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Unique in perspective, this book summarizes the achievements, problems, and prospects for theory in the field of international politics—with a focus on the theoretical and epistemological issues that divide the major theorists. It summarizes major theoretical approaches starting in the Middle Ages, places them in theoretical traditions, and suggests how theory evolves over time. It ends on a cautious note—praising the growing interest in the subjective dimension of the field while criticizing the wholesale rejection of empiricism by postmodernists, public choice theorists, and others. Paradigms and Theoretical Growth in Global Politics. Values and Paradigm Change in Global Politics. Changing Norms and Theory: The Middle Ages to Machiavelli. The Vicissitudes of Norms and Theory: Realism and Idealism. The State as an Obstacle to Understanding Global Politics. The Uncertain Bounds of Bounded Rationality. Quo Vadis Foreign Policy? The Challenge of Anarchy and the Search for Order. The End of the Elusive Quest? The Quest Continues. For anyone interested in international politics.
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When The Elusive Quest appeared in 1988, we were pessimistic about the future of international relations theory. We declared the book a very personal one that, in some respects, contradicted our previous work and presented assumptions that were at odds with those we and most scholars of global politics had held previously. As we predicted at the time, The Elusive Quest was controversial because it raised questions about epistemological issues that had been fundamental to much of the research conducted during previous decades. Our conclusions implicitly (and in some instances explicitly) questioned the utility of much of this research. Since then, epistemological and ontological issues have become increasingly central to theoretical discourse in the field.
Much has changed since the book first appeared. The Cold War came to an end, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Russia became increasingly ungovernable, raising concerns about its nuclear weapons stockpile. A major war was fought over Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, and as 2001 came to an end, Islamism and Islamic fanaticism were stirring conflict. Elsewhere, states crumbled in Africa and the Balkans and weakened everywhere, and civil strife provided new euphemisms for conflict—"ethnic cleansing," "failed states," "humanitarian intervention." Perhaps most important, the United States experienced war in the heart of Manhattan, and "9/11" will forever alter Americans' sense of security at home. Dramatic changes in technology, especially in microelectronics, provided people with front-row seats to major events everywhere, degraded the significance of distance and territory, and forced us to rethink the basic meaning of political space. Finally, a new buzzword—globalization—that few understood or could define appeared on everyone's lips as an effort to explain myriad other changes.
Changes such as these necessarily intensified the quest for new theory and new "thinking spaces." Postmodernism, postpositivism, constructivism, critical feminism, prospect theory, scientific realism, and various other "neos" and "isms" questioned the uses and abuses of science and gained their own loyal followings. Like the specific puzzles they addressed, these approaches combined old problems with new names (for example, "agent-structure"), recycled insights, and produced at least a few genuinely novel formulations. Although grounds for pessimism have hardly disappeared, there are signs of an intellectual spring that, in the end, may lead to an integrated field of politics. Indeed, growing appreciation that the Westphalian interstate system and the leviathans that constituted it do not exhaust all we need to learn about has led us to substitute "global" in many cases where we used "international" in 1988. In many respects, the world is, to use James Rosenau's felicitous phrase, "postinternational."
We did not intend The Elusive Quest to signify the end of an intellectual trek. Instead, it represented an important initial step in looking at global-politics theory from a different perspective. It was the opening statement in what we hoped would prove to be a comprehensive and thematic analysis of the history and evolution of ideas about global politics. Before proceeding with such analysis, however, it was necessary to ask two key questions: (1) Why do we think what we do about the world around us? and (2) How do these ideas change? The Elusive Quest was our effort to address these questions, and the publication of Polities: Authority, Identities, and Change was a further down payment on this effort. Our forthcoming book, Remapping Global Politics, will represent a further step.
We wish to thank Rhoda and Rachael Mansbach and Kitty, Colin, Duff, and Caitlin Ferguson, who have contributed beyond measure with their sustaining love. Grateful acknowledgment is made to the University of Chicago Press for permission to quote from Bertrand Badie and Pierre Birnbaum's The Sociology of the State, © 1983 by The University of Chicago.Review:
"The book is ... complete in the sense that it captures all of the intra-disciplinary dialogues and debates currently animating the IR field (as well as dialogues and debates historically engaged). While Ferguson and Mansbach weigh into the debates with gusto, supporting some positions and rejecting others, their representation of varying points of view is informed, informative, and fair. The Elusive Quest Continues is exciting and promising ...." — Donald J. Puchala, University of South Carolina
"I think this book could emerge as the most effective, comprehensive, and (most importantly) candid assessment of our field to date." — Steven W Hook, Kent State University
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