What’s killing the study of international relations

2 min read

When it comes to international relations (IR), Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Stephen Walt would suggest less testing and more conceiving. Walt and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago believe “downgrading theory and elevating hypothesis testing is a mistake,” when it comes to IR. The authors even call it “the road to ruin” in their working paper, “Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR.”

IR has long been a study shaped by “isms.” The authors point out that realism and liberalism still comprise of more than 40 percent of all introductory IR courses among U.S. universities and colleges. But rather than developing or carefully employing theories, IR is following a trend among the academic world – emphasizing what the authors call simplistic hypothesis testing.

“Theory usually plays a minor role in this enterprise, with most of the effort devoted to collecting data and testing empirical hypotheses,” write Walt and Mearsheimer. “Our bottom line: deemphasizing theory and privileging hypothesis testing is not the best way to gain new knowledge about international politics. Although both activities are important to scholarly progress, the current overemphasis on hypothesis testing should be reversed and greater attention devoted to the more fundamental role of theory.”