patriarchy oppresses women and privileges men has obvious value implications, and attempts by positivist social scientists to devise a ‘value-free’ language have not been persuasive. Moreover, it is a myth that the natural sciences are value free.

"Positivism." (2001). In Dictionary of World Philosophy. Retrieved from; "Positivism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. David L. Sills. Vol. 12. New York: Macmillan, 1968. 389-395. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

A position which tried to make American political science relevant to social problems: it criticized behavioralism for concealing an ideology of empirical conservatism, for losing touch with reality, and being over-sophisticated with research techniques; it demanded research about and the constructive development of values; and it encouraged the politicization of the profession.

Berndston, Erkki. “Political Science in the Era of Post-Behavioralism. The Need for Self-Reflection.” Scandinavian Political Studies, Bind 10, 1975.

Unlike many other theories, post-international theory is organized around the premise that our time is marked by profound and continuous transformations and turbulence. It seeks to account for the dynamics of change and anticipate where they might be leading the world. Its prime focus is on the transformation of three basic parameters: one at the micro level of individuals, another at the micro-macro level where individuals and their collectivities interact, and the third is at the macro level of collectivities and their global structures. The central concept at the micro level involves a skill revolution, whereas at the micro-macro level it involves the pervasiveness of authority crises experienced by all kinds of collectivities; and at the macro level it posits a bifurcation of global structures into the state-centric world of sovereignty-bound actors and the multi-centric world of sovereignty-free actors. This formulation is theoretical in the sense that it anticipates the conditions under which continual turbulence and transformation are likely to sustain world affairs. Examples of transformations at each level include the increasingly manifest readiness of individuals to engage in collective action (micro level), the 'battle of Seattle' (micro-macro level), and the pattern - indeed, institutionalization - whereby the NGO and state-centric worlds converge around common interests (macro level).

Rosenau, James N. Turbulence in World Politics: A Theory of Change and Continuity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990; Hobbs, Heidi H. Pondering Postinternationalism: A Paradigm for the Twenty-First Century? Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000.

A more extreme branch of Critical Social Theory that can be identified in terms of its critical stance toward (Western) modernity and the unambiguous narratives of reason, truth and progress. Whereas the dominant narrative of modernity upholds reason as the foundation of objective truth and the source of progress, post-modernism emphasizes the interplay of a plurality of discursive practices, ways of knowing, social identities and possible worlds.

Jarvis, Darryl S.L. International Relations and the "Third Debate": Postmodernism and its Critics. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. Jarvis, Darryl S. L. International Relations and the Challenge of Postmodernism: Defending the Discipline. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.

In the philosophy of science, the term post-positivist has been used in two ways: (1) To refer to scientific philosophies that arose after, and in reaction to, positivism. This use of the term would include (among others) phenomenology, Marxism, critical theory, poststructuralism, and postmodernism (see Postpositivism) and (2) To refer to a reformed version of positivism that addresses criticisms made by the schools of thought listed under the first definition, but preserves the basic assumptions of positivism, i.e. ontological realism, the possibility of objective truth, and the use of experimental methodology. Post-positivism of this type is common in the social sciences for both practical and conceptual reasons. Practically, it is often impossible or unethical to use the kind of carefully controlled laboratory studies characteristic of physics or chemistry for social phenomena. Conceptually, it is often noted that unlike the subjects of natural science, people are reflexive, that is, they may alter their behavior based on the presence or findings of the researcher. Critics of this type of post-positivism charge that it has not gone far enough from the basic assumptions of positivism. Poststructuralist theories of IR developed in the 1980s from postmodernist studies in political science.

Lapid, Yosef. “The Third Debate: On the Prospects of International Theory in a Post-Positivist Era.” International Studies Quarterly 33 (September 1989): 235-254; Thomas J. Biersteker, Thomas J. “Critical Reflections on Post-Positivism in International Relations.” International Studies Quarterly 33 (September 1989): 263-267; "Post-positivism." (2007). In The Social Science Jargon-Buster. Retrieved from; Post-positivist. Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias; Wikipedia.

