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International Theory: Positivism and Beyond

This essay will review The Accomplishment of International Political Economy written by Stephen Krasner and the article Margins, Silences and Bottom Rungs; How to overcome the underestimation of power in the study of international relations written by Cynthia Enloe. Krasner and Enloe focus on power relations in international relations but provide different explanations to ‘the political’. Krasner argues that power relations are explained differently through different perspectives; liberalism, realism and domestic politics. Enloe explains power inequality between margins and the ‘centre’.

Krasner states that International Political Economy (IPE) students ask the same questions, as conventional economists but their answers are statistical. From his point of view, understanding economic relations between states is crucial to understand ‘the political’ because there is no difference between economic and power relations. International system is analysed through liberalism, realism and domestic politics to understand power relations between states. The main argument of liberalism is that open world economy improves states economy. Trading in international system prevents conflict between states because everyone benefits from IPE.

From a realist perspective the international system is anarchic and the economic relations are dominated by hegemonic states. According to realism only powerful states can benefit from IPE. Realism assumes that tension is likely between two powerful states as each state might try to be dominant. Domestic politics have different assumptions of IPE such as arguing that scholars do not pay attention to norms and ideas but rather focus on economic interests; material interests and power.

Enloe thinks that power relations cannot be understood by applying IPE. She argues that power relations between the margins and the ‘centre’ are usually studied through perspectives of feminism, anthropology and economy. Enloe mentions that the political analysts are interested in power such as, ‘Who has the power, how they get it and what they try to do with it’. According to Enloe looking at only the ‘centre’ does not explain ‘the political’ because it simplifies the power relations. Scholars need to study the margins more attentively in order to understand power relations in international system. She believes that gender, class and racial inequality should be considered while trying to explain power relations between margins and the ‘centre’. Enloe gives the example of Chiapas in Mexico, who are at the bottom of the hierarchy and do not have political voice and are not treated equally. It shows that other theoretical frameworks can provide better understanding of power relations.

Krasner’s description of IPE suggests deductive approach based on a theory to study what exists in the world through assumptions of different theoretical perspectives, using empirical research methods would be appropriate. By doing so questions such as ‘How have changes in the international distribution of power among states affected the degree of openness in the