Understanding and the Interpretive Approach in International Relations

By Trevor Haruo Taniguchi.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: June 20, 2014 $US5.00

The social sciences have a history of two traditions: the naturalistic and the interpretive. The former, an ‘outside’ account of behavior modeled on the methods of the natural sciences, attempts ‘explanation’ by searching for causal laws applicable to the occurrence of similar events under comparable conditions. The latter, attempts an “inside” account aimed at understanding phenomena by identifying the beliefs and desires held by the actors involved. Theories that have dominated the study of International Relations have largely followed in the naturalistic tradition attempting to model the discipline after the physical sciences. This paper explores what an interpretive approach in International Relations would entail. To do this, first the method of Verstehen is combined with the work of Martin Wight and Hedley Bull, exploring the concept of an “international society.” Further, a Constructivist approach is utilized to explicate the ideational structure of international politics and how the inter-subjectively shared rules, roles, and norms between actors can be identified. The contention is that an interpretive approach would provide an alternate methodology that does not proceed from a priori assumptions of human nature, nor attempts to reduce phenomena to explanations concerned with causal laws. Instead, filling out thick descriptions of international phenomena would allow for a broader ontology yet retain a strict empiricist epistemology while not precluding causal explanations. Further, interpretation would be better suited to address the areas of the greatest shortcomings in previous, naturalistic theories.

Keywords: Social Sciences, International Relations, Interpretation

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 5, Issue 2, June 2014, pp.53-64. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: June 20, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 462.567KB)).

Trevor Haruo Taniguchi

Adjunct Instructor, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey, USA