The movement of ideas, centered on the French left and in particular on the journal Tel Quel (edited by Philippe Sollers), which followed the brief ascendancy of structuralism in literary and political circles in Paris during the early 1960s. Not a school, but a loose assembly of thinkers who flirted with structuralism and then rejected it, looking elsewhere for cultural and political foundations. Foucault is usually described as a post-structuralist, as is Derrida; deconstruction is also said to be a form of post-structuralism. In general, post-structuralism emphasizes the importance of language in structuring our experience of the world - meanings are not inherent in the thing or action itself but are created by words and their relationship to other words. Meanings, it is argued, cannot be fixed or remain stable, but are endlessly remade through the process of reading/speaking and changes in social life. At the heart of the post-structuralist perspective lies the principle that language produces social reality, which varies across cultures and time.

"Poststructuralism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. William A. Darity, Jr. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 398-401. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

Power Transition Theory
Created by A.F.K. Organski and originally published in his textbook, World Politics (1958), power transition theory today describes international politics as a hierarchy with (1) a "dominant" state, the one with the largest proportion of power resources (population, productivity, and political capacity meaning coherence and stability); (2) "great powers," a collection of potential rivals to the dominant state and who share in the tasks of maintaining the system and controlling the allocation of power resources; (3) "middle powers" of regional significance similar to the dominant state, but unable to challenge the dominant state or the system structure, and (4) "small powers," the rest. The principle predictive power of the theory is in the likelihood of war and the stability of alliances. War is most likely, of longest duration, and greatest magnitude, when a challenger to the dominant power enters into approximate parity with the dominant state and is dissatisfied with the existing system. Similarly, alliances are most stable when the parties to the alliance are satisfied with the system structure. There are further nuances to the theory: for instance, the sources of power transition vary in their volitility, population change being the least volatile and political capacity (defined as the ability of the government to control resources internal to the country) the most volatile.

Chan, Steve. China, the U.S., and the Power-Transition Theory A Critique. New York: Routledge, 2008; Tammen, Ronald L. et al. Power Transitions: Strategies for the 21st Century. New York: Chatham House Publishers, 2000; Chan, Steve. China, the US and the Power-transition Theory: A Critique. New York: Routledge, 2007; Lebow, Richard Ned, and Benjamin Valentino. "Lost in Transition: A Critical Analysis of Power Transition Theory." International Relations 23 (2009): 389-410.

Pragmatic Idealism
Pragmatic Idealism was first developed as a conceptual and axiological clarification of 'Canadian internationalism' in Costas Melakopides' Pragmatic Idealism: Canadian Foreign Policy 19945-1995 (McGill-Queens Úniversity Press, 1998). It argued that Canada, along with such 'like-minded middle powers' as Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, had adopted during the Cold War a self-conscious departure from classic Realpolitik, through foreign policies that cultivated moderation, mediation, legal and diplomatic solutions to international conflicts, and authentic commitment to peacekeeping, peace-making, human rights, foreign aid, and ecological rationality. Today, Pragmatic Idealism can be said to characterize any foreign policy - including the international role of the European Union - that embraces the aforementioned principles and values.

Melakopides, Costas “Pragmatic Idealism Revisited: Russia’s Post-1991 Cyprus Policy and Implications for Washington.” Mediterranean Quarterly 23 (2012):107-134; Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.

