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Key Theories of International Relations

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International relations theories can help us understand the way the international systems work, as well as how nations engage with each other and view the world. Varying from liberal, equality-centric strategies to straightforward realist concepts, international relations theories are often used by diplomats and international relations experts to dictate the direction that a government may take in regards to an international political issue or concern. By studying the following key international theories, professionals in the field can better discern the motivations and goals driving policy decisions worldwide.

Realism in International Relations

Realism is a straightforward approach to international relations, stating that all nations are working to increase their own power, and those countries that manage to horde power most efficiently will thrive, as they can easily eclipse the achievements of less powerful nations. The theory further states that a nation’s foremost interest should be self-preservation and that continually gaining power should always be a social, economic, and political imperative.

The nature of realism implies that seeking a moral high ground is a goal that governments cannot always achieve and that deceit and violence can be highly effective tools for advancing national interests. With homeland defense elevated to the highest priority, remaining morally righteous in the eyes of international organizations can take a backseat to enforcing foreign policy that will improve the nation’s global stature. In modern times, realism is evident in the foreign policies of China and Russia. The relationship between Russia and Syria is one that has raised eyebrows in Europe and around the world; despite the bloody civil war in Syria—and the international community’s pleas for intervention—Russia has maintained strategic relations with the government of Bashar Al-Assad in order to protect Russian interests in the region. Similarly, China continues its diplomatic and economic association with North Korea in spite of the latter’s abysmal human rights record and aggressive nuclear testing. Chinese encroachment into the South China Sea and Russia’s incursions into Ukraine also highlight the two countries’ aggressive—and at times violent—realist political approach to international affairs.

Also called “liberal internationalism,” liberalism is based on the belief that the current global system is capable of engendering a peaceful world order. Rather than relying on direct force, such as military action, liberalism places an emphasis on international cooperation as a means of furthering each nation’s respective interests. Liberalists believe that the negative consequences of force—such as economic losses and civilian casualties—far exceed its potential benefits. Therefore, liberal politicians generally prefer the use of economic and social power in achieving their national goals (for instance, obtaining the agreement of a neighboring country to help secure a border). In today’s globalized society, using economic tactics—such as bilateral trade agreements and international diplomacy—can be more effective in advancing political interests than threatening force. As liberalism has become more rooted in international cooperation through the establishment of organizations like the United Nations, realism has started to wane as a viable political strategy. It can be argued that the liberalist tradition, perpetuated by the United States, has become the dominant system in international relations, with established values and international institutions in place to regulate this order.


Constructivism rests on the notion that rather than the outright pursuit of material interests, it is a nation’s belief systems—historical, cultural and social —that explain its foreign policy efforts and behavior. For example, since German aggression served as the primary catalyst for the Second World War, Germany deploys its armed forces outside of German borders only when its government is certain of the need to intervene in instances of genocide or conflict that threatens to spill over into other nations. This has been demonstrated by the country’s foreign policy following the first and second Gulf War (the latter of which Germany refused to participate), as well as its reluctant participation in United Nations-led operations in Somalia and Yugoslavia.

Constructivists also argue that states are not the most important actors in international relations, but that international institutions and other non-state actors are valuable in influencing behavior through lobbying and acts of persuasion. For this reason, constructivism has become a popular and important theory in recent decades as non-state actors like international organizations such as Amnesty International, OXFAM, and Greenpeace gain political influence. International organizations play a role in promoting human rights and making them an international standard to which countries are expected to conform.

Karl Marx was a Prussian philosopher and economist whose works posited that societies could escape the self-destructive nature of capitalist socioeconomic systems by implementing socialist theory into their policies, both locally and abroad. Marxism, a theory that closely analyzes social classes, aims to dismantle the capitalist structure of the international system, as it states that capitalism is no longer practically sustainable in the modern world. Marx believed that private property should be replaced by cooperative ownership, with the emphasis placed entirely on satisfying human needs for consumption, rather than creating private profit. Under an ideal socialist international regime, societies would work together to ensure that basic human needs were met on a global scale. Marxism was a dominant political ideology during the Cold War and inspired socialist revolutions in countries such as China, Vietnam and Cuba. Marxism’s influence can still be felt today, with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung encouraging students to study Marxism in exchange for free tuition. The Marxist revival is not exclusive to current and former communist nations; The 2017 Marxism Festival was hosted by the Socialist Workers Party in London and attracted thousands of activists from across the world. As the global population continues to grow and sustainability becomes increasingly precarious, Marxism remains a relevant topic of discussion for those who advocate the prioritization of human needs over private profit.

Gender issues are a significant concern within global politics, and feminism as an international relations theory seeks to regulate the power derived from (or denied on the basis of) an individual’s gender. Feminists are mostly interested in tracking political and social developments that inhibit success in female populations. When systems of power subtly or overtly tell women they can only fulfill certain roles, those limitations become social norms and perpetuate the cycle. The significance of feminism in international relations is evidenced by the role women play in promoting more just and fair international relations policies. Women like Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice have both made important contributions to the advancement of women worldwide. As a senator representing the state of New York, Clinton co-sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was aimed at combatting gender-based pay discrimination. Rice was instrumental in starting the One Woman Initiative, which provides access to legal rights, political participation, and economic development to women living in countries with a large Muslim population.

Outside of the U.S., the adoption of feminist policies has propelled women to political achievement. Iceland has maintained women’s rights as integral to their political policy since 1850, when the nation granted unconditional inheritance rights to men and women. The nation, which also granted women suffrage five years before the United States in 1915, has also seen women in the highest levels of government: former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and current Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir were the first women to be elected to these positions in 1980 and 2009, respectively. The National Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Iceland was established in 1989 and focused on improving the social status of women across the globe. The contributions of nations such as Iceland have been financially and socially impactful, addressing the need for true gender equality and demonstrating the positive effects of feminism in domestic and foreign policy.

With the rapid changes taking place in the current geopolitical landscape, discerning why governments act as they do and understanding the implications of those actions has never been more crucial. When leveraged properly, these theories can be used to accomplish a broad array of objectives; therefore, international relations professionals must possess a keen understanding of the specific impact each theoretical approach to international relations can have on global diplomatic efforts. Obtaining a master’s degree in international relations—such as the Master of Arts in International Relations degree offer by Norwich University—can help individuals deepen their knowledge and understanding of these theories and prepare them for the rigors of a career in international diplomacy.

