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Article

Role Theory As an Empirical Theory of International Relations: From Metaphor to Formal Model  

Stephen G. Walker

Role theory as an empirical theory of international relations has an underlying logical structure with the ability to generate different models of cooperation and conflict in world politics at multiple levels of analysis: system-oriented models of incentives and role constraints; actor-centered models of role conceptions and expectations; action-focused models of cues and role enactment. The emphasis at each of these levels of analysis is on strategic interaction, which makes role theory a theory of international relations between ego and alter as well as a theory of their respective foreign policy decisions. The logical and empirical applications of role theory’s models to world politics have morphed from metaphor and analogy into formal models of prediction and explanation that meet the criteria of testability associated with an empirical theory of international relations. These criteria include the logical rules of deductive inference and the correspondence rules of empirical falsifiability associated with the systematic comparison of empirical cases. The pattern of migration and evolution of role resembles the earlier pattern of importing game as a metaphor and introducing the logical structure of game theory into the field of international relations. Binary role theory employs the concepts of role theory and a set of game theory models to analyze conflict and cooperation in world politics. The role metaphor and the concepts of binary role theory provide a substantive “theory of payoffs” for game theory. The latter’s formal models help transform the logical structure of role theory from a metaphor or analogy to a logically coherent and empirically testable theory of international relations.

Article

Role Contestation in Making Foreign Policy Decisions: Digraph and Game Theory Models  

Stephen G. Walker

The concept of role contestation has emerged within the recent renaissance of role theory in foreign policy analysis, which has taken hold among international relations scholars on both sides of the Atlantic. Role contestation is a novel theoretical perspective on the process of role location that complements the more established concepts of role strain, role competition, and role conflict identified earlier by the role theory literature in the subfield of Foreign Policy Analysis. It refers to the process that occurs within states as their decision units debate and decide what role to select in relations with another state in the regional or global international system. The process of horizontal role contestation occurs among elites inside the government while the process of vertical role contestation occurs between elites and interest groups outside the government. These role contestation processes can also extend to interactions before and after a foreign policy decision. Role contestation processes are part of a larger process of role location that refers to various stages of evolution and transition in the enactment of role and counter-role between Ego and Alter as states construct role conceptions, exchange cues, and adapt to structural role demands in their respective decision making environments. The focus will be limited to the analysis of horizontal role contestation as a causal mechanism that describes and explains how the foreign policy decision making process among elites leads to foreign policy decisions. Digraph models represent the process of debate among elites as they deliberate over the selection of ends and means prior to making a foreign policy decision. Game theory models represent how the decision is likely to be carried out as a strategy of role enactment. Illustrative applications of this two-stage modeling strategy from recent research into Britain’s appeasement decisions in the late 1930s reveal two patterns: bilateral role contestation between Prime Minister Chamberlain and Foreign Secretary Eden in March 1938 over the appropriate enactment of a Partner role toward Italy and multilateral role contestation among members of the British Cabinet over the enactment of a Partner vs. Rival role toward Germany during the Sudeten crisis in September 1938. The outcome in the first case was a victory for Chamberlain in the wake of Eden’s resignation; however, in the second case the Cabinet majority altered the prime minister’s initial appeasement tactics in favor of deterrence tactics later in the crisis. This shift foreshadowed a subsequent British role reversal from Partner to Rival toward Germany in 1939.

Article

Domestic Role Contestation and Foreign Policy  

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.

Article

Role Theory in Foreign Policy  

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

Comparative Foreign Policy Analysis  

Jeffrey S. Lantis and Ryan Beasley

Comparative foreign policy analysis (CFP) is a vibrant and dynamic subfield of international relations. It examines foreign policy decision making processes related to momentous events as well as patterns in day-to-day foreign interactions of nearly 200 different states (along with thousands of international and nongovernmental organizations). Scholars explore the causes of these behaviors as well as their implications by constructing, testing, and refining theories of foreign policy decision making in comparative perspective. In turn, CFP also offers valuable lessons to government leaders. This article surveys the evolution of CFP as a subfield over time, with special attention to its contributions to academic understanding and policymaking. It begins with a review of the characteristics and contributions of CFP, followed by acknowledgment of early works that helped establish this area of study. The next section of the article reviews major thematic focuses of CFP, including theories of international pressures and factors that may drive state foreign policy as well as strong foundations in studies of domestic politics. Key internal actors and conditions that can influence state foreign policies include individual leaders, institutions and legislatures, bureaucratic organizations and government agencies, and public opinion and nongovernmental organizations. Following this survey of actors and contemporary theories of their role in foreign policy decision-making, the article develops two illustrations of new directions in CFP studies focused on political party factions and role theory in comparative perspective.

Article

Gender and Religiosity in the United States  

Mirya R. Holman and Erica Podrazik

Religiosity is a combination of public and private religious practices, beliefs, and experiences. While diversity exists in how religiosity is measured, three central components are consistent across the scholarship: organizational religious engagement, non-organizational religious activities, and subjective religiosity. To measure organizational religious engagement, scholars frequently look at church attendance and participation in congregational activities. Non-organizational religious activities include frequency of prayer, reading the Bible or other religious materials, or requesting others to pray for you. Subjective or intrinsic religiosity includes self-assessed religiousness (where respondents are asked, “How religious would you consider yourself?”) or strength of affiliation, as well as specific beliefs, such as views of the afterlife, hell, and whether the Bible is the literal word of God. Various groups express different levels of religiosity. One of the most well-documented and consistent group-based differences in religiosity is that women, including white women and women of color, are more religious than are men across religions, time, and countries. Women report higher rates of church attendance, engagement in religious practices (including prayer and reading the Bible), and more consistent and higher levels of religious interest, commitment, and engagement. Many explanations for these gaps in religiosity exist including differences in personality and risk aversion, gendered socialization patterns, and patriarchal structures within churches. Scholars have engaged in robust debates around the degree to which explanations like risk assessment or gender role theory can account for differences in religious behavior between men and women. Yet unresolved, these discussions provide opportunities to bring together scholarship and theories from religious studies, sociology, gender studies, psychology, and political science. Religiosity shapes a variety of important political and social attitudes and behaviors, including political ideology and participation. The effects of religiosity on political attitudes are heterogeneous across men and women—for example, highly religious women and men are not equally conservative, nor do they equally oppose gay rights. The process by which religiosity shapes attitudes is also gendered; for example, the effects of women’s religiosity on political attitudes and participation are mediated by gendered attitudes. And while religiosity increases political participation, the effects are not even for men and women, nor across all groups of women. Future research might examine the differing effects of religiosity on subgroups of men and women, including evaluations of how intersecting social categories like race, gender, and class shape both levels of religious engagement and the degree to which religiosity influences other political and social behavior.