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Monday, February 25, 2008

International Relations & Scientific Progress

This book was a wonderfully smooth read, that I enjoyed throughout the few days that I had the honor of perusing it. Read it, your life will be worth more for it once you are done.

Actually, touch this book only if you really feel the need to be put in your place, if you really want to dwell on your stupidity and incomprehension of political science. Patrick James' International Relations & Scientific Progress - Structural Realism Reconsidered is possibly - rivaled by Joyce's Ulysseus maybe, but I never actually finished that - the most complicated book I ever read. Another author (Barry R. Posen) had referenced to structural realism as an interesting theory in order to explain the European build-up in military capability. So I had stumbled upon this oeuvre.

Again, I had a really hard time getting through this, a really hard time. James focuses less on structural realism as a theory, but seemingly spends more time on the theoretical determination of theories, of scientific valid and sound propositions. He recounts numerous criticisms of realism in its differing varieties. Not knowing all (or even most of) these varieties nor their criticism I read the first 100 pages of this book understanding maybe a third (talking about a frustrating experience by the way). This lack of understanding is not really due so much to the vocabulary that he utilizes (even though that is quite thought-provoking (to put it positively) as well), but due his multiple references and most of all to the ridiculously abstract discussion James leads.

In later parts, when he actually explains what he considers to be the best (and most recent) version structural realism, the book becomes a lot clearer and might actually have helped me some, but I will need to look at this theory again from another angle, sorry Patrick.

Just really quickly, one of his main points is that unit (countries/states) analysis is not sufficient as these micro-micro relations (as he calls them) do not reflect the aggregate of actions in international relations. He proposes a sytemism analysis that also includes macro-micro and macro-macro relations and thus including structure (bipolarity, multipolarity...) and interdependent developments.

He identifies six aspects as defining structural realism:
state centrism (as the most relevant actor in the international field)
rational choice (the actors, the states)
security seeking (again, the states)
anarchy (in the international system)
status undifferentiated by function (I am still working on that)
structure as capability distribution (virtually economic and military power distribution all over the world)

I am not going to discuss this further, mainly because I move on very thin ice here, but I will definitely come back to this, after having read more.

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