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Article

Most constructivist work in IR has attempted to account for very general outcomes in the international system, most notably the well-known research of Alexander Wendt. Whether we live in a “Kantian,” “Lockean,” or “Hobbesian” world, for instance, is in a sense a socially constructed thing rather than flowing from some inevitable structure or theory of human nature. Nevertheless, some important constructivist work has focused on more specific foreign policy outcomes, research that is examined here in depth. Constructivist analyses tend to focus on “how possible” questions rather than attempting to “explain” particular decisions, and this offers a useful addition or corrective to more traditional analyses of foreign policy. They also attempt to understand the general foreign policy orientations of states, often relying on notions of culture, role, and identity. But such approaches have not yet fully matured into comprehensive approaches to foreign policy, in at least two senses. First of all, current constructivist approaches are somewhat limited by a focus on the social dimensions of foreign policy rather than individual ones, being sociological rather than psychological in nature. This is sometimes not an issue, but it becomes a problem when variation between decision makers with the same social identity is the object of interest or where norms are in conflict with one another. Secondly, there have been relatively few attempts to turn constructivism into a normative theory. Arguably, in order to become a fully rounded theory (as opposed to a loose framework), constructivism needs a mechanism by which it can influence actual decision makers, very few of whom currently describe themselves in opinion polls as being constructivists, as opposed to realists or liberals. And yet both of these problems can potentially be remedied. Firstly, constructivist approaches may be combined with psychological approaches that supplement their sociological focus. Both constructivism and the psychological approach to decision making are ideational in nature rather than material; in other words, they share the belief that what people think is “out there” is often more important than what actually is. Indeed, the psychological approach to foreign policy provided a major source of inspiration for the early constructivists. Secondly, constructivist approaches can offer policy makers prescriptive advice as to how they should or ought to behave. After reviewing the literature on understanding foreign policy outcomes, this article suggests the outlines of an applied constructivism that decision makers in government would find positively useful. There is a Realpolitik and an Idealpolitik, but can there be a “Konstruktpolitik”? At least six principles might guide the development of normative constructivism. Chief among these is the axiom, “if you can’t change the physical, change the social.” Other principles include the effort to initiate “norm cascades,” the encouragement (or discouragement) of self-fulfilling beliefs and self-negating beliefs, acceptance of the role of agency, and the conscious use of argument and language as tools of persuasion.

Article

An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning. Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts. Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century. The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous. Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.

Article

Marijke Breuning

Role theory first emerged as an approach to the study of foreign policy with the seminal work of Holsti, who argued that decision makers’ conceptions of their state’s role on the world stage influenced that state’s foreign policy behavior. Holsti’s approach was ahead of its time. The potential of role theory to contribute to the agent-structure debate has not always been appreciated. In fact, early research employing role theory often maintained a close connection to structural theories of international relations, especially among U.S.-based scholars. In the last decade or so, there has been a renewed interest in role theory that differs from earlier work in that it more clearly connects with psychological approaches to foreign policy analysis. It also takes more seriously the domestic sources of role theory through inquiry into horizontal and vertical role contestation. Much of this new work intersects with constructivism, although it remains grounded in empiricism. As foreign policy analysis increasingly seeks to understand the foreign policies of a broader array of states—including smaller states that face significant constraints on their ability to act in the international arena—role theory provides an attractive framework. Its focus on decision makers’ conceptions of their state’s role in international politics enhances the ability to make sense of the foreign policies of a wider array of states in the global arena. In essence, role theory allows foreign policy analysis to move beyond a U.S.-centric or global-north-centric field to become more broadly comparative.

Article

Mark Schafer and Gary Smith

How do the beliefs of leaders affect foreign policy decision-making processes and outcomes? This question has been central to the study of foreign policy decision making (FPDM), yet it receives scant attention in the broader international relations literature. Although many controversies and debates surround the issue of specifically how political leaders’ beliefs affect foreign policy decisions and outcomes, there is one key assumption in this literature that is universally accepted: leaders matter. Individual leaders, their unique beliefs, and their distinctive cognitive limitations affect both the quality of the decision-making process and the direction of the foreign policy outcomes. The beliefs and images leaders hold act as powerful frames and limitations to incoming information. Despite the rich history of the field, scholars who study beliefs still have much more work to do to expand the generalizability of the qualitative findings in the literature. Scholars need more data, deriving from more sources, for more leaders, so that they can generate larger and more comprehensive datasets. Indeed, there is a great opportunity to expand this field of research and to paint a clearer picture of the decision-making process.

