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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, T-Z

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.

Third World Security Dilemma
Concept first proposed by Mohammed Ayoob (1995) who argued that the major threat that confronts security building in the Third World is presented as a lack of “adequate stateness.” The argument is that “Third World” states, as opposed to states in the “Western” world, are still busy with state-building. Therefore, they need to be given time and space to construct, “credible and legitimate political apparatuses with the capacity to provide order--in many respects the foremost social value--within the territories under their judicial control." This lack of “adequate stateness” prevents Third World states from “imposing a legitimate political order at home and from participating effectively in the international system.” Critics such as Bilgin and Morton (2002), point out several problems with this analysis. First, by way of taking the Western state as a finished project, Ayoob fails to push his argument to its logical conclusion and call for more comprehensive conception of security, cognizant of the character of the state as an “unfinished project.” Critics argue that state building in the Third World and elsewhere is an ongoing process, its identity in need of re-inscription, its sovereignty in need of reaffirmation by the recognition of other states and the symbolic acts of diplomacy. Furthermore, the problem with such an approach has less to do with an exaggerated focus on the state than a lack of analysis of the state. Finally, such policy recommendations almost always neglect the security concerns of those individual and collective identities that are marginalized by strong and weak states alike.

Ayoob, Mohammed. The Third World Security Predicament: State Making, Regional Conflict, and the International System. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995; Bilgin, Pinar and Adam David Morton. "Historicising Representations of 'Failed States': Beyond the Cold-War Annexation of the Social Sciences?" Third World Quarterly 23 (2002): 55-80.

An approach to international relations that emphasizes the studying of such disciplines as diplomatic history, international law, and philosophy in an attempt to develop better insights. Traditionalists tend to be skeptical of behavioralist approaches that are confined to strict scientific standards that include formal hypothesis testing and, usually, the use of statistical analysis.

Kaplan,Morton A. “The New Great Debate: Traditionalism vs. Science in International Relations.” World Politics 19 (October 1966): 1-20; Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, eds. International Relations Theory. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987.
Transnational Historical Materialism
Transnational historical materialism falls within the Marxist tradition. This contemporary Marxism takes its inspiration from Antonio Gramsci and gives greater significance to the role of culture and ideas, along with focusing on economic aspects of order and change. It is seen as a corrective to the economism of classical Marxism.

Overbeek, Henk. Transnational Historical Materialism: Theories of Transnational Class Formation and World Order.” In Global Political Economy: Contemporary Theories. Ronen Palan, ed. 2nd edition. (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 174-191; van Apeldoorn, Bastiaan. “Theorizing the Transnational: A Historical Materialist Approach.” Journal of International Relations and Development 7 (2004): 142-176; Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.

Interactions and coalitions across state boundaries that involve such diverse nongovernmental actors as multinational corporations and banks, church groups, and terrorist networks. In some usages, transnationalism includes both nongovernmental as well as transgovernmental links. The term transnational is used both to label the actor (for example, a transnational actor) or a pattern of behavior (for example, an international organization that acts transnationally--operates across state borders). Theorists focusing on transnationalism often de-emphasize the state as primary and unitary actor.

Cerny, Philip G. Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Neopluralism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010; Anderson, James, ed. Transnational Democracy: Political Spaces and Border Crossings. New York: Routledge, 2002; Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, eds. International Relations Theory. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987.

Two-World Order
An approach proposed by Singer and Wildavsky (1993) that sees the key to understanding the real world order after the fall of the Soviet Union is to separate the world into two parts. One part is zones of peace, wealth, and democracy. The other part is zones of turmoil, war, and development. The dominating features of the new international world order in the zones of peace are that the countries there are modern, wealthy democracies that will not go to war with one another and that each country’s safety and bargaining power will not depend on its military forces or its position in a delicate balance of power.  The dominating features of the new international world order in the zones of turmoil and development will be traditional and familiar conflicts and imperatives. But the traditional pattern will be significantly modified by new factors. These include: the changing nature of wealth, which makes land and asset grabbing much less attractive than it used to be, and less attractive than improving the nation’s social and intellectual quality; the example provided by the zones of peace and democracy; the requirements and results of changing to become more productive; and, the responses of the democracies to conflict in the zones of turmoil.

Singer, Max and Aaron Wildavsky A. The Real World Order. Zones of Peace / Zones of Turmoil. Chatham, N.J: Chatham House, 1993.


Vicarious Identity Theory
Vicarious identification, or "living through another" is a familiar social-psychological concept. Shaped by insecurity and a lack of self-fulfilment, it refers to the processes by which actors gain a sense of self-identity, purpose, and self-esteem through appropriating the achievements and experiences of others. According to this theory, states identify and establish special relationships with other nations (often in an aspirational way) in order to strengthen their sense of self, security, and status on the global stage. This identification is also central to the politics of citizenship and can be manipulated by states to justify their global ambitions.

Browning, Christopher S., Pertti Joenniemi, and Brent J. Steele. Vicarious Identity in International Relations: Self, Security, and Status on the Global Stage. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

Virtual Theory

First outlined in James Der Derian (2000), virtual theory posits that the retrieval of facts--empirical or social--is preceded by interpretation, conveyed by technical media, conducted through experimentation, and succeeded by the creation of new virtualities. IR is still in need of approaches that study what is being represented. But it is also in need of a virtual theory which can explore how reality is seen, framed, read, and generated in the actualization of the virtual by the event. This does not preclude a scientific investigation, unless one ignores the advances of Heisenberg, Einstein and quantum physics, and confines science (as is often the case in the social sciences) to the Baconian-Cartesian-Newtonian mechanistic model. Virtual theory relies on the scientific approach mapped out by Heisenberg.

Der Derian, James. “Global Events, National Security, and Virtual Theory.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 30 (December 2001): 669-690; Der Derian, James. “Virtuous War/Virtual Theory.” International Affairs  76 (Oct., 2000): 771-788.

World Capitalist System
An approach to international relations that emphasizes the impact of the world wide spread of capitalism. It focuses on class and economic relations and the division of the world into a dominant center or core of industrialised countries, a subordinate periphery of less developed countries and a semi-periphery of countries that occupy an intermediate position between core and periphery.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. “The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis.” In Essential Readings in World Politics. Karen Mingst and Jack Snyder, eds. (New York: Norton, 2004), pp. 130-138; Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, eds. International Relations Theory. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987.

World-Systems Analysis
World-systems analysis is not a theory or mode of theorizing, but a perspective and a critique of other perspectives within social science. Its social origins were located in the geopolitical emergence of the Third World in the late 1960s and the manifest insufficiencies of modernization theory to account for what was happening. The unit of analysis is the world-system rather than a state or society, with particular emphases on the long-term history and totality of the system. The notion of totality (globality, unidisciplinarity and holism) distinguishes world-systems analysis from similar approaches such as global or international political economy which look at the relationships between the two segregated streams of politics and economics. Proponents of world-systems analysis also regard it as an intellectual movement, capable of transforming social science into a vehicle for world-wide social change.

Chase-Dunn, Christopher and Peter Grimes. “World-Systems Analysis.” Annual Review of Sociology 21 (1995): 387-417; Sanderson, Stephen K “World-Systems Analysis after Thirty Years: Should it Rest in Peace?” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 46 (June 2005): 179-213; Wallerstein, Immanuel Maurice. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004; Mark Beavis, IR Paradigms, Approaches and Theories. Last up-dated on 14 March 2013.