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Our online Master of Arts in International Relations program offers a curriculum which evolves with current events to help you face the future of international affairs. The program covers many subjects to give you a look at the internal workings of international players, examine the role of state and non-state actors on the global stage, and explore different schools of thought. You can further strengthen your knowledge by choosing one of five concentrations in International Security, National Security, International Development, Cyber Diplomacy, or Regions of the World.

Recommended Readings: 4 Trends Involving International Security 6 Insights on International Economic Development Career Outlook: Foreign Service Specialist

Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations , Google Books Handbook of International Relations , Google Books The Globalization of World Politics , Google Books Realism in International Relations , E-International Relations How China, The World’s Oldest Marxist State, Proves Marx Wrong , The Atlantic Vietnam Seeks to Lure Students to Study Marxism with Free Tuition , The New York Times IR Theory: Problem Solving Theory vs. Critical Theory , E-International Relations Marxism Festival , Marxism Festival.org Women’s Rights and Opportunities , The Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton One Woman Initiative Fund for Women's Empowerment , U.S. Department of State Feminism’s Influence on Iceland’s Foreign Policy , E-International Relations

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Critical theory is the way of thinking that does not accept the prevailing order as a natural consequence. The theory had predicted some subjects like identity, domestic policy and foreign policy etc., but I had drawn interest entry coverage about international relations. The most important delegate of the theory and also the father of critical theory is Robert W. Cox who had influenced Marx and Gramsci. Cox discoursed approach of problem-solving in International Relations. According to him, the purpose of critical theory had changed established order. The advocates of critical theory look international relations over the power, and they put the power to foundation of ınternational relations. He said that as it always should be conflict for an international order, and while he was mentioning these subjects, he said an important sentence for international relations: ‘theory is always for someone and for some purpose.’

First of all, critical theory just like post-positivism, they express theory differently from traditional approach. We need to look the theory definition of Robert W. Cox at this point. According to Cox, ‘theory is always for someone and for some purpose.’ Even if the sentence appear like to does not express something, clannishness it expresses a certain disengagement from definition of traditional approach that see theory as cleaned environment completely from values and norms. In response to this, Cox claims that, people of theory have historical and social aspects that are impossible to be independent from values and norms.

Secondly, Robert Cox’s ideas on the purpose of theory in International Relations, is not a search to find the truth but it is a tool to understand the world as it is, and to change it through the power of critique. According to Robert Cox, theory has two purposes: one of them is the problem-solving purpose that is synchronic which deals with the givens and tries to manage the smooth functioning of the system. The other kind of theory is the critical theory, and the purpose is to become aware of the situations not chosen by one, and to establish an emancipator perspective. Once looked from the Coxian lens, it is clear that the discipline of international relations were from the very beginning loyal to this kind of purpose in theorizing ,i.e., the smooth working of the system. As Robert Cox articulates, ‘Theory is always for someone and for some purpose’; this statement reflects the context in which the theory is being analyzed. Cox had made a certain distinction between problem-solving and critical theory because of this. A deprived theory from perspective cannot be something else from ideology. Perspectives show changes with same time and place, and they created a unresolved dialogue between theoretician and social reality, and consequently problem-solving was appeared. Cox terms problem-solving; conservative and traditionalist. They accept prevailing order as a natural consequence and take something as it comes, and purpose of them had improved the order. In case, critical theory do not accept prevailing order like a natural consequence ,and they reveal problematical social and historical process ,so they do not have overextending purposes to prevailing order. We clearly saw that, while Robert Cox was explaining the statement, he mentioned a distinction between critical theory and problem-solving. According to me, the best example for statement of Cox is Kurdish debate because this statement can brighten people about Kurdish issue. The explanations and definitions regarding the Kurdish debate to be normative, prevents the analysis concerning the resolution to be objective. At this juncture, the theory definition of Robert W. Cox will lend assistance in the definition and naming of the Kurdish issue. According to Robert W. Cox; theory is always for someone and for some purpose, therefore divorced from a stand point in time and space. In other words, theory always serves a purpose and works for the resolution of problem of a certain group.

Finally, Robert Cox had found a solution to continuous issues for many years, and had given knowledge people about the issues with distinction between problem-solving and critical theory and his articles. This statement somewhere for someone, ıf even as it should be unnecessary, I think, it is important to understand discipline of international relations because the statement is expressed as a disengagement from traditional approach. Robert Cox is thinker that had beard extant issues with his studies and his thoughts. Maybe, some people recognize Robert W. Cox with this statement ‘theory is always for someone and for some purpose.’

Yusuf Taner KILAVUZ

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Istanbul Medeniyet University, Faculty of Political Science, Department of International Relations. [email protected]


Next 2016 yds sonbahar dönemi̇ sinav sonuç ekrani (ösym).

problem solving theory international relations

14 Aralık 2016 at 20:47

eyvallah yusuf bey tesekur ederim))

11 Ocak 2017 at 01:41

“…Robert W. Cox who had influenced Marx and Gramsci.”

11 Ocak 2017 at 01:44

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Related links, print version  issn 0124-4035.

JIMENEZ-PENA, GABRIEL . 'Problem-solving' and Critical Theory Distinction: A Reflection from the International Relations. Desafíos [online]. 2020, vol.32, n.2, pp.69-89.  Epub Jan 14, 2021. ISSN 0124-4035.  https://doi.org/10.12804/revistas.urosario.edu.co/desafios/a.7861 .

This paper attempts to determine what points of view of certain IR authors have been associated with the category 'critical', and for what reasons. Second, it seeks to show that there are not just nuanced, but substantial differences between different 'critical' approaches, and within them. Finally, it concludes exploring plausible reasons for this classification of theories, currently useful in IR, arguing that there is a sense in which this comprehensive concept is of utility, but that it may also cause confusion and spurious generalizations.

Keywords : International Relations Theory; Critic Theory; Problem-solving Theory.

To What Extent is the Realist School of IR Theory Useful for Policymakers?

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World politics has been studied and commented upon extensively through the last couple of centuries, with International Relations (IR) theory evolving into a distinct field in the 20 th century (Haas, 2016). As Haas explores, IR theories flourished in late 20 th and early 21 st century, becoming increasingly holistic and nuanced in their understanding of world politics. However, advancement in academic rigor of a discipline does not automatically translate into their inclusion in practice. The utility of IR theories for practitioners in policy making decisions has been a contentious issue (Nitze, 1993).

