International relations theory

International relations theory is the study of international relations (IR) from a theoretical perspective. It seeks to explain behaviors and outcomes in international politics. The four most prominent schools of thought are realism, liberalism, constructivism, and rational choice.[1] Whereas realism and liberalism make broad and specific predictions about international relations, constructivism and rational choice are methodological approaches that focus on certain types of social explanation for phenomena.[2]

International relations, as a discipline, is believed to have emerged after World War I with the establishment of a Chair of International Relations, the Woodrow Wilson Chair held by Alfred Eckhard Zimmern[3] at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.[4] The modern study of international relations, as theory, has sometimes been traced to realist works such as E. H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis (1939) and Hans Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations (1948).[5][6]

The most influential IR theory work of the post-World War II era was Kenneth Waltz's Theory of International Politics (1979), which pioneered neorealism. Neoliberalism (or liberal institutionalism) became a prominent competitive framework to neorealism, with prominent proponents such as Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye. During the late 1980s and 1990s, constructivism emerged as a prominent third IR theoretical framework, in addition to existing realist and liberal approaches. IR theorists such as Alexander Wendt, John Ruggie, Martha Finnemore, and Michael N. Barnett helped pioneer constructivism. Rational choice approaches to world politics became increasingly influential in the 1990s, in particular with works by James Fearon, such as the bargaining model of war.

There are also "post-positivist/reflectivist" IR theories (which stand in contrast to the aforementioned "positivist/rationalist" theories), such as critical theory.

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