Approaches to International Relations | CSS International Relations

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Traditional Approach | Scientific Approach | Behavioural Approach | Post-Behaviouralist Approach | Systems Approach | Relevant Vocabulary

There are several distinct approaches to the study of IR, these include: the traditional approach, the scientific approach, the behavioural and post-behaviouralist approaches, and the systems approach.

Traditional Approach

In view of the complex variables influencing behaviour of states, the traditionalists focus on the observed behaviour of governments. They explain observable government behaviour on the basis of concepts like balance of power, national interest, diplomacy etc. Traditional realists try to understand and resolve the clashing of interests that inevitability leads to war.
This is an approach to international relations that emphasizes the studying of such disciplines as diplomatic history, international law, and philosophy in an attempt to develop better insights. Traditionalists tend to be skeptical of behaviouralist approaches that are confined to strict scientific standards that include formal hypothesis testing and, usually, the use of statistical analysis.
Traditional theorists regard international relations as a sub-discipline of history and political science. There are historical, philosophical and legal variants to the traditional approach.

Scientific Approach

Scientific scholars challenged the traditionalist, arguing that IR is too broad and complex a field to be a sub- discipline of political science. They began constructing conceptual frameworks and partial models of international systems, and tried to collect and analyze data to refute of validate a formulated hypothesis.
Such theorists focus on statistical correlations between variables like incidence of war and alliance policies for e.g. While this approach has brought a methodological rigor to IR, it relies more heavily on process analysis than on experimentation. Even obtaining data is difficult in IR and the units of analysis vary (terrorism for e.g. is a relative term).

Behavioural Approach

In the 1960s and 70s, scholars began arguing that politics cannot be studied factually without reference to values. Behavioural approach is informed by socio-anthropological and psychological perspectives. It focuses on understanding the reasons behind the action behaviour of states and other international actors.
This approach has contributed to understanding how people and organizations of different cultures interact, the effects of propaganda and stereotypical views on conflict situations and international relations.
It is difficult to determine the behaviour of states, which is the aggregate behaviour of a large number of individuals and of superimposing authorities.
An approach to the study of politics or other social phenomena that focuses on the actions and interactions among units by using scientific methods of observation to include quantification of variables whenever possible. A practitioner of behaviouraism is often referred to as a behaviouralist.
Behaviorism refers to the ideas held by those behavioral scientists who consider only observed behavior as relevant to the scientific enterprise and who reject what they consider to be metaphysical notions of “mind” or “consciousness”.

Post-Behaviouralist Approach

In the 1980s, an attempt was made to combine normative and empirical approaches to study IR.
This approach can be used to test the validity of the idealists‟ hypothesis to see if democratic or authoritarian states are more likely to be engaged in internal conflicts.

Systems Approach

This approach places more emphasis on the complex interaction between and within states, while retaining a post-behavioural scientific orientation. It does so by focusing on international systems which are interdependent and interrelated.
These systems range from small systems to intermediate and large systems. The UN system, individual nations, ethnic groups, individual voters, political parties, MNCs etc. can all be categorized into corresponding systems to understand the complex nature of IR.


Relevant Vocabulary

Hypothesis: conclusion made on examination of evidence
Correlations: similarities
Aggregate: combined
Variables: factors which are subject to change in different circumstances
Sub-discipline: discipline within a broader discipline

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