The Duck of Minerva

State of Our Field

18 November 2005

The current issue of Foreign Policy includes an interesting study titled Inside the Ivory Tower. The story discusses the composition and nature of International Relations education in the United States. I would link to it directly but unfortunately it is behind a subscription wall so you will have to pick up your own copy. Some of what is reported is expected. For example, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Princeton and Chicago made up the top 5 PhD programs. One thing I found surprising is that MIT was ranked 11th. Given the strength of that program’s security faculty and the students they have produced I would have thought they would rank higher. Then again, the article doesn’t explain the methodology in all that much detail so it may simply be an artifact of how the data was collected.

Younghusband over at Coming Anarchy asked for reactions to the study a while back and I am just now getting a chance to comment. Rather than comment on program rankings I wanted to briefly weigh in on two other things that emerged in the article: theoretical trends and influential thinkers.

First, the article notes that while most scholars are still influenced theoretically by the “big 2” of realism and liberalism, constructivist scholarship is (and has been) on the rise. To quote the article:

When professors do reach for the theoretical toolbox, they frequently pull out the classics, notably realism, with its focus on states and power, and liberalism, with its emphasis on economic interdependence and international institutions. Beyond these two schools of thought, however, some interesting results appear. Constructivism, which highlights the power of ideology and beliefs in international politics, is the hot new thing in academic research; more than 80 percent of scholars report that it is on the rise. Nevertheless, it gets little airtime in introductory classes. Marxism, on the other hand, may be on history’s ash heap, but it still finds its way onto the reading list. Indeed, nearly 14 percent of introductory course material is still devoted to Marxist ideas.

Speakig from my own experience I think this is largely correct, although it needs clarification. I do think that in terms of theoretical traditions realism and liberalism still dominate (with Marxism largely disappearing at least in the states). Scholars have been taking constructivist propositions more seriously and constructivist arguments now must be considered as plausible alternative hypotheses in just about any study (one need only look at journal publications over the last 8-10 years). I would argue, however, that despite some notable exceptions, the influence of constructivism has not been as strong in security studies as it has been in other areas. That said, for an approach that is less than 20 years old constructivism has certainly had an impact and doesn’t appear to be fading any time soon.

Second, the article includes a list of the 20 most influential IR scholars over the last 20 years. Again, the list isn’t all that surprising. While I may not agree with the specific rankings of those included I think the collective list is largely accurate. According to the survey, the top 5 most influential sholars are: Robert Keohane, Kenneth Waltz, Alexander Wendt, Samuel Huntington, and John Mearsheimer. One can make a strong argument for these names as well as the other members of the list. However, I have one gripe in terms of an omission. I was surprised that Thomas Schelling (recent Nobel Prize recipient) was not in the top 20. Now he was primarily an economist (although a number of those on the list have worked across subfield and disciplines), however much of his theoretical work on bargaining, coercion, and nuclear deterrence still guide research and animate work to this day. In fact, Schelling’s work has served as the intellectual foundation for a number of scholars who did make the list (e.g. Jervis and Fearon to name a few). Given that I thought I would list my top 5 from the list (those who have had the most influence on me), but cheating a bit and including Schelling.

My personal top 5 looks like this:

1. Robert Jervis
2. Alexander Wendt
3. Thomas Schelling
4. James Fearon
5. Jack Snyder/John Ruggie (tie)

I would be interested to hear reactions from other members of the Duck, especially their own personal top 5.

Thoughts, feelings??

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