Liberalism in a realist world: International relations as an American scholarly tradition

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The study of international relations (IR) is a worldwide pursuit with each country having its own theoretical orientations, preoccupations and debates. Beginning in the early twentieth century, the US created its own scholarly traditions of IR. Eventually, IR became an American social science with the US becoming the epicentre for a worldwide IR community engaged in a set of research programmes and theoretical debates. The discipline of IR emerged in the US at a time when it was the worlds most powerful state and a liberal great power caught in a struggle with illiberal rivals. This context ensured that the American theoretical debates would be built around both power and liberal ideals. Over the decades, the two grand projects of realism and liberalism struggled to define the agenda of IR in the US. These traditions have evolved as they attempted to make sense of contemporary developments, speak to strategic position of the US and its foreign policy, as well as deal with the changing fashions and standards of social science. The rationalist formulations of realism and liberalism sparked reactions and constructivism has arisen to offer counterpoints to the rational choice theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-219
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Studies
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • International Relations Theory
  • Liberalism
  • Realism


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