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A theory of International Relations needs to perform four principal tasks: It should

describe, explain, predict and prescribe

Introduction: International Relations a fragmented social science

International Relations (IR) is a discipline with many roots: () finance and economics, and
communications, among others. () As a separate and definable discipline, however, it dates
from the early 20th century (The Columbia Encyclopedia 2012: online). Most scholars
would agree that IR is a relatively young discipline within the social sciences (Hoffmann

Theories play an important role in social sciences. A theory is an account of the world which
goes beyond what we can see and measure, defines the Dictionary of Sociology
(1988:online). What is the purpose of this account of the world, though? This question
opens up a vast field. It has been addressed in German Sociology through the
Werturteilsstreit (value-verdict dispute) and, more importantly for the discipline of IR,
through the positivism dispute in the 1960ies. The latter debate between the Frankfurt School
and Critical Rationalists, namely Karl Popper, touched upon the question of whether a theory
of social science should attempt at bettering the human condition or not.

In IR things are more complicated than in older social sciences. Like most disciplines that
developed in the 20th century (communication science, gender studies) and thus drew
concepts, theories and assumptions from older disciplines, IR is fragmented by paradigms.
The term paradigm was used by the historian of science Thomas Kuhn, to describe how
collection of evidence, hidden shared assumptions and interpretations in scientific disciplines
would generate interpretations of reality that are opaque for alternative views. The contrasting
scientific paradigms, whose theoretical basis would mutually exclude each other, can alternate
within a discipline only through scientific revolution (Kuhn 1970:91-94). A theoretical
scientific paradigm can come into existence, when opposing currents of thought construct
assumptions about reality that have mutually exclusive perspectives on the world because
they do not agree on the basic purpose of a theory.

This essay will look chronologically at two different currents of thought in IR. These two
currents can be distinguished by their contrasting views on the purposes of a theory of IR. The
aim is not to contrast different sets of assumptions that are inherent in different theories, but to
ask the more general question: For what purpose are we making theories? In this essay
different purposes for theories are grouped under two rough outlines of tasks that theories are
meant to perform. It is argued, that these tasks match with two distinct sets of interests:
keeping the social order as it is on the one hand and changing power structures on the other
hand. Of course this division of interests cannot be performed as a neat separation, since
structures of human interests are complex, intertwined and partly unconscious. The spectrum
of interests should rather be thought of as a continuum between the two poles keeping the
world as it is as one extreme and changing the world as the other one. Yet, for theorising
about theory it is useful to imagine these sets of interests as antagonistic groups.

As a starting point this essay takes the set of theoretical tasks that is characterised by the
activities describe, explain, predict and prescribe. It will argue why these activities aim at
the protection of the current social order. A second chapter of the essay will be devoted to
exploring a different set of tasks for a theory of IR: Question, empower and transform. Here
it will be argued that theories envisaging this type of goal aim at changing the current social
order. In the third part of the essay these two opposing theoretical camps will be tested for
their compatibility. In conclusion the resulting implications for those, who use theory either to
make truth claims or analyse social reality, the researchers and academics, will be discussed.