Article

International norms exist as constraints on foreign policy, yet norms are also the product of the foreign policies of states and other actors. Research has demonstrated how norms restrain foreign policy choice and behavior, and even alter state conceptions of national interests. Other studies point to the weakness of norms in the face of national interests and state power. Others note that the meaning of norms and their obligations are often contested, leading to problems of norm violation and norm enforcement. As social constructions, an important consideration is how and when foreign policy promotes norms and norm diffusion in the broader international community.

Article

For much of the history of the study of international relations, and of foreign policy as a distinctive subfield, scholars have debated the relative weight of agency and structure in shaping the course of international events. Often, the significance of agency versus structure depends on the scope of inquiry. Efforts to identify broad patterns of social interaction tend to play up the significance of structure, while studies of specific events bring agency to the fore. International relations theory is typically associated with the former, and foreign policy analysis (FPA) is more closely linked to the latter. That association suggests that the question of agency versus structure in international outcomes is settled in FPA in favor of agency. An assessment of the literature in FPA shows such a suggestion to be wide of the mark. Not only does FPA struggle with the question of agency versus structure that pervades the study of international relations generally, but also it wrestles with how to reconcile agency and structure in the context of psychological constraints on human cognition. Thus, rather than resolving the debate between agency and structure, the literature on FPA shows that it extends down to the level of individual policymakers. The debate over the role of agency and structure occupies two axes. The first is the engagement of FPA with broader debates over agency and structure in international relations scholarship. The second is the tension between agency and structure in FPA that emerges once psychology is incorporated into the analytical matrix. In both cases, the significance of structure in the actual analysis of foreign policy is far greater than common conception recognizes. This reality means that FPA represents the cutting edge for theoretical and analytical efforts to understand the relationship between structure and agency in international outcomes.

Article

Srdjan Vucetic

Identity has come to figure prominently in the study of foreign policy since the 1990s when it was first introduced by constructivist theorists in International Relations. Consensus on what identity is and what it does in relation to foreign policy does not exist and is unlikely to be ever forged. Some scholars investigate state identity—how it impacts foreign policy processes while simultaneously being impacted by international structures. Others use the concept of identification to examine what foreign policy means for the constitution of modern political subjectivities. Still others seek to bring together constructivist identity scholarship together with more established approaches in Foreign Policy Analysis. This article considers the contextual emergence and evolution of the “identity and foreign policy” scholarship in its many different and differing streams. The large volume of literature produced on this subject over the past two and a half decades defies an easy summary of its theoretical and empirical contributions, but an overview of the main controversies and debates should provide the reader with a solid foundation for further research.

Article

Micah Dillard and Jon C.W. Pevehouse

Scholarship in international relations has taken a more quantitative turn in the past four decades. The field of foreign policy analysis was arguably the forerunner in the development and application of quantitative methodologies in international relations. From public opinion surveys to events data to experimental methods, many of the earliest uses of quantitative methodologies can be found in foreign policy analysis. On substantive questions ranging from the causes of war to the dynamics of public opinion, the analysis of data quantitatively has informed numerous debates in foreign policy analysis and international relations. Emerging quantitative methods will be useful in future efforts to analyze foreign policy.

Article

The first wave of the International Relations subfield of Foreign Policy Analysis occurred from 1954 to 1994, encompassing a founding period (the 1950s and 1960s) and a period of first consolidation (the 1970s to the end of the Cold War). The early years of the 1950s and 1960s produced some of the defining works that would indelibly shape the character of the field. The work of Richard Snyder, James Rosenau, and Harold and Margaret Sprout molded the field with their focus on decision-making processes, political psychology, cross-national analysis, and actor-specific theory. The subsequent first-wave work, which dealt with small-group dynamics, organizational process, bureaucratic politics, leader personality, cognition and heuristics, culture, domestic political contestation, and national attributes, blended with an understanding of international and regional systemic effects, became FPA classics.

Article

Kai Oppermann and Klaus Brummer

The main contribution of veto player approaches in Comparative Politics has been to the study of policy stability and change. Specifically, the argument is that the possibility and conditions for policy change in a given polity and issue area depend on the configuration of veto players and veto points. Most notably, veto player approaches have introduced a general conceptual tool kit that has facilitated the comparative analysis of the dynamics and obstacles of policy change across (democratic and non-democratic) regime types and public policy areas. However, in Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA), references to veto players and veto points tend to be hardly systematic and are mainly used to highlight domestic constraints on preference formation, decision-making, or responses to international crises. Hence, the theoretical and empirical potential of veto player approaches for FPA has not yet been systematically explored. Against this background, the article makes the case that “taking veto players seriously” has a lot to offer to the study of foreign policy. While there are differences between applying veto player approaches in public policy and in FPA (e.g., with respect to the more informal process of foreign policy decision-making or the larger policy discretion of the agenda setter in foreign policy), those differences must not be overdone. Indeed, they point to certain shifts in emphasis and specific methodological challenges for veto player studies in foreign policy, but do not call into question the basic explanatory logic of veto player approaches or their transferability from one field to the other. What is more, the article shows that multiple links between veto player approaches and FPA theories can be established. Generally speaking, veto player approaches have immense potential in reinvigorating comparative foreign policy analysis. More specifically, they can be linked up to FPA works on the role of parliaments, coalitions, or leadership styles as well as on those discussing change, effectiveness, or fiascos in foreign policy.