Prisoner's Dilemma
Cooperation is usually analyzed in game theory by means of a non-zero-sum game called the "Prisoner's Dilemma" (Axelrod, 1984). The two players in the game can choose between two moves, either "cooperate" or "defect". The idea is that each player gains when both cooperate, but if only one of them cooperates, the other one, who defects, will gain more. If both defect, both lose (or gain very little) but not as much as the "cheated" cooperator whose cooperation is not returned. The problem with the prisoner's dilemma is that if both decision-makers were purely rational, they would never cooperate. Indeed, rational decision-making means that you make the decision which is best for you whatever the other actor chooses. Suppose the other one would defect, then it is rational to defect yourself: you won't gain anything, but if you do not defect you will be stuck with a loss. Suppose the other one would cooperate, then you will gain anyway, but you will gain more if you do not cooperate, so here too the rational choice is to defect. The problem is that if both actors are rational, both will decide to defect, and none of them will gain anything. However, if both would "irrationally" decide to cooperate, both would gain.

Axelrod, Robert. “The Evolution of Strategies in the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma.” In The Dynamics of Norms. Cristina Bicchieri, Richard Jeffrey, and Brian Skyrms, eds. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997) pp. 1-17; Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.

Prospect Theory
Prospect theory is a psychological theory of decision-making under conditions of risk and derives its name from the tenet that the notion of risk involves some prospect of loss. Thus prospect theory posits loss-aversion, rather than risk-aversion (as claimed by rational choice theorists) and takes into account the psychological primacy of relative positioning. The theory states that there are two phases affecting decision-making: 1) framing, where perception or presentation of the situation in which decisions must be made affect the disposition towards some alternatives over others; and 2) evaluation, where the decision-maker assesses gains and losses relative to a movable reference point depending on the perspective of the decision-maker. It helps focus on how utilities are formed rather than how they are maximized. Prospect theory originally was called 'value theory' by its founders Kahneman and Tversky in the late 1970s.

Levy, James S. “Prospect Theory and International Relations: Theoretical Applications and Analytical Problems.” Political Psychology 13 (June 1992): 283-310; edited passages from McDermott, Rose. Political Psychology in International Relations. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Psycho-Cultural Theory
The psycho-cultural theory of modernization focuses on the implications of various psychological and cultural factors for socio-economic development. These theorists attempt to demonstrate that it is the unique characteristics of various psycho-cultural factors in advanced capitalist societies which have contributed to their socioeconomic progress over time. It is also argued that it is the unique psycho-cultural features of Third World countries that are held responsible for their “backwardness.” Some of the prominent theorists espousing this development perspective are Weber, Schumpeter, Hagen, and McClellen.

Dadoun, Roger. "Politics and Psychoanalysis." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Alain de Mijolla. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 1293-1294. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

A theoretical qualification to the pessimism of realism and the idealism of liberal internationalism. Rationalists view states as comprising an international society, not merely an international system. States come to be a part of an international society by accepting that various principles and institutions govern the way in which they conduct their foreign relations. In doing so, it can be argued, states also display a commitment to the idea that it is inappropriate to promote the national interest without any regard for international law and morality.

Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013).

A particular view of the world, or paradigm, defined by the following assumptions: the international realm is anarchic and consists of independent political units called states; states are the primary actors and inherently possess some offensive military capability or power which makes them potentially dangerous to each other; states can never be sure about the intentions of other states; the basic motive driving states is survival or the maintenance of sovereignty; states are instrumentally rational and think strategically about how to survive.

Clinton, W. David. The Realist Tradition and Contemporary International Relations. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2007.

A new philosophical framework for questioning social values. The Reflectionist philosophy borrows from the Situationist movement in art and, in particular, an aspect of the Situationist movement called detournement, in which artists often appropriate tools of the "oppressor" and then resituate these tools in a disturbing and disorienting fashion. Reflectionism attempts to take this tradition one step further, not only by appropriating the tools of the oppressor, but by turning those same tools against the oppressor. Mann (1998) coined the term "Reflectionism" to describe the "mirrorlike" symmetry that is its end goal and because the goal is also to induce deep thought ("reflection") through the construction of this mirror. Reflectionism allows society to confront itself or to see its own absurdity.

Mann, Steve. "'Reflectionism' and 'Diffusionism': New Tactics for Deconstructing the Video Surveillance Superhighway." Leonardo 31(1998): 93-102.

