Beyond metatheory?

Reus-Smit, Christian (2013) Beyond metatheory?. European Journal of International Relations, 19 3: 405-425. doi:10.1177/1354066113495479

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Author Reus-Smit, Christian
Title Beyond metatheory?
Journal name European Journal of International Relations   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1354-0661
1460-3713
Publication date 2013-09-01
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1177/1354066113495479
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 19
Issue 3
Start page 405
End page 425
Total pages 21
Place of publication London, United Kingdom
Publisher Sage Publications
Language eng
Subject 3312 Sociology and Political Science
3320 Political Science and International Relations
Abstract Metatheory is out of fashion. If theory has a purpose, we are told, that purpose is the generation of practically relevant knowledge. Metatheoretical inquiry and debate contribute little to such knowledge and are best bracketed, left aside for the philosophers. This article challenges this all-too-common line of reasoning. First, one can bracket metatheoretical inquiry, but this does not free one's work, theoretical or otherwise, of metatheoretical assumptions. Second, our metatheoretical assumptions affect the kind of practically relevant knowledge we can produce. If our goal is the generation of such knowledge, understanding how our metatheoretical assumptions enable or constrain this objective is essential. Today, the most sustained articulation of the 'bracket metatheory thesis' is provided by analytical eclecticists, who call on the field to leave behind metatheoretical debate, concentrate on concrete puzzles and problematics, and draw selectively on insights from diverse research traditions to fashion middle-range theoretical explanations. Yet by forgoing metatheoretical reflection, analytical eclecticists fail to see how their project is deeply structured by epistemological and ontological assumptions, making it an exclusively empirical-theoretic project with distinctive ontological content. This metatheoretical framing significantly impedes the kind of practically relevant knowledge eclecticist research can generate. Practical knowledge, as both Aristotle and Kant understood, is knowledge that can address basic questions of political action - how should I, we, or they act? Empirical-theoretic insights alone cannot provide such knowledge; it has to be integrated with normative forms of reasoning. As presently conceived, however, analytical eclecticism cannot accommodate such reasoning. If the generation of practical knowledge is one of the field's ambitions, greater metatheoretical reflection and a more expansive and ambitious form of eclecticism are required.
Formatted abstract
Metatheory is out of fashion. If theory has a purpose, we are told, that purpose is the generation of practically relevant knowledge. Metatheoretical inquiry and debate contribute little to such knowledge and are best bracketed, left aside for the philosophers. This article challenges this all-too-common line of reasoning. First, one can bracket metatheoretical inquiry, but this does not free one’s work, theoretical or otherwise, of metatheoretical assumptions. Second, our metatheoretical assumptions affect the kind of practically relevant knowledge we can produce. If our goal is the generation of such knowledge, understanding how our metatheoretical assumptions enable or constrain this objective is essential. Today, the most sustained articulation of the ‘bracket metatheory thesis’ is provided by analytical eclecticists, who call on the field to leave behind metatheoretical debate, concentrate on concrete puzzles and problematics, and draw selectively on insights from diverse research traditions to fashion middle-range theoretical explanations. Yet by forgoing metatheoretical reflection, analytical eclecticists fail to see how their project is deeply structured by epistemological and ontological assumptions, making it an exclusively empirical-theoretic project with distinctive ontological content. This metatheoretical framing significantly impedes the kind of practically relevant knowledge eclecticist research can generate. Practical knowledge, as both Aristotle and Kant understood, is knowledge that can address basic questions of political action — how should I, we, or they act? Empirical-theoretic insights alone cannot provide such knowledge; it has to be integrated with normative forms of reasoning. As presently conceived, however, analytical eclecticism cannot accommodate such reasoning. If the generation of practical knowledge is one of the field’s ambitions, greater metatheoretical reflection and a more expansive and ambitious form of eclecticism are required.
Keyword analytical eclecticism
epistemology
International Relations theory
metatheory
ontology
practical knowledge
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Official 2014 Collection
School of Political Science and International Studies Publications
 
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 14 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 19 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Thu, 14 Nov 2013, 22:33:19 EST by Bronwyn Clare Crook on behalf of School of Political Science & Internat'l Studies