Article

Kyle Beardsley, Patrick James, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, and Michael Brecher

Over the course of more than four decades the International Crisis Behavior (ICB) Project, a major and ongoing data-gathering enterprise in the social sciences, has compiled data that continues to be accessed heavily in scholarship on conflict processes. ICB holdings consist of full-length qualitative case studies, along with an expanding range of quantitative data sets. Founded in 1975, the ICB Project is among the most visible and influential within the discipline of International Relations (IR). A wide range of studies based either primarily or in part on the ICB’s concepts and data have accumulated and cover subjects that include the causes, processes, and consequences of crises. The breadth of ICB’s contribution has expanded over time to go beyond a purely state-centric approach to include crisis-related activities of transnational actors across a range of categories. ICB also offers depth through, for example, potential resolution of contemporary debates about mediation in crises on the basis of nuanced findings about long- versus short-term impact with regard to conflict resolution.

Article

Baldur Thorhallsson and Sverrir Steinsson

Size matters in international relations. Owing to their unique vulnerabilities, small states have different needs, adopt different foreign policies, and have a harder time achieving favorable foreign policy outcomes than large states. Small states show a preference for multilateral organizations because they reduce the power asymmetry between states, decrease the transaction costs of diplomacy, and impose constraints on large states. Small state security policies vary widely depending on domestic and international conditions. Despite the inherent disadvantages to being small, small states can compensate for the limitations of their size and exert influence on world politics, provided that they use the appropriate strategies.

Article

Thomas Dolan

Increasingly, scholars are recognizing the influences of emotion on foreign policy decision-making processes. Not merely feelings, emotions are sets of sentimental, physiological, and cognitive processes that typically arise in response to situational stimuli. They play a central role in psychological and social processes that shape foreign policy decision-making and behavior. In recent years, three important areas of research on emotion in foreign policy have developed: one examining the effects of emotion on how foreign policy decision makers understand and think-through problems, another focused on the role of emotion in diplomacy, and a third that investigates how mass emotion develops and shapes the context in which foreign policy decisions are made. These literatures have benefitted greatly from developments in the study of emotion by psychologists, neuroscientists, and others. Effectively using emotion to study foreign policy, however, requires some understanding of how these scholars approach the study of emotion and other affective phenomena. In addition to surveying the literatures in foreign policy analysis that use emotion, then, this article also addresses definitional issues and the different theories of emotion common among psychologists and neuroscientists. Some of the challenges scholars of emotion in foreign policy face: the interplay of the psychological and the social in modelling collective emotions, the issues involved in observing emotions in the foreign policy context, the theoretical challenge of emotion regulation, and the challenge of winning broader acceptance of the importance of emotion in foreign policy by the broader scholarly community.

Article

Ravi Bhavnani and David Sylvan

On several occasions in the past 70 years, simulation as a research program in FPA rose, then fell. We begin by defining what we mean by simulations before reviewing the two main streams of simulation work in FPA: human-based and computer-based, with this latter itself comprising two streams. We conclude with a speculative discussion of what happened to simulation in FPA and what the future may hold.

Article

Global governance is a story of human agency confronting the existential challenge of the seismic shift in the international system that is called globalization. Neither phenomenon is yet understood sufficiently in academic theory, but if any social scientific practice is best situated to research it to the requisite depth, it is the discipline of foreign policy analysis. The theory and practice of foreign policy making and implementation are bound to undergo a transformation as radical as the international system. This historic process is dissolving the structure of agency that was set by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The result has been for state and nonstate actors to compensate with a motley assemblage of structural improvisations, which have been complicating international relations, adding multiple levels of agency above and below the classical nation-state. Where this development will ultimately lead is unknown.

