State of Research Methods in International Relations

Written by vik

Topics: Uncategorized

This was written quickly reading a few sources; may be useful for some (see citations below).

Research methods are an integral component in the discipline of Social Sciences. The development of a discipline can be gauged on three accounts—the questions it studies, the theoretical developments and the methods used. Methods are very important for the progress of a discipline. Methods inform the theoretical and empirical debates in the discipline and lead to progress or reformulations in the discipline.
    The subject of International Relations (IR) in particular is witnessing a rise in the use of research methods in studies and analyses. When talking of ‘state’ (and status) of methods in the discipline, it can be said that the use of research methods is being increasingly applied in IR analyses.
    Three methods of research especially stand out in International relations studies because they are conspicuous by frequent application: case study method, quantitative methods, and the formal mathematical methods.
    These methods have influenced the major debates in IR including in its subfields like the International political economy, international environmental politics, and international security. The discipline of International Relations has also not been free from the debate over the ‘best’ method for studying International Relations. Also, after the end of the cold war new critical approaches (constructivist, postmodernist, poststructuralist) have emerged though a substantive methodology in each case has not matured.
    IR scholars have put a timely emphasis on the need for a more ‘robust discourse’ in methodology. None other than the former presidents of International Studies Association have remarked that the field must ‘become more tolerant of competing paradigms, models, methods and findings’ while arguing for enhanced cross-methods research.
    Articles in six leading IR journals from the year 1975 to 2000 were analyzed according to their methods of analysis. The emerging trend was that there was a decline in the number of articles using a descriptive-historical approach and that the field of IR was becoming more method-oriented.
    Indeed a lot of new studies use the quantitative, qualitative and other mixed methods while explaining international relations. The increasing use of methods has certainly led to advancements in the field of International Relations and the trend needs to be augmented with more method-based research studies. 

Written late 2012.

1.    Detlef F Sprinz; Yael Wolinsky-Nahmias (2004), Models, Numbers, and Cases: Methods for Studying International Relations, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
2.    Bernard, Russell (2000), Social Research Methods, New Delhi: Sage.
3.    School of International Studies (SIS) Manual (2006), JNU, New Delhi.

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