International Relations theory is only modestly useful for policymakers and practitioners of world politics. I will discuss the main theoretical frameworks and briefly outline the realist school of thought as it relates to the discussion of IR theory and its utility in world politics, paying special attention to neorealism. The contribution of IR theory in the policymaking field will be explored further, particularly about providing a language and framework to understand the events unfolding, and by providing tools to predict and evaluate actions, behaviours and consequences. Although the contribution of theory to practice is undeniable, it is limited by their inherently different and conflicting natures. The distinct and often contradictory objectives of IR theory and policy building are discussed in reference to neorealist theories. Because of the contrasting aims of theory and practice, the processes associated with them drastically differ as well. These processes further increase the gap between theory and decision making and limits the extent to which theory can be applied to practicing world politics.

Realism in International Relations Theory

International Relations has witnessed a rapid theoretical growth in the last couple of decades, resulting in what is termed ‘theoretical pluralism’ (Schieder & Spindler, 2014). Realist and Liberal schools of thought (often referred to as rationalist theories) shared similar ontologies and core units of study – the state – and gained eminence in the field of IR. Neorealism, or structural realism, developed through the Cold War and has stood as one of the main paradigms when discussing world politics and has prompted a great deal of subsequent research. Theory of International Politics outlines the basic tenets of neorealism (Waltz, 1979). Characterising the international system as anarchic, Kenneth Waltz proposes that states engage in self-help in order to ensure their survival. This is achieved by increasing their internal power and fostering alliances to strengthen their position. Unlike liberalism, neorealism believes that states chase relative gains and not absolute gains. While embracing the basic tenants of Waltz’s defensive realism, thinkers like John Mearsheimer advanced what is now known as offensive realism (Mearsheimer, 2001). He believes a rational state is a power maximiser and will seek hegemony to ensure its survival.

Rationalist theories like realism and liberalism – and neorealism and neoliberalism – have remained dominant in IR despite being challenged in numerous debates (Wæver, 1996). Realists like Hans Morgenthau had tremendous influence over both IR theory and, to an extent, American policy (Gellman, 1988; Morgenthau, 1960). President Trump’s public policy was shaped on the basis of realism, according to the national security advisor H.R. McMaster (McIntyre & Tritten, 2018). Regardless of whether policymakers were aware that they prescribed to realist beliefs, their conceptualisation of the world itself can be traced back directly to realism. Keeping this in mind, this essay will primarily focus on realism in discussing the usefulness of IR theory for policymakers.

Contribution of Theory to World Politics

Language and Framework

Although Morgenthau’s contribution to foreign policy was direct and visible, much of theory’s application in practice is inconspicuous at first thought. Most importantly, academic study provides the language and framework through which policymakers view and understand the otherwise complex events in world politics (Walt, 2005). Theoretical underpinnings influence what problem and information is paid attention and the prioritisation of policy decisions to make. Through a realist lens, threats to survival of the state and national interest will take priority over other concerns in a foreign policy discussion (Krasner, 1978).

Prominent theories often provide the language and lens through with policymakers view the world. Neorealism, for instance, popularised terms like anarchy and national interest. Framing issues based on realist understanding of the world limits and guides policy decisions made. Bureaucrats and leaders may not explicitly refer to the theories behind their decisions, or even be aware of their influence themselves. However, major events in history – like the Cuban missile crisis – and their analysis suggest strong neorealist influence over key decisions made by multiple practitioners over the globe (Smith, Hadfield & Dunne 2012).

Neoliberal critics claim institutions counter states’ pursuit for power and hegemony, instead encouraging them to cooperate for mutual benefit under certain conditions (Keohane, 1984). On the other hand, constructivists emphasise the role of immaterial factors – like norms, ideas and identity – on world politics (Wendt, 1999). Nevertheless, recent developments in politics indicate that idealist and normative policies like the responsibility to protect (R2P) are implemented to suit state interests (Doyle, 2011). Just as the realist school of thought remains fundamental in IR theory, its main tenets continue to influence world politics well into the 21 st century.

Predicting and Evaluating Policy

By providing the framework for understanding issues in world politics, IR theory sets the parameters for policymakers to predict the actions and behaviour of other actors, along with the likely outcome(s) of their own policies. This is especially true for positivist theories like neorealism that rely on observable behaviour to make predictions. Defensive realism argues that rational states will act in ways to ensure their survival and maintain the balance of power and status quo, while offensive realism predicts that states will pursue hegemony. Unlike the peaceful predictions of neoliberals, neorealists have been successful in predicting the turmoil characterising world politics (Kaplan, 1994). Stephen Walt, a prominent neorealist, makes a strong case to explain why a realist perspective is crucial to understand some of the most challenging and complex scenarios and states (Walt, 2018). While conceding that other theories might be more inclusive of variables, neorealism’s sharp distinctions helps simplify overwhelming matters to help policymakers make sense of the world. This clarity, in turn, is useful to analyze and evaluate foreign policy.

This is not to claim that neorealism or any other theory in IR helps mirror every detail and nuance of world politics. The framework and language provided by neorealism remains limited in its scope and objects of analysis, because the theory sets ontological boundaries on itself. For example, neorealism largely ignores the domestic politics and the changes that accompany a new administration in a democratic country. It also assumes all states are rational actors – but we know that a considerable number of states are autocracies, ruled by leaders who are perhaps more concerned with their personal wealth and lineage than national interest. This is a valid criticism and must be acknowledged when analyzing the use of theory in unravelling politics.

However, the utility of realist theories (like any other IR theory) for policymakers is limited because of the inherent differences between theory and policy practice. Because of these differences, theories often don’t lend themselves to be useful in policymaking. While there are larger, structural reasons that widen the gap between academia and practitioners, this essay will focus on the innate distinctions between the objective and processes of theory and practice of international relations.

Objective of Theory and Practice

The divide between IR theory and practice has always existed, but seems to have become more pronounced in the recent years (Nye, 2008). Joseph Nye points out differences in the nature and culture of theory and policy making that curb interaction between the two. Although academics participated in policy practice in the 20 th century, modern trends separate the academics from practice. One reason for the growing gap and the restricted use of IR theory in policy making decisions is the difference in objectives of theory and practice.