Regime Theory
See International Regime Theory.

Schema Theory
Schema theory developed in response to findings that opinions do not appear to be organized by ideology. Schema theorists propose that opinions are structured by cognitive frameworks of knowledge about a group, an event, a person, or an abstract concept, which include both knowledge of concept and associations to related concepts. Psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelly Taylor (1984) have conducted the most comprehensive examination of schema theory to date. They propose that schemas provide a mental shortcut in terms of what an individual filters in and thinks about pertaining to a concept. According to Axelrod (1973), schema is essentially a pre-existing assumption made by an individual about the way the world is organized.

Axelrod, Robert. “Schema Theory: An Information Processing Model of Perception and Cognition.” The American Political Science Review 67 (December 1973): 1248-1266; Public Opinion and Polling Around the World: A Historical Encyclopedia. [electronic resource]. John G. Geer, editor. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004; Fiske, Susan T. and Shelley E. Taylor. Social Cognition. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.

Securitization Theory
Securitization theory argues that security situations, or exceptional situations, have no objective qualities that necessitate certain forms of politics. Rather, security is a process by which issues are made into security issues through securitizing “speech-acts.” Securitization theory treats security as a discourseor field that is characterized by certain types of language, ways of speaking, subject positions, institutional structures, and so on. Neal argued that although this approach is needed and welcome, it still tends to reify security as an identifiable and unified special category, thus maintaining the norm/exception split and, therefore, supporting Schmitt’s argument that the exception takes primacy over the norm. Deploying securitization theory as a means of understanding contrasting policy solutions for given security projects can fill the conceptual void masked by certain diplomatic terms of art, such as "national will," "leadership," "consensus," "willingness," etc.

Balzacq, Thierry, ed. Securitization Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve. New York: Routledge, 2011; Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013; Wikipedia.

Security Dilemma
A security dilemma refers to a situation wherein two or more states are drawn into conflict, possibly even war, over security concerns, even though none of the states actually desire conflict. Essentially, the security dilemma occurs when two or more states each feel insecure in relation to other states. None of the states involved want relations to deteriorate, let alone for war to be declared, but as each state acts militarily or diplomatically to make itself more secure, the other states interpret its actions as threatening. An ironic cycle of unintended provocations emerges, resulting in an escalation of the conflict which may eventually lead to open warfare.

Posen, Barry R. “The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict.” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy 35 (1993): 27-47.

Social Constructivism
Social constructivism is about human consciousness and its role in international life. As such, constructivism rests on an irreducibly intersubjective dimension of human action: the capacity and will of people to take a deliberate attitude towards the world and to lend it significance. This capacity gives rise to social facts, or facts that depend on human agreement that they exist and typically require human institutions for their existence (money, property rights, sovereignty, marriage and Valentine's Day, for example). Constructivists contend that not only are identities and interests of actors socially constructed, but also that they must share the stage with a whole host of other ideational factors emanating from people as cultural beings. No general theory of the social construction of reality is available to be borrowed from other fields and international relations constructivists have not as yet managed to formulate a fully fledged theory of their own. As a result, constructivism remains more of a philosophically and theoretically informed perspective on and approach to the empirical study of international relations.

Guzzini, Stefano. “A Reconstruction of Constructivism in International Relations.” European Journal of International Relations 6 (June 2000): 147-182; edited passage from Ruggie, J. "What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge." International Organization 52 (Autumn 1998): 855-885.

Sociological Liberalism
Rejects realists view that IR is primarily a study of relations between sovereign states as too narrowly focused and one-sided. Sociological Liberalism argues that IR is not only about state to state relations but is also about transnational relations, i.e., relations between people, groups, and organizations belonging to different countries. This emphasis on society has led some theorists to identify liberal thought by the term “pluralism.” In focusing on transnational relations, sociological liberals return to an old theme in liberal thinking: the notion that relations between people are more cooperative and supportive than are relations between national governments. Many sociological liberals hold the idea that transnational relations between people from different countries help create new forms of human society which exist alongside or even in competition with the nation-state.

