International political sociology, or the social ontology and power politics of process

Authored by: Stefano Guzzini

Routledge Handbook of International Political Sociology

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415732253
eBook ISBN: 9781315446486
Adobe ISBN: 9781315446479


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International Relations has been going through repeated ebbs and flows. The emergence of international political sociology as a research field can be seen in this context. It started in the 1980s in response to Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics. Although Waltz’s neorealism may look like a mere foil, an easy target that allowed more social and political theory into International Relations (IR) it was not (e.g. Ashley 1986 [1984]; Walker 1987; Wendt 1987). The context was one where IR had started to move beyond the “diplomatic-strategic chessboard” (Aron 1962), emancipating itself from its own historiography of the first two debates and the resulting implicit matrix according to which IR theory was to be understood. A now largely forgotten Third Debate of ‘Globalism versus Realism’ (already sanitized in Maghroori and Ramberg 1982), which acknowledged the rise of Latin American Marxist and dependency theorists (e.g. Frank 1966; Dos Santos 1970; Cardoso 1973; O’Donnell 1973; Cardoso and Faletto 1979), as well as of early International Political Economy (e.g. Strange 1970, 1971; Vernon 1971; Gilpin 1975; Cox 1981), had provoked an identity crisis in IR, which was unable to define, or rather, contain, its core and boundaries. The acceptance of Waltz as the core the reference by the main discipline, for defenders and detractors alike, put an end to that crisis. It defined an exceedingly narrow field of IR – purely systemic analysis of interstate politics – and anchored its theoretical underpinnings in a form of utilitarianism: states as value-maximizing agents facing each other in a strategic game of cooperation or conflict under anarchy (Guzzini 1998: chapters 8–9). Waltz and the debate which ensued channelled the mainstream back into well-known waters, as in the neo–neo debate ( 1996), and thus stemmed the scholarly explorations of new terrains in the 1970s. Although perhaps even unfair to Waltz, his book came to epitomize that closure. International political sociology stems from a response to this and then later attempts at closure.

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