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Brenner on the Travails of IR Theory

Abstract: Whereas the end of the Cold War sparked debates within and among paradigms in the field, the response to September 11 has been comparatively muted. Some observers have questioned the significance of September 11, while others have cast doubt on the ability of realism to account for an outcome that falls outside of its emphasis on great-power conflict. Realism must not only address outside critics but also overcome internal resistance in the face of these changes. This resistance entails reluctance by theorists to address a novel phenomenon, as well as axiomatic impediments that lie in the hard core of the realist research program. The mechanism of “monster-adjustment,” discussed by Imre Lakatos, is offered as a way in which realism can extend its scope beyond centralized territorial states. This process subjects the underspecified assumption of the necessity of unit isomorphism in international systems to increased scrutiny, offering a way to extend the explanatory capacity of realist frameworks. With realism released from these constraints, opportunities for productive engagements with other paradigms may be realized.

William J. Brenner (2006),” In Search of Monsters: Realism and Progress in International Relations Theory after September 11,” Security Studies 15:496 - 528. Available here (sub required). Also available here.

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