Defining scientific progress in terms of the cumulation of knowledge, predictive power, and an “approach-to-consensus” regarding the best explanation when intellectual disputes arise, Fred Chernoff raises the critically important questions of why is there relatively little progress in the field of security studies as compared to the natural sciences, and why is there more progress in some areas of security studies than in others. He argues that one important answer to these questions is that scholars in security studies, unlike those in the natural sciences, use different philosophy of science criteria of evaluation and are rarely explicit about what those criteria are. Chernoff finds support for his argument in an empirical examination of how security studies scholars make judgments about the quality of competing explanations regarding three important research questions in the field—nuclear proliferation, balance of power and alliance formation, and the democratic peace. With respect to the latter, he argues that scholars have explicitly stated their criteria, reached agreement about the appropriate criteria, and moved towards consensus on the validity of a liberal explanation (though which particular liberal explanation is still contested). Chernoff includes a discussion of alternative explanations for the lack of scientific progress in security studies, including the fact that some scholars are answering different questions rather than providing different answers to the same question. He concludes with some useful reflections on the role of metatheory in international relations research programs.
Tag: security studies
American political scientists who perform case studies straddle two very different strategies of inquiry. On the one hand, they seek to understand politics in terms of narratives that explore closely the events in a single historical episode. On the other, they work within a disciplinary framework that emphasizes the statement of general theories, the treatment of events as samples drawn from a larger population, and hypothesis testing using statistical inference as a central activity. That these two perspectives are deeply in tension has been recognized since quantitative social science began in the early twentieth century, and has been the source of seemingly never-ending disciplinary controversy.
Prompted by a couple of colleagues who suggested that I put the forum component of this listserv to work, I would like to offer a response to Robert Vitalis’ review of my piece, “Present at the Creation: Edward Mead Earle and the Depression Era Origins of Security Studies.” First and foremost I would like to thank Vitalis for taking the time to write such a detailed critique.
Vitalis has labored on the turf of international relations (IR) scholarship for some time and has much to say. But, in a rush to get at Earle the scholar (an individual who did not always cut the most sympathetic figure), Vitalis misses texture and crucial substance in the article’s argument.
In this article, the Tufts University historian David Ekbladh recalls the intellectual and institution-building work of a pre-Cold War professor of international relations, Edward Mead Earle (1894-1954). Earle was one among many progressive (in his case a self-identified “new historian”) critics of American imperialism in the 1920s who revised their views and in some cases political allegiances in response to the challenge of “totalitarianism.” Ekbladh’s next book studies the interwar origins and dissemination of ideas in support of “a new American globalism” after World War II. The conceit of this essential, stand-alone piece on Earle is that he matters more than current practitioners know to the “birth” of the field of “security studies,” one strand of this new muscular globalism (or, better, interventionism). Security studies wasn’t a response to the Cold War, as virtually every insider account of its evolution insists, but rather to “the unraveling of international order” ten years earlier, and Earle was “[t]he central figure in its rise” (108, emphasis mine). Ekbladh identifies him as a “prophet” for having written a grant application in 1939 calling for “a historical and critical grand strategy for the United States” (119), although others were also busy at the time writing books of this type, and Earle never actually delivered on the promise.