Inside the International Relations Ivory Tower

by Erik Voeten on January 3, 2012 · 14 comments

in Blogs

William and Mary’s Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations has just released the U.S. portion of its its fourth survey on Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP). The unedited results are here and Foreign Policy’s write-up with pretty graphs and analysis here.

The survey is best known for producing rankings of undergraduate, master’s, and PhD programs in international affairs. As usual with rankings like this, ones appreciation depends on where one sits (Georgetown ranks 5th, 1st, and 14th respectively, which makes me happy although this has been pretty constant across surveys and rankings).

The surveys are also interesting for the insights they provide on how IR scholars view the world. Some of these are not so surprising (IR scholars, especially liberals, don’t much like George W. Bush. Actually, they don’t really like any recent U.S. president). Some findings might be surprising to non IR scholars (e.g. IR scholars by and large don’t like military interventions). Perhaps the most surprising “inside baseball” finding is that a plurality of IR scholars now identify themselves as “Constructivists.” Unfortunately, the graphic and text from Foreign Policy (see below) fail to mention that 26% of IR scholars chose the option “I do not use paradigmatic analysis” (I guess “Non-Paradigmatic” would look even less catchy than “Constructivist” in the graphic). Still, the relative rise of constructivism and the demise of realism is noteworthy, especially given the ability of realism to explain just about anything of note that has happened over the past 500 years with just a few variables.

Anyway, there is lots of interest to browse in the survey, including identification of scholars who do the most interesting research (congrats to my friend and former GWU colleague Marty Finnemore). Also look at this critique by another former colleague, American University’s School of International Service dean Jim Goldgeier, who believes that the survey wrongly focuses on political scientists only. Enjoy and discuss.

Edit: link corrected.


Zachary Jones January 3, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I think it is hardly justifiable to say that Realism can explain “just about anything of note that has happened over the past 500 years” with or without a few variables. Please point me a model of international behavior (especially conflict) where this is even close to being true. Part of the reason Realism has fallen so far out of fashion is precisely because it can only do this in a superficial way.

Erik Voeten January 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Zachary: my tongue was firmly in my cheek when I wrote that sentence.

Zachary Jones January 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm

My sarcasm detector is apparently malfunctioning. My apologies :) Also, it is sad because it seems a fair amount of people still think that way (not that many overall, but at least as a graduate student it seems more prevalent than those numbers indicate).

Realist Writer January 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm

The fact that it could “explain just about anything of note that has happened over the past 500 years with just a few variables” is probably why it is so not-worthy-of-respect by IR scholars. If a theory could explain everything so simply…it’s not actually a theory.

TheGerman January 3, 2012 at 2:55 pm

So 26% are basically rational choice scholars who abandoned the grand theories in in favor of a focus on narrow questions?

John Jay January 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm

To the extent it represents a disregard for theory and theory-building, I find it quite disconcerting.

Zachary Jones January 3, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I would hardly say that rational choice scholars disregard theory or theory-building. Perhaps just grand theory. I don’t think that should be disconcerting.

John Jay January 4, 2012 at 5:59 pm

My disconcertment depends on how the scholars in this 26% define “paradigmatic analysis.”

LFC January 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Your link to the unedited results is incorrect. You’ve given the link to the FP write-up thrice in a row instead of linking to the TRIP survey itself.

Erik Voeten January 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Thanks, link is now correct.

Kate Weaver January 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm

It is remarkable that constructivism has taken the lead among IR paradigms, although it’s important not to lose sight that it still captures less than 25% of the field. If my memory serves me correctly, this percentage has doubled since the TRIP survey began. But it begs another question: how do IR scholars understand constructivism? Are respondent simply ticking the constructivist box because they take norms, ideas or identity into account in their own work, or do they respond with a more nuanced understanding of the distinction between liberalism and constructivism on these fronts? I would love to see a more open-ended survey that asks respondents to define what they understand to be a constructivist paradigm, although the survey analysis would be a nightmare.

Michael Horowitz January 4, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Another really interesting thing, in my opinion, is the link between the results for the scholars most influential over the last 20 years and those that have done the “best” work in the last 5 years.

The lists look very similar, even though most of the people on the “last 5 years list” have not really published a whole lot recently and their most important work came much earlier. What explains this?

LFC January 4, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Possibly respondents were either not paying a lot of attention to the “last 5 years” restriction or were interpreting it v. loosely. Speaking admittedly as someone who wasn’t asked to respond to the survey, I wouldn’t take these lists too seriously and I’m not sure anyone does, including those whose names end up on them. The people on the lists are worthy, of course, but a lot of other names that one (or at least, that I) might expect to find go entirely unmentioned (for lack of enough votes, I guess).

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