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Theoretical Synthesis, Post-Paradigmatic Research, and the Common Ground between Realism and Constructivism

By Jared Angle

October 27, 2015

Theoretical synthesis, as it is proposed by J. Samuel Barkin, John Gerard Ruggie, and Marc Howard Ross, serves to benefit the theoretical study of international relations because it attempts to describe instances of state behavior that individual theories employed in a mutually exclusive manner are unable to explain. Whereas many scholars may view one particular theory of international relations as the best framework to analyze the behavior of a given set of states, other scholars may consider an alternative theory as the appropriate lens through which to describe the intents and actions of the same set of states. Mark Irving Lichbach notes that in the midst of paradigm conflict, competing theories fall into a vicious cycle of neglecting to analyze certain aspects of international relations in favor of pursuing other concepts more rigorously.[1] Scholarly research over the years has indicated that different theories have their respective strengths in explaining state behavior, but each individual theory fails to encompass every possible scenario for the behavior of a given state. Furthermore, the characteristics of an individual state or the relationship between multiple states may shift over time, marginalizing once-prevailing theories and bringing new theories to prominence. As such, a post-paradigmatic approach that incorporates the key elements of realism and constructivism may be the best tool for assessing instances of state behavior that defy the prescriptions of a given theory. Realist constructivism’s reconciliation of both theories positions it as an analytical framework with the ability to account for the interaction between socially-constructed normative influences on state behavior and the inherent egoism and power politics that are a hallmark of political realism’s description of relations between states.

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