International Relations (IR) theory has undergone a series of debates which have left profound changes on the discipline as a whole. These debates, though highly influential, have still caused some controversy among those in the field. Indeed, IR scholars have yet to reach a consensus as to the number of debates in IR, let alone whether or not the third debate should be recognized as part of that esteemed history, or, further still, whether or not the debates should remain part of IR discourse at all. The eclectic nature of the third debate, after all, makes it difficult to classify, as there are multiple definitions and accounts of what the third debate truly entails. The third debate originated in the 1980s, as a certain set of scholars attempted to open up the theoretical field of international relations to previously neglected viewpoints. These so-called “dissidents,” more specifically, had aimed to liberate the field from the neo-utilitarian tradition of thought. The epistemological-ontological common ground of traditional IR theories stands at the very center of dissidents’ attack, because of their commitment to undermine “foundationalist discourses.” Furthermore, the third debate is credited with the emergence of constructivism as a mainstream theory of IR, the opening up of IR to new objects and subfields, and the growth of critical approaches to IR.
Thierry Balzacq and Stéphane J. Baele
For decades, international studies instructors have adopted active learning techniques to engage students in a wide range of classes. The literature on active learning suggests many benefits of integrating these methods into courses as a complement to traditional teaching modes such as lectures. These benefits include motivating and engaging students, enhancing learning of content, and supporting skill building. Although the empirical literature on active learning is mixed, the general consensus from the literature is that active learning is a valuable supplement to other teaching methods. Students and faculty find active learning enjoyable and engaging. Human rights courses, specifically, can benefit from engaging students. Active learning can help students unpack their preconceived ideas about human rights, identify the challenges that face international efforts to cooperate, and better understand the world around them. At the same time, human rights courses often cover sensitive topics that can present challenges for instructors wanting to engage in active learning techniques. It is important to be mindful of how to approach these topics, regardless of teaching method and especially when using active learning techniques that give students more agency in the classroom. Focusing on best practices for active learning provides a useful guide to managing the challenges that using active learning poses in human rights courses. In particular, instructors should align activities with course learning objectives, give careful consideration to the selection of topics and questions, create a classroom environment that is conductive to respectful engagement, and use debriefing techniques at the conclusion of an activity. Active learning, when designed and implemented carefully, can help create a transformational learning experience for students in a human rights course.
Reina C. Neufeldt
The proliferation of international peacebuilding practice in the 2000s was accompanied by a series of questions that has produced a significant body of writing about peacebuilding ethics within International Relations. This growing body of literature has produced questions, debates and theoretical positions. As explored below, a limited set of meta-ethics considerations provide the foundation for normative theorizing, particularly the moral objectivist commitment to positive peace. The majority of theorizing is situated among normative ethics debates. These works respond to the questions: Who has agency or who ought to have agency in peacebuilding? What ends should peacebuilding pursue? And, what means will ensure that peacebuilding is done right? The related literature focuses on a broad range of conditions, from individuals working for nongovernmental organizations to state- and United Nations–sponsored interventions. It includes authors who write from cosmopolitan, consequentialist, postcolonial, virtue, critical, feminist, and Foucaultian perspectives, among others. Finally, there is nascent work in descriptive and applied ethics. Peacebuilding efforts to rebuild relationships and structures during and after conflict, violence and war present a series of ethical questions and challenges for international and national actors. Should the international community engage in peacebuilding? To what extent? Who ought to be involved? What constitutes good ends for peacebuilding? How can peacebuilding be done right? These questions identify the ways in which peacebuilding has been morally interrogated since its rise in prominence as a form of international intervention in the 1990s. The history of peacebuilding and peacebuilding meta-ethics must be considered with a view toward current normative ethics debates involving agency as well as the ends and means in peacebuilding.
Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Kyle Beardsley, and Sara M. T. Polo
Conflict data sets can shed light on how different ways of measuring conflict (or any other international relations phenomenon) result in different conclusions. Data collection procedures affect our efforts to answer key descriptive questions about war and peace in the world and their relationship to other features of interest. Moreover, empirical data or information can answer some pointed questions about world politics, such as, “Has there been a decline in conflict in the international system?” The development of data on characteristics relevant to the study of international relations has undeniably allowed a great deal of progress to be made on many research questions. However, trying to answer seemingly simple descriptive questions about international relations often shows how data rarely speak entirely for themselves. The specific ways in which we pose questions or try to reach answers will often influence our conclusions. Likewise, the specific manner in which the data have been collected will often have implications for our inferences. In turn, proposed answers to descriptive questions are often contested by other researchers. Many empirical debates in the study of international relations, upon closer inspection, often hinge on assumptions and criteria that are not made fully explicit in studies based on empirical data.
The nature of the debates surrounding international relations (IR) as a social science have pointed to issues of ontology, epistemology, methodology, philosophy of science, history, and sociology of knowledge, yet they are all crucial in understanding the character of international relations. Such an idea was brought about by Stanley Hoffman’s 1977 article, “An American Social Science: International Relations.” For Hoffmann, IR developed the way it did out of a set of distinctive intellectual predispositions, political circumstances, and institutional opportunities. His insights, however controversial, thus reveal fundamental questions about the work of IR scholars. The key issues here are the definition of IR as a discipline, the definition of IR as a science, and the definition of IR as an American social science in particular. The large variety of inquiries explored in IR, the “kind” of social science IR scholars are engaged in, as well as how “progress” is assessed, all reveal some important nuances in international relations as a discipline. Moreover, the debates surrounding the scientific legitimacy of IR scholarship reveal how IR gained legitimacy as a discipline. The historical development of IR could in fact be described as a series of debates, known among those in the field as the “great debates,” which eventually became the coherent whole understood to be the field of international relations.
The essay discusses the origins and development of the idea of international society in the discipline of International Relations (IR). It locates the concept in the English School tradition, providing a summary of the classic statements as found in the writings of Wight, Bull and Manning. It engages with more recent writing, including Buzan’s reconceptualization of international society and explaining the pluralist-solidarist distinction. The essay traces key debates surrounding the concept, such as the expansion of international society, humanitarian intervention and the standard of civilisation. The final part presents the main criticisms of the concept and explores the ontological status of international society.
Jeffrey S. Lantis, Kent J. Kille, and Matthew Krain
The literature on active teaching and learning in international studies has developed significantly in recent decades. The philosophy behind active teaching approaches focuses on the goal of empowering students and promoting knowledge retention through engagement and experiential learning. Teacher-scholars in many different disciplines have contributed to a wide and increasingly deep literature on teaching with purpose. They identify best practices, including the importance of designing exercises that have clear educational objectives, exploring examples and alternative ways of engaging students, detailing clear procedures, and implementing assessment protocols. Examples of popular and successful active teaching and learning approaches include teaching with case studies and problem-based learning in international studies, where students confront the complexities of an issue or puzzle, and reason through potential solutions. Other instructors employ structured debates in the classroom, where students are assigned common reading materials and then develop arguments on one side or another of the debate in order to critically examine issues. More teachers are engaging students through use of alternative texts like literature and films, where reading historical narratives, memoirs, or even graphic novels may help capture student interest and promote critical thinking and reflection. In addition, simulations and games remain very popular—from simple in-class game theory exercises to semester-long role-playing simulations of international diplomacy. Studies show that all of these approaches, when implemented with clear educational objectives and intentionality, can promote student learning, interest, and retention of knowledge and perspectives. Finally, teacher-scholars have begun to embrace the importance of assessment and thoughtful reflection on the effectiveness of active teaching and learning techniques for the international studies classroom. Evidence regarding the achievement of learning outcomes, or potential limitations, can help inform improvements in experiential learning program design for future iterations.
Behavioralism is a paradigm that became predominant in American social sciences from the 1950s until well into the 1970s. Although its reign did not last beyond the 1980s, it has transformed the fields of (American) political science and international relations (IR) so profoundly that it remains to this day an essential, albeit implicit, component of their identity. The article starts with the context in which behavioralism emerged, then engages the “Behavioral Revolution” in American political science and presents its main epistemic, ontological, and axiological tenets. It then moves more specifically to Behavioralism in IR, and to the terms of its “second debate.” The article concludes with an assessment of Behavioralism’s legacy.