Defining the term ‘theory’ in international relations has been another debate entirely. In Theory of International Politics , Waltz differentiates between laws and theories – namely that theories are not merely sets of laws but that theories seek to explain the laws that are derived from observation (Waltz, 1979). The effectiveness of theories in IR, therefore, is not measured by how accurately they represent the reality or their contribution to policy. Theories are meant to be ‘a picture, mentally formed, of a bounded realm or domain of activity.’ (Waltz, 1979, p.9).

Neorealism is conscious of its exclusion of certain factors and its simplification of international politics – in fact, that is the very objective. Theories also devise and define certain terms in International Relations. Neorealism clearly defines what it means by power, anarchy, self-help, hegemony and other widely used terms. By setting boundaries on otherwise vague terms, theories further aid to precisely demarcate and account for the events in politics. It must be noted, however, that the tendency to break down the international system in a precise manner and use structural analysis to explain it is not a universal trend. Academics in the realist school of thought have introduced unit analysis and domestic factors (Snyder, 1991; Zakaria, 1992).

Additionally, neorealism relies on explaining generalised regularities in the international system and not specific events/ outliers (Waltz, 1990). By relying on assumptions and using a reductionist approach, a theory aims to be merely a tool to perceive the external world. It does not claim to be particularly useful for policy making. While academics like Morgenthau applied realist convictions to practice, he did not solely rely on the principles of theory to assess American foreign policy. He was a strong critic of the Vietnam war, and while he used realist arguments in part of his commentary, the main convictions remained grounded in the morality and ethics of the policy (Morgenthau, 1968). Despite being a prominent classical realist, Morgethau understood the limits of theory in world politics, making a strong case against applying academic understanding in practical pursuits. Following the same logic, neorealism is restricted in determining policies pertaining events and actors outside its scope of analysis. Non-state actors, climate change, civil unrest, refugee crisis and other forces in world politics are given limited attention in the realist school of thought (if that).

Going beyond the realist school of thought, it is evident that different paradigms subscribe to different types of theories. Robert Cox, for example, explores two different types of theories – namely ‘problem solving theories’ and ‘critical theories’ (Cox, 1981). While problem-solving theories might lend some use to practitioners, critical theories do not. Instead, they question the very assumptions and boundaries that the former rely on. While critical theories may have a broader scope and mechanisms to evaluate factors in world politics, its objective of problematising the world severely limits its contribution to policy making.

A bureaucrat or practitioner in world politics is required to deliver in a time-constrained environment (Nye, 2008). This is especially true in the modern world, with the pace of information sharing and communication increasing exponentially. Academics and scholars devote months or even years to research, develop and polish their theories and perspectives on international relations. However, policymakers primarily rely on historical narratives, cognitive biases and common practices to make decisions (Nau, 2008). Apart from theoretical understanding of the international system, bureaucrats are required to be invested in the cost-benefit analysis of context specific policy decisions (George, 1993). As Alexander George points out, theoretical approaches in international relations are inadequate to provide policy makers vital input. Prominent neorealists are not only aware of incompatibility between theory and practice, they respect the differences and encourage their separation (Waltz, 1996).

Processes in Theory and Practice

Because the objectives of academia and policymakers in international relations are drastically different, the processes they use to achieve these goals also vary. Theory in International Relations is not developed to be predictive, but as a reaction to events that have already unfolded in world politics. Liberal institutionalism took centre stage in IR theory when Woodrow Wilson advocated the establishment of the League of Nations post World War I (Van De Haar, 2009). After the collapse of the League of Nations and World War II, the United Nations took into account the power dynamics of the world. The Security Council explicitly gives the Permanent 5 – USA, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China – the power to veto resolutions, thereby maintaining the balance of power between strong and weak states (United Nations, 1945). Soon after, classical realism gained prominence over liberalism (Carr & Cox 2016).

Waltz’s Theory of International Politics introduced structural realism or neorealism to the world during the Cold War, when the effects of an anarchic international system were most obvious (Waltz, 1979). Another process by which theories develop is by interacting with each other in attempts to understand the events that unfold. While Waltz introduced neorealism to the world, Robert Keohane responded with neoliberalism by employing the same rationalist terms, assumptions and methodology (Keohane, 1984). Theories continue to grow and evolve through this criticism and discussion within academia – scholars (ideally) either explain or modify their theories (Waltz, 1986). Even constructivists who vehemently opposed rationalist theories interacted with neorealism in their language. The titles of Alexander Wendt’s works are telling. ‘Social theory of international politics’ and ‘Anarchy is what states make of it’ are two examples where theories develop by interacting with each other and sharing similar language and examples (Wendt, 1992, 1999).

The interactions between theories and processes is often narrated by dividing the interactions into The Great Debates (Lake, 2013). While the first great debate between realism and liberalism focused on two statist theories, the second debate between traditionalists (advocating for interpretive techniques) and behaviourists (preferring objective methods of hard sciences) was concerned with the methodology of theories in IR. The third great debate was epistemological in nature, questions the foundations of knowledge that shape theories in the first place (Houghton, 2008). The development of IR suggests that the discipline has grown by responding to events and competing theories, and has largely ignored the predictive strength of different theories. The nature of academic work actively discourages theorists from being preoccupied with policy-relevance, and instead demands that scholars strive for peer-acceptance within their ‘ivory towers’ (Walt, 2005, p. 40).

On the other hand, practitioners of policymaking work under certain administrations and governments and are concerned with meeting demands of multiple stakeholders. However, unlike academia, the scope for debate and interaction is limited due to centralised decision making and cognitive rigidity and bias of employees and institutions themselves (Renshon & Renshon, 2008). Scholars are able to engage and interact for years to achieve the theoretical excellence and recognition. Practitioners, however, are expected to make trade-offs between a multitude of factors like time, cost and benefits, norms, objectives of the government or regime in power (Renshon, 2008, p. 516). As IR theory contributes to become more abstract and prosper in its own bubble, think tanks are better able to provide the expert advice and consultation for policy makers (Nye, 2008).