Jackson, Robert H. and Georg Sorensen. Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007; Rosenau, James N. The Dramas of Political Life: An Introduction to the Problems of Governance. North Scituate, MA: Duxbury Press, 1980.

State Cartel Theory
State cartel theory is an institutionalist approach with a focus on regional integration. It imports its terminology from the classical cartel theory of economic enterprises. Realizing that the benefits of cooperation most often outweigh the costs of conflict, states are willing to cartelize political issues in international institutions. A members’ assembly is the primary institution, with further organizations being an expression of the will and needs of members. A good example is the Council of the European Union and its allied European Commission and European Court.

Westlake, Martin. The Council of the European Union. New York: Stockton, 1995; Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.

Structural Idealism
According to Mann (2002), structural idealism encompasses a belief that social and historical explanation has to be both structuralist and idealist at the same time. To understand an individual social act, or a collection of such acts, it is not enough to just give an account of the intentions of the actor. Nor is it enough to list external factors, whether economic, political, or biological, that influenced or caused that act. Structural idealists believe that a full account of a social act requires an explanation that shows how individual intentions are related or shaped by structural factors, and how in turn these structural actors are instantiated and sustained by individual acts (without which, they would cease to exist.

Mann, Doug. Structural Idealism: A Theory of Social and Historical Explanation. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2002.

A much misused term for any science, pseudo-science or critical method which finds the significance of human things (especially social and cultural products) in their structure. Structuralist theories have been proposed for the interpretation of all of the following: actions, rituals, religions; texts, clothes, buildings; poetry, music, architecture; and, most important perhaps, since it is often thought to be the root product of any culture, language. To have structure, an object must have parts united under ordered relations. To say that structure is the determinant (rather than a determinant) of meaning is to say that it is not the parts themselves but the relations among them that are significant. This does not mean that the meaning remains unchanged when parts are changed, but that it remains invariant with respect to any systematic change of parts. Confusion has been caused by the fact that there are two kinds of theory which might be called ‘structuralist’: (1) the structuralist anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss and his followers, which finds significances by discovering repeated patterns. It is supposed that relations (exemplified, e.g., by rituals) remain unchanged from culture to culture, while the parts related may be systematically different. It is then argued that meaning attaches to the recurring pattern of relations (the ‘structure’) and not to the local variants that are fitted into it; (2) the linguist’s theory of grammatical structure, according to which the meaning of a sentence is determined in part by its structure – i.e. not merely by the words employed, but by the rules governing their conjunction. In case (1) what is interpreted is the pattern divorced from its component parts; in case (2) what is interpreted is the whole, as structured from its parts. The two kinds of interpretation are entirely different, since only in the first is the structure thought to have an independent significance. The confounding of the two has led to the impression that everything that has significant structure (architecture, music and literature, for example) also has the structure of language, and is to be interpreted in terms that might be equally used in the interpretation of linguistic signs. The confusion has even been extended to political theory, e.g. by Althusser.

Haggard, Stephen. “Structuralism and Its Critics: Recent Progress in International Relations Theory.” In Progress in Postwar International Relations. Emanuel Adler and Beverly Crawford, eds. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 403-; "Structuralism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. William A. Darity, Jr. 2nd ed. Vol. 8. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 181-183. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.


Supranationalism is a process by which national governments share sovereignty with transnational institutions whose laws and policies are binding on those governments. Majority voting by national representatives in order to make decisions, an executive authority and parliamentary body independent of national control, and an independent court whose jurisprudence is binding at the national level are the most important and distinctive features of a supranational organization. The European Union is the sole instance (as at the beginning of the twenty-first century) of a supranational organization.

Tsebelis, George and Geoffrey Garrett. “The Institutional Foundations of Intergovernmentalism and Supranationalism in the European Union.” International Organization 55 (March 2001): 357-390Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.