Article

Ulrich Franke and Gunther Hellmann

This article examines scholarship in the field of foreign policy analysis inspired by the philosophy and social theory of American Pragmatism. Pragmatism is reconstructed as a unified theory of human thought and action emphasizing the primacy of practice and situated creativity. It has been largely ignored in International Relations (IR), in general, and foreign policy analysis (FPA), in particular, during the 20th century. Given the fact that pragmatism is widely taken to be one of the few genuinely “American” social theories, its marginal role in IR scholarship is astounding since the discipline has rightly been characterized as an “American social science” (S. Hoffmann). Against this background the article highlights one of the prominent disciplinary dualisms, the distinction between “systemic” theories of international politics/relations on the one hand and “sub-systemic” foreign policy analyses on the other. It does so, however, as an entry point for a different perspective. Pragmatist thought entered the field in the mid-1990s at a moment when increasing numbers of scholars felt uneasy about this dualism because it severed human agency from internally connected transformations at the global level of political interaction. The proliferation of paradigmatist scholarship about German foreign policy after the country’s unification in 1990 illustrates both how established “paradigms” grappled with “change” and “continuity” in German foreign policy and how pragmatism was mobilized as a theoretical resource in order to respond to this challenge. Pragmatism is a distinctive social theory that starts with what people do (primacy of practice) and that conceives of theories as tools for coping. Rather than distinguishing between thought (or theory) on the one hand and action (or practice) on the other as separate activities, pragmatism emphasizes the unity of all problem-solving forms of “inquiry” (J. Dewey). Inquiry removes doubt and enables us to form beliefs (as “rules for action”). Methodologically this understanding translates into a rejection of the separation of “theory” and “subject matter” in favor of empirically grounded reconstructive approaches. In addition to pragmatist perspectives on epistemology and methodology, the article highlights different ways of substantive theorizing in IR/FPA such as habits, practices, and loyalties but also normative accounts.

Article

For over 60 years, scholars of international relations (IR) and foreign policy have focused intermittently on the psychology of leaders and decision-makers in general, but attention has waxed and waned. Within political science, interest in the psychology of foreign policy seems to have peaked in the early 1970s and mid-1980s, but it would be quite mistaken to think of the topic as somehow passé. Since that time, the work of Irving Janis on groupthink (to cite just one instance) has proved repeatedly useful. That approach has focused on the social psychology of foreign policy, although more attention has been directed in recent years toward individual or cognitive psychology. Cognitive consistency theory, schema theory, and analogical reasoning have all particularly influenced the field, and each continues to provide the analyst with vital clues as to why people make the decisions that they do. The methodology of studying foreign policy psychologically has also undergone significant change. Reacting to the strongly positivist focus typified by James Rosenau, a more recent generation of scholars have become rather more eclectic and dynamic in their approach to studying how foreign policy is made. This generation has also produced an extraordinary range of theories, discussed in this article, which depart from or significantly modify the well-known Rational Actor Model (RAM) of state and leadership behavior. Prospect theory, and poliheuristic theory in particular, have come onto the scene in recent years. Most recently, a welcome and much-needed turn toward the study of emotion (as opposed to merely cognition) has been especially evident in the study of the psychology of foreign policy. It has never been clear exactly where foreign policy theory fits within IR theory, and it has often been treated as an addendum to studying IR—and even an element of unnecessary complexity—rather than being absolutely central to what we study. Indeed, the study of foreign policy decision-making (FPDM) has acquired a reputation as a discipline that is merely “marking time.” But this perspective on the psychology of foreign policy is as wrong as it is analytically dangerous. Attempts to create IR and foreign policy theories that conspicuously leave out psychological variables—or that simply “assume away” how real individuals actually behave—have proven repeatedly insufficient and have led to marked changes in the way that psychology is treated within the study of foreign policy. Most notably, the rise of constructivism and the failure of overly systemic theories like neorealism to account for foreign policy outcomes have caused neoclassical realists to deliberately incorporate the psychology of decision-makers into their theories. Within the discipline of psychology, meanwhile, a whole new field called behavioral economics that rejects the simplifying assumptions of a rational choice perspective has sprung up in recent years. In short, knowledge of psychology has proved invaluable to those attempting to understand why leaders make the decisions they do, and the entire approach remains indispensable to those who study foreign policy in general.