Theories of IR are not designed to allow for context-specific variables to be factored into consideration. Neorealism, for example, may at best provide a framework to understand politics in a generalised manner, but its use of structural analysis will be of little help in the policy process and its many requirements and restrictions. Decisions in politics are made by analysing and anticipating the future and consequences involved for the state. However, neorealism (and other a number of other theories in IR) is more retrospective and not predictive in nature. They tend to respond to events than guide them.

In conclusion, international theory has become a rigorous academic discipline in the social and political sciences. Despite the evolution in IR theory, its use in practice remains modest at best. In this essay, I focused on the realist school of thought – and particularly neorealism – for its relevance and prominence in both scholarly and political world. Neorealism did provide the language and framework for policymakers to conceive the world in. Without the boundaries, definitions and simplification that theory provides, events in politics are likely to seem overwhelming and chaotic. In other words, neorealism provides heuristics for practitioners to analyse the behaviour of actors and evaluate their own actions. While multiple theories might claim credit for influencing different policies and behaviours, the impact of neorealism has been consistent and visible over the decades.

However, the impact of theory on policy making remains limited not only because of structural factors but inherent differences between the two. As both Nye and Walt emphasise, theories have different objectives than practitioners of world politics. Theories like neorealism are aimed towards simplifying and drawing precise lines and explain generalised and observable regularities. Prominent theorists like Waltz and Morgenthau understood the limitations of theories they developed, and were skeptical about using them in policy making. Other academics have proposed different types of theories, like problem solving and critical theories. Because of their nature, objectives of each paradigm remain different. The process involved in developing theories is another inherent factor that limits its contribution to policy making. IR theory has developed by reacting to the events in world politics, and interacting with each other – often sharing terms and languages. Scholars are encouraged to polish their theories over years and gain prominence within the abstract world of academia over focusing on policy.

Policy makers, however, have drastically different objectives. They are required to take into consideration all factors and the context and actor specific aspects of politics. Therefore, they are likely to use cognitive bias, cost benefit analysis and have trade-offs between multiple factors. Making policy decisions requires bureaucrats to predict future events and the possible consequences. Theories like neorealism, therefore, are therefore of limited use for policy makers. Although theories in International Relations are only moderately useful in policy scenarios, their worth is not exclusively linked to their practical utility. Theoretical concepts remain valuable for their insights and critique of world politics, regardless of the gap between academia and practice of world politics.

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Written by: Vaishnavi Mangalvedhekar Written at: University of Sydney Written for: Dr. Ken Fraser Date written: October 2018

Further Reading on E-International Relations

  • Tracing Hobbes in Realist International Relations Theory
  • How Global is Security Studies? The Possibility of “Non-Western” Theory
  • Outside of Critical Theory, What Has Marxism Contributed to Understanding IR?
  • How, if at all, Does Hierarchy Exist Both in the Theory and Practice of IR?
  • A Review of Critical Race Theory’s Critiques of Mainstream IR
  • The False Dichotomy of the Material-Ideational Debate in IR Theory

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In order to clarify the use of the term critical theory, this chapter looks at some examples from mainstream International Relations. Neorealism is taken as the paradigmatic example of a problem-solving or traditional theory. The chapter will assess why that is so, and examine whether there are any grounds for challenging that view. A more hard test case would be Social Constructivism, and the chapter will assess the extent to which this approach could be considered a critical theory and on what grounds. The aim of the chapter is to indicate that a hard distinction between critical theory and problem-solving theory is hard to sustain and that perhaps all theory contains some mixture of critical and problem-solving elements – though in different combinations.

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problem solving theory international relations

All of MUP's digital content including Open Access books and journals is now available on manchesterhive .

Critical theory and international relations

Knowledge, power and practice.

Cover Critical theory and international relations


Table of contents.

  • Preface and acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Critical Theory
  • Chapter 2: The critique of traditional/problem-solving theory
  • Chapter 3: The limits to knowledge
  • Chapter 4: The operation of power
  • Chapter 5: Practice
  • Chapter 6: Can Critical International Relations Theory be more than critical?
  • Bibliography


Cover The Existential drinker

The Existential drinker

Publication history:.

  • Philosophy and Critical Theory

Drinking to excess has been a striking problem for industrial and post-industrial societies – who is responsible when a ‘free’ individual opts for a slow suicide? The causes of such drinking have often been blamed on heredity, moral weakness, ‘disease’ (addiction), hedonism, and Romantic illusion. Yet there is another reason which may be more fundamental and which has been overlooked or dismissed, and it is that the drinker may act with sincere philosophical intent. The Existential Drinker looks at the convergence of a new kind of excessive, habitual drinking, beginning in the nineteenth century, and a new way of thinking about the self which in the twentieth century comes to be labelled ‘Existential’. A substantial introduction covers questions of self, will, consciousness, authenticity, and ethics in relation to drinking, while introducing aspects of Existential thought pertinent to the discussion. The Existential-drinker canon is anchored in Jack London’s ‘alcoholic memoir’ John Barleycorn (1913), where London claims he can get at the truth of existence only through the insights afforded by excessive and repeated alcohol use. The book then covers drinker-texts such as Jean Rhys’s interwar novels, Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend and John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas, along with less well-known works such as Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, Venedikt Yerofeev’s Moscow–Petushki, and A. L. Kennedy’s Paradise. The book will appeal to anybody with an interest in drinking and literature, as well as those with more specialised concerns in drinking studies, Existentialism, twentieth-century literature, and medical humanities.

Cover Critical theory and sociological theory

Critical theory and sociological theory

On late modernity and social statehood.

Populism, neoliberalism, and globalisation are just three of the many terms used to analyse the challenges facing democracies around the world. Critical Theory and Sociological Theory examines those challenges by investigating how the conditions of democratic statehood have been altered at several key historical intervals since 1945. The author explains why the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood, such as elections, have always been complemented by civic, cultural, educational, socio-economic, and, perhaps most importantly, constitutional institutions mediating between citizens and state authority. Critical theory is rearticulated with a contemporary focus in order to show how the mediations between citizens and statehood are once again rapidly changing. The book looks at the ways in which modern societies have developed mixed constitutions in several senses that go beyond the official separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers. In addition to that separation, one also witnesses a complex set of conflicts, agreements, and precarious compromises that are not adequately defined by the existing conceptual vocabulary on the subject. Darrow Schecter shows why a sociological approach to critical theory is urgently needed to address prevailing conceptual deficits and to explain how the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood need to be complemented and updated in new ways today.

