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Interpretivism: Definitions, Trends, and Emerging Paths  

Marcos S. Scauso

Since the 1980s, scholars disputing the hegemony of positivist methodologies in the social sciences began to promote interpretive approaches, creating discussions about methodological pluralism and enabling a slow, and often resisted, proliferation of theoretical diversity. Within this context, “interpretivism” acquired a specific definition, which encompassed meaning-centered research and problematized positivist ideas of truth correspondence, objectivity, generalization, and linear processes of research. By critiquing the methodological assumptions that were often used to make positivism appear as a superior form of social science, interpretive scholars were confronted with questions about their own knowledge production and its validity. If meanings could be separated from objects, phenomena and identities could be constructed, and observers could not step out of their situated participation within these constructions, how could scholars validate their knowledge? Despite important agreements about the centrality, characteristics, and intelligibility of meaning, interpretivists still disagree about the different ways in which this question can be answered. Scholars often use diverse strategies of validation and they objectivize their interpretations in different degrees. On one side of the spectrum, some post-structuralist, feminist, and postcolonial scholars renounce methodological foundations of objectification and validation as much as possible. This opens the possibility of empirically researching epistemic assumptions, which scholars interpret either as components of dominant discourses or as alternatives that create possibilities of thinking about more multiplicity, difference, and diversity. On the other side, a number of constructivist, feminist, and critical scholars attach meanings to social structures and view their interpretations as reflecting parts of intersubjectivities, lifeworlds, cultures, etc. Since they use their own strategy to objectify interpretations and they solve the methodological question of validity, the scholars on this side of the spectrum either tend to pursue empirical research that does not analyze epistemic dimensions or they generalize particular experiences of domination. This disagreement influences not only the kind of empirical research that scholars pursue, but also creates some differences in the definitions of key interpretive notions such as power relations, reflexivity, and the role of empirical evidence. Within these agreements and disagreements, interpretivism created an overarching methodological space that allowed for the proliferation of theoretical approaches. Since the 1980s, post-structuralist, feminist, constructivist, neo-Marxist, postcolonial, green, critical, and queer theories have sought to expand the study of meanings, uncover aspects of domination, listen to previously marginalized voices, unveil hidden variations, and highlight alternatives. Some of the branches of these theories tend toward the different sides of the methodological spectrum and they disagree about the epistemic strategies that they can use to validate their knowledge production, but the opening of this interpretive space has allowed for scholars to deconstruct, reconstruct, and juxtapose meanings, contributing to the field from different perspectives and within particular empirical areas of research. Moreover, this diversifying process continues to unfold. Approaches such as the decolonial perspective that emerged in Latin American Studies continue to enter International Studies, creating new transdisciplinary debates and promoting other possibilities for thinking about international and global politics.

Article

Teaching International Political Sociology  

Vincent Pouliot

Teaching international political sociology (IPS) is intellectually rewarding yet pedagogically challenging. In the conventional International Relations (IR) curriculum, IPS students have to set aside many of the premises, notions, and models they learned in introductory classes, such as assumptions of instrumental rationality and canonical standards of positivist methodology. Once problematized, these traditional starting points in IR are replaced with a number of new dispositions, some of which are counterintuitive, that allow students to take a fresh look at world politics. In the process, IPS opens many more questions than it provides clear-cut answers, making the approach look very destabilizing for students. The objective of teaching IPS is to sow the seeds of three key dispositions inside students’ minds. First, students must appreciate the fact that social life consists primarily of relations that make the whole bigger than the parts. Second, they must be aware that social action is infused with meanings upon which both cooperative and conflictual relations hinge. Third, they have to develop a degree of reflexivity in order to realize that social science is a social practice just like others, where agents enter in various relations and struggle over the meanings of the world. There are four primary methods of teaching IPS, each with its own merits and limits: induction, ontology, historiography, and classics.

Article

Intelligence Analysis: Once Again  

Charles A. Mangio and Bonnie J. Wilkinson

Intelligence analysis is defined as analysis carried out by intelligence organizations. The essence of intelligence analysis is determining the meaning of information to develop knowledge and understanding. The meaning derived from the analysis is used to address many different types of questions, which are categorized in variety of ways. A general classification of the questions, sometimes described as types of intelligence or analysis, includes strategic intelligence. The seminal publication for describing and explaining the processes and attributes of strategic intelligence is Sherman Kent’s 1949 book, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. The intelligence literature acknowledges that determining meaning is influenced by the analyst’s mindset, mental model, or frame of mind. A variety of factors influence mental models, including context and purpose, past experience, education, cultural values, role requirements, organizational norms and the specifics of the information received. A recurring theme in intelligence literature is the use of scientific methods in intelligence analysis and the discussion of the analytic process in terms of scientific methods. Key elements of the analysis processes include hypotheses, information research, and the marshaling of evidence, and how they affect the determination of meaning. Intelligence research also emphasizes the importance of rigor in analytic thinking. Despite the accumulation of a substantial amount of scholarly work on intelligence since the 1940s and 1950s, the literature has not advanced on the core aspect of determining meaning from information to address the full range of complexities in intelligence analysis.