Article

Spyros Blavoukos and Dimitris Bourantonis

Foreign policy change entails the redirection to a lesser or greater extent of a state’s foreign policy. The parameters that account for such a change can be clustered according to their nature (structural or conjunctural) and origin (domestic or international). Domestic structural parameters comprise the politico-institutional setting within which foreign policy decisions are made and advocacy groups in support of alternative foreign policy options. The focal point of analysis for both is the “authoritative decision unit” that can take the form of a powerful leader (e.g., a monarch, dictator, or a predominant political figure in a democratic system), a single group (e.g., the Politburo in the former Soviet Union, a group of Army officers collectively engaged in a military coup, or Cabinet under a Prime Minister with a collective policy-making style), or a multitude of autonomous actors (e.g., coalition governments and actors with veto power over foreign policy decisions). Whether these units are “open” or “closed” to international pressures and the degree of their insulation from domestic societal pressures are key issues that determine how conducive to change domestic political settings are. Advocacy groups comprise adherents to an alternative political culture, socioeconomic groups with divergent views and interests, and policy entrepreneurs in position to engineer foreign policy change. International structural parameters refer on one hand to systemic changes that may bring about a foreign policy realignment and on the other hand to the country’s role in the international system (e.g., participation in international organizations) that may activate foreign policy changes through socialization processes. Conjunctural parameters, either domestic or international, account for unexpected developments that may upset the existing status quo (e.g., the death or succession of a political leader, unexpected domestic political crises, human disasters and humanitarian crises, and international security or economic crises). This eclectic list of parameters helps account in a comprehensive way for two cases of major foreign policy realignment. The first deals with the incremental Greek-Turkish rapprochement in the late 1990s. Greece altered its way of approaching the bilateral disputes with Turkey by moving away from its earlier confrontational approach to a more engaging one. This change owed much to domestic political changes (new political leadership as an outcome of the sudden death of Prime Minister A. Papandreou), which led in turn to a reprioritization of the Greek foreign policy objectives related to the accession to the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union. It was further assisted by the participation of Greece in the European Union, which helped put the bilateral Greek–Turkish relationship in the frame of the EU enlargement policy. The second case accounts for the Israeli reorientation in the early 1990s vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. Following the international upheaval after the end of the Cold War, the societal concerns after the Palestinian Intifada, and domestic political changes, the new Israeli political leadership orchestrated the foreign policy change that enabled the signing of the Oslo Peace Agreement.

Article

Stephen L. Quackenbush and Thomas R. Guarrieri

Foreign policy analysis has been used effectively to explain the use of force. Several leading approaches and paradigms help explain the use of force as a tool of foreign policy. These approaches are based on the important preliminary step of opening up the black box of state, which highlights the importance of decision making for explaining international politics. The two primary approaches to explaining foreign policy analysis are rational choice theory and psychological theories. Foreign policy analysis opens the door to a variety of novel and interesting topics. Many topics of domestic politics relate to international conflict, including democratic peace theory, selectorate theory, public opinion, domestic institutions, and leaders. Each of these topics is important for explaining the use of force in foreign policy. Future research on the use of force and international conflict should account for the importance of domestic politics. Studies of leaders, selectorate theory, and the bargaining model of war provide especially promising avenues for future research.

Article

Juliet Kaarbo and Cristian Cantir

Scholarship on domestic role contestation arose out of critiques of two frequent assumptions about the impact of national role conceptions (NRCs) on a state’s foreign policy: the assumption of elite consensus and the assumption of elite–public agreement on one or several NRCs. These critiques have been occasionally articulated since the entry of role theory into international relations literature, but they were systematized during a new wave of research on roles that started in the 2010s. The domestic role contestation approach identifies the key domestic actors that hold NRCs and hypothesizes that roles connect to foreign policy behavior via the domestic political process. The degree of consensus along two dimensions—commonly defined as “horizontal” and “vertical” for the intra-elite and the elite–public nexus, respectively—can explain what roles are enacted or blocked. Empirical findings, though tentative, have corroborated the relevance of these arguments. Elites with significant institutional power—particularly in the executive–can often overcome impediments to enact preferred roles, although this ability often hinges on the lack of divisions in ruling institutions. Although less robust due to the absence of significant empirical research, role theory scholarship has also revealed that the public can, at times, constrain elites from enacting unpopular roles. The literature on domestic role contestation has a number of limitations that can inform future research directions. First, there is still no comprehensive list of domestic actors that hold (and argue about) NRCs. Such a list can outline the diversity of social environments in which countries find themselves, generate insights into how they navigate their presence in each one, and lead to more detailed accounts of how the contestation process unfolds. Second, the literature is yet to provide a framework for incorporating the involvement of relevant external actors (commonly known as “alters”) in the domestic contestation process. The impediments here are partly practical—an eye to detailed domestic processes and external involvement can create an unwieldy narrative—but the effort to conceptualize this dimension is important in light of role theory’s major focus on the interaction between ego and alter. Third, role contestation scholarship needs stronger and clearer connections to traditional and critical international relations theories, as well as the study of contentious politics. Finally, methodological rigor and diversity should be a priority for the future development of this strand of role theory.