Cover Toleration, power and the right to justification

Toleration, power and the right to justification

Rainer forst in dialogue.

Rainer Forst's Toleration in Conflict (published in English 2013) is the most important historical and philosophical analysis of toleration of the past several decades. Reconstructing the entire history of the concept, it provides a forceful account of the tensions and dilemmas that pervade the discourse of toleration. In his lead essay for this volume, Forst revisits his work on toleration and situates it in relation to both the concept of political liberty and his wider project of a critical theory of justification. Interlocutors Teresa M. Bejan, Chandran Kukathas, John Horton, Daniel Weinstock, Melissa S. Williams, Patchen Markell and David Owen then critically examine Forst's reconstruction of toleration, his account of political liberty and the form of critical theory that he articulates in his work on such political concepts. The volume concludes with Forst’s reply to his critics.

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International Relations' Last Synthesis? Decoupling Constructivist and Critical Approaches

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5 Understanding and Classifying Critical Approaches

  • Published: March 2019
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This chapter argues that what various theoretical approaches to IR that describe themselves or are described as critical share in common is that they are political rather than social theories. There are no other common elements to be found across this group of approaches. Various schemas used to typify different sorts of critical theories (e.g., emancipatory/postmodern; feminist/postcolonial/poststructuralist; Copenhagen School/Aberystwyth School/Paris School) signify different political theories with different political content but share political investment in both disciplinary International Relations and global politics. They are explicitly engaged in International Relations theorizing and International Relations research as a political enterprise with political ends.

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World Politics: International Relations and Globalisation in the 21st Century

Student resources, multiple choice quiz.

1. Which of the following is a critique of realism advanced by Robert Cox’s approach to Critical Theory?

  • That it is a problem solving theory
  • That it fails to consider normative issues
  • Its claims that its view of international relations is the only authentic one
  • All of the options

d. All of the options

2. Which of the following is a criticism of Marxism advanced by the critical approaches?

  • Concentrated too heavily on socio-economic class differences rather than other features of society that supported capitalism
  • Marxism was too reductionist in that it ignored elements such as culture
  • Its emphasis on revolution as the prime method to enact change in society

d.  All of the options

3. What is the purpose of ‘emancipation’ for critical approaches?

  • To enable the state to achieve security for itself at the expense of its citizens
  • Emancipation is aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms
  • Increasing the control of specific segments of society
  • None of the options

b. Emancipation is aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms

4. In what context does Gramsci refer to the notion of hegemony?

  • One or a handful of states establishing dominance over others in the international system
  • As a system of class based domination over weaker sections of society
  • A process by which a particular cultural, social and political narrative achieves domination within society
  • None of the options 

c. A process by which a particular cultural, social and political narrative achieves domination within society

5. What are the goals of critical theory?

  • To maintain the present international order
  • To challenge the prevailing order and enact change through a process of critique
  • To support traditional theories in their ‘problem-solving’ goals
  • None of the options. 

b. To challenge the prevailing order and enact change through a process of critique

CSS Blog Network

IR Theory: Problem-Solving Theory Versus Critical Theory?

  • Post author By Matt Davies
  • Post date 01/10/2014
  • No Comments on IR Theory: Problem-Solving Theory Versus Critical Theory?

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 19 September 2014.

Robert Cox began his canonical 1981 essay “Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory” with the observation that it is “necessary and practical” for academic disciplines to “divide up the seamless web of the real social world”. We make these divisions, Cox wrote, in order to analyse the world and thus to produce practical knowledge of that world. It is not a stretch to suggest that the real social world of International Relations scholarship might also be approached as worthy of analysis and theory. Indeed, reflection on International Relations as theory appears in the field as part of the necessary and practical division of the complexity of the social and political world. Rare is the introduction to IR textbook that does not emphasize, and usually begin with, the “great (theoretical) debates” that have structured the field since it emerged as an academic discipline.

Thus theory itself has long and often been treated as an object for theoretical reflection in International Relations. Recently, we could point to both the founding of a specific section of the US-based International Studies Association dedicated to Theory – indeed, this section honoured Professor Cox at the ISA convention in Toronto in 2014 – as well as the special issue in September 2013 of the European Journal of International Relations on “The End of IR Theory?”, accompanied by a wide-ranging discussion of the papers collected there in the Duck of Minerva blog.

For some of the contributors to the special issue and to the debates on the symposium – and I hope I can be forgiven for making an impressionistic observation rather than an analytical one – it seems that the question mark at the end of “the end of IR theory?” was a sign of fatigue rather than a sense that the debates over theory needed to be renewed. Fatigue, in the sense of “are we still having this conversation?” or “haven’t we moved on yet?” Emblematic of this fatigue were the reflections of Professor Chris Brown in both his article in the EJIR and his contribution to the symposium. It’s not that Brown is hostile to theory; on the contrary, his contribution was a complaint that the critical theories that emerged in the 1980s had not fulfilled their potential and that problem-solving theory had contributed much more.

I disagree with his assessment of the status of critical theory, as do many of the contributors to the special issue and to the symposium, in particular with his claim that it has failed to live up to the promise it showed in the 1980s – but that’s a conversation for another time. What is most interesting here is how Brown takes up Cox’s analytical division of “critical theory” from “problem-solving theory”. Indeed, the trope of problem-solving versus critical theory is asserted quite often in discussions of the status of theory in IR: for example, in A. C. McKeil; in Robert W. Murray; or in Ali Diskaya, just to take a few examples appearing here in e-IR. It is this trope, along with Cox’s other oft-cited claim in the 1981 Millennium article that “theory is always for someone and for some purpose” (Cox 1981: 129) that have made his article canonical. Indeed, Cox’s categories of “critical” and “problem-solving” are now part of the very common-sense ordering of theory in IR.

