The Myth of the Eclectic IR Scholar?

Helen V. Milner, Ryan Powers, Erik Voeten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


What does the decline in paradigmatic self-identification mean for how international relations (IR) scholars think about the world? We answer this question with a 2020 survey among nearly two thousand IR scholars. We uncover a two-dimensional latent theoretical belief space based on scholarly agreement with conjectures about the state, ideas, international institutions, domestic politics, globalization, and racism. The first dimension separates status quo-oriented scholars from more critical scholars. The second dimension captures the realist-institutionalist divide. We have three key findings. First, non-paradigmatic scholars vary greatly in their theoretical beliefs. Second, measurement invariance tests show that there is a similar structure underlying the beliefs of paradigmatic and non-paradigmatic scholars. Third, we find no evidence that non-paradigmatic scholars rely less on their theoretical beliefs in making predictions about conflict, institutions, political economy, democracy, and human rights. Instead, the positions of scholars in the two-dimensional theoretical belief space rather than self-assigned paradigmatic labels correlate with predictions about the world. Our findings suggest that non-paradigmatic scholars are not so different from self-identified Liberals, Constructivists, and Realists, although the decline of paradigmatic self-identification may still matter for how scholars organize debates and disciplinary divides.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-335
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Studies Perspectives
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


  • constructivism
  • international relations theory
  • liberalism
  • paradigms
  • realism


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