It is therefore important to consider what Cox actually said about these categories. Problem-solving theory, first, “takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organised, as the given framework for action. The general aim of problem-solving is to make these relationships and institutions work smoothly by dealing effectively with particular sources of trouble” (Cox 1981, 128-129). This definition, remember, follows Cox’s opening statements in the article about the importance of theory for the production of practical knowledge. Cox is often interpreted as elevating critical theory over problem solving theory – Brown takes him to do so, for example, in the symposium when he says Cox “compared ‘problem-solving’ theory unfavourably with ‘critical theory’” but I am not convinced that a careful reading of Cox’s article supports this (and Cox argues something similar). In addition to signalling the importance of theory for practical knowledge, Cox explicitly notes, for example, how the analytical procedures he sees as defining problem-solving theory are the source of its strength. He takes issue with the idea that problem-solving theory is value-free and asserts that it is conservative (Cox 1981: 129-130) but this is as close to a normative assessment of problem-solving theory as Cox gets.

Critical theory, in contrast, is holistic where problem-solving theory is analytic. It “does not take institutions and social and power relations for granted but calls them into question by concerning itself with their origins and how and whether they might be in the process of changing. … Critical theory is directed to the social and political complex as a whole rather than to the separate parts” (Cox 1981: 129). Cox also allows that where problem-solving theory might be seen as conservative, critical theory might be seen as utopian: “Its aims are just as practical as those of problem-solving theory, but it approaches practice from a perspective with transcends that of the existing order. … Critical theory allows for a normative choice in favour of a social and political order different from the prevailing order, but it limits the range of choice to alternative orders which are feasible transformations of the existing world” (Cox 1981: 130).

I suspect that it is this holistic and utopian range for critical theory as asserted by Cox that leads Brown to identify critical theory with Quentin Skinner’s notion of Grand Theory and leads so many of the rest of us to assume that critical theory is posited as a superior theoretical approach to problem-solving theory. I’ve tried to show that Cox, at least, makes no explicit claims to that effect. Nevertheless, the categories Cox bequeathed to us seem to encourage us to turn this binary, critical versus problem-solving theory, into a hierarchy. Readers of International Relations theory instinctively want to read it as political theory – though as Rob Walker might remind us, this does not make us careful readers of political theory either. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that the theoretical choice presented by the binary critical theory-problem-solving theory is, at least, theory as engaged in a political contest.

Should Cox’s categories be preserved, critiqued, or abandoned? Would doing so lend a clearer (and practical) view of theory in the field? One way to extend the engagement with the practice of theory would be to read Cox’s categories alongside the other famous definition of critical theory, in Max Horkheimer’s essay “Traditional and Critical Theory” (Horkheimer 2014 [1937]). Though Cox did not explicitly cite Horkheimer, the latter’s efforts to distinguish critical theory from what he called “traditional theory” make him an obvious interlocutor. (There are, of course, many other serious contributions to the effort to situate theory socially and politically, from Bourdieu to Foucault, from Bruno Latour to Walter Mignolo. Many of these efforts are considered in the EJIR special issue and the Duck of Minerva symposium.) I focus on Horkheimer here in part due to the clear affinities between his approach and Cox’s and in part because Horkheimer, like Cox and as I would like to do, provides an explicit defence of the enterprise of critical theory.

While the scale of Horkheimer’s critique, engaged as he was with theory per se, is much grander than the stage Cox builds when he focuses on IR theory in the 1981 article, their accounts of “traditional” and “problem-solving” theory are remarkably similar. Cox notes how the power of problem-solving theory stems from its methodological “fixing” of the social and institutional parameters surrounding the variables it examines. For Horkheimer, this method, rooted in Descartes and predominant not only in social sciences but in science generally in his time, stems from the ability of the scholar to abstract him or herself from these social and institutional parameters in the production of theories and analyses. In other words, just as in any production process where a division of labour separates the subjective functions of planning, designing, interpreting, and analysing from the executive functions, traditional theory renders the world under study as objective and passive and the scientist an active, analysing subject.

In their conceptualisations of critical theory, however, Cox and Horkheimer differ slightly but in an important way. While both are concerned to defend theory as an approach to a dynamic and interconnected totality, Cox does not foreground the status of the theorist, while for Horkheimer the critical theorist must engage with theory as a productive process. Cox does take neorealism to task for neglecting the production process in the constitution of national interest (Cox 1981: 134-135) but Horkheimer goes further: it is not a matter of adding another parameter or variable to the theoretical enterprise; it is a matter of understanding the theoretical enterprise itself in relation to and as a part of a general production process and division of labour. When Cox wrote in 1981, the prevailing epistemology in IR and the epistemological commitment of problem-solving or traditional theory was realist: the world exists independently of our thoughts about it and the task of theory is to make thought adequate to reality. What Horkheimer shows is that there is no neat division between thought and reality that can justify the privileged position of the theorist in the social division of labour: our thoughts are part of reality, as real as the city you live in or the job you work at and they must be analysed as part of the general social division of labour and of social reproduction.

Thus the problem-solving theorist becomes a functionary in the maintenance of social order. The critical theorist must understand the role of theory in social reproduction in order to break down the divisions between theoretical reflection and the making of the world.

I am not suggesting that Horkheimer was right where Cox was wrong. Cox was certainly aware of the – explicit or implicit – political commitments of the theorist when he said, “theory is always for someone and for some purpose”. The question for me here is whether our common-sense taxonomy of International Relations theory as “problem-solving” or “critical” remains appropriate. Given how embedded it is in our ways of seeing ourselves and our field, and given that it can be quite useful for teaching theory, I don’t think it should necessarily be abandoned. Given the implicit, instinctual way IR theorists tend to treat the division as a contest, as in Chris Brown for whom problem-solving has produced better results than critical theory, I wonder if it would not be better to try to make the political stakes of that contest more evident.

For me, reading Cox with Horkheimer provides an interesting start on this task. The description of the first category as “problem-solving” or “traditional” points to a theoretical practice where expertise rules, where specialists take up their specific tasks and succeed or fail on the basis of how powerful their explanations are and the impact of their work. Cox and Horkheimer both acknowledge the importance of this approach in terms of method and results. And they both hint at the cost: politically, we might better describe this approach as technocratic theory. The enterprise is to uncover the timeless essences of things and relations and to keep things working by keeping them in their place.

The contrasting approach to theory, which Cox and Horkheimer both dub “critical theory”, seeks instead to enable the transformation of things. But critical theory is more than this, too; after all, as social constructivism suggests, the transformation of things is just the normal state of affairs as people make themselves and make their history. Critical theory does more: it disagrees. As Rancière suggests, it disrupts the order of the “distribution of the sensible.” Critical theory works by making visible the relationships and the things that International Relations refuses to recognise and qualify as relationships or things. It makes audible the voices of people not qualified to speak in International Relations. Against the technocratic barriers to international living and understandings, critical theory identifies the arbitrariness and artificiality of barriers and explains them in relation to their roles in the division of labour, social reproduction, or system maintenance. Politically, critical theory must be democratic theory – not a theory of democracy, posed externally to its object, but a theory that is democratic in its everyday practices. These are the political stakes in our theoretical choices.

Matt Davies lectures in International Political Economy at Newcastle University and is the Degree Programme Director for the MA in World Politics and Popular Culture . He is also a co-editor of the Popular Culture and World Politics book series , published by Routledge.

  • Tags International Relations , History , Realism , Neorealism , Liberalism

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Robert W. Cox and Critical Theory of International Relations

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2009, International Studies

Robert W. Cox's contribution to International Relations theory places the discipline in a transformational framework. Building on Gramsci's ideas and a variety of other sources eclectically, his theory goes beyond the neorealist statecentric framework and brings out the connections between material conditions, ideas and institutions in what he terms the formation of 'world orders'. How people organize themselves in the sphere of production not only determines their own life but also that of their states and the world order. In saying that change can come from any one of the spheres (material conditions, ideas and institutions), he denies and goes beyond the base-superstructure thesis of Marxism. Cox identifies creation of a vibrant civil society, emergence of organic intellectuals representing the marginalized, development of community-level solidarity, participatory democracy, non-violent methods of conflict resolution, pluralism and multilateralism as key elements of his...

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    Abstract JIMENEZ-PENA, GABRIEL. 'Problem-solving' and Critical Theory Distinction: A Reflection from the International Relations. Desafíos [online]. 2020, vol.32, n.2, pp.69-89. Epub Jan 14, 2021. ISSN 0124-4035. https://doi.org/10.12804/revistas.urosario.edu.co/desafios/a.7861.

  8. Power and International Relations: a temporal view

    Abstract International Relations scholars are certain about two facts: power is the defining concept of the discipline and there is no consensus about what that concept means. One explanation for this problematic state of the field is that most International Relations scholars freight their analyses of power with hidden assumptions about time.

  9. Problems and challenges

    Abstract. 'Problems and challenges' surveys the dangers to the human race and their possible international solutions. Despite the reality of climate change, countries are unwilling to jeopardize growth and prosperity to deal with it. Even if an international regime is blocked, individual nations can take action.

  10. To What Extent is the Realist School of IR Theory Useful for Policymakers?

    International Relations theory is only modestly useful for policymakers and practitioners of world politics. I will discuss the main theoretical frameworks and briefly outline the realist school of thought as it relates to the discussion of IR theory and its utility in world politics, paying special attention to neorealism.

  11. Robert W. Cox and Critical Theory of International Relations

    Robert W. Cox's contribution to International Relations theory places the discipline in a transformational framework. Building on Gramsci's ideas and a variety of other sources eclectically, his theory goes beyond the neorealist statecentric framework and brings out the connections between material conditions, ideas and institutions in what he terms the formation of 'world orders'.

  12. Problem Solving Theory in International Relations [ Hindi ]

    Introduction: Problem Solving Theory in International Relations: Charting a Path to Global SolutionsJoin us in this illuminating video as we delve into the w...

  13. The critique of traditional/problem-solving theory in: Critical theory

    In order to clarify the use of the term critical theory, this chapter looks at some examples from mainstream International Relations. Neorealism is taken as the paradigmatic example of a problem-solving or traditional theory. The chapter will assess why that is so, and examine whether there are any grounds for challenging that view. A more hard test case would be Social Constructivism, and the ...

  14. Critique and Alternativity in International Relations

    The epistemically invented divide "problem-solving/critical theory" needs to be reexamined, as it has become an impediment to generating emancipatory alternatives. Emancipation remains a central concern for critical theory, which has, however, fallen short of offering practical solution for how to achieve it ( Fierke 2007 ).

  15. John Burton's Contribution to Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice

    THEORY AND PRACTICE: A PERSONAL VIEW ... he had already developed and tested his "controlled communication" problem solving workshops in the context of a conflict in Southeast Asia and had published his first book on the process, Conflict and Communication; The Use of Controlled Communication in International Relations (Burton, 1969).

  16. Understanding and Classifying Critical Approaches

    In Cox's description, "problem-solving theory . . . takes the world as it finds it" and then aims to make the world "work more smoothly by dealing effectively with the particular sources of trouble." 4 In other words, the politics of problem-solving theory is an acceptance of the status quo ways that the world is perceived to work, and an intere...

  17. International Relations theory and its problems

    Abstract This brief article reflects on International Relations theory and its shortcomings. It points to three major areas of consideration that have been either omitted or too readily discounted.

  18. chapter 20 Flashcards

    A theory of international relations that focuses on the tendency of nation's to operate from self - interest. ... The belief that nations must engage in international problem solving. Unilateralism. A philosophy that encourages individual nations to act on their own when facing threats from other nations.

  19. Multiple Choice Quiz

    None of the options. 1. Which of the following is a critique of realism advanced by Robert Cox's approach to Critical Theory?That it is a problem solving theoryThat it fails to consider normative issuesIts claims that its view of international relations is the only authentic oneAll of the optionsAnswer:d. All of the options.

  20. PDF International Organisations and Global Problems

    With an introduction to international relations theory, this book incorp- orates the best and most up-to-date scholarly research, and applies it to examples from around the world to show you how to answer the question, 'Are IOs a help or a hindrance?'

  21. PDF Problems of International Relations

    The study of the problems of international relations has a special place in political science. This is primarily due ... totalitarianism theory of democracy, the Commonwealth of Independent States, international ... Another approach to solving the above problem - that is, maintaining the stability of the international system, ...

  22. IR Theory: Problem-Solving Theory Versus Critical Theory?

    Problem-solving theory, first, "takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organised, as the given framework for action.

  23. Robert W. Cox and Critical Theory of International Relations

    But in the 1990s, when these structures loosened and there was high eco- nomic competition, the value of problem-solving theory declined and critical International Studies, 46, 4 (2009): 439-456 Downloaded from isq.sagepub.com by John Moolakkattu on November 29, 2014 Robert W. Cox and Critical Theory of International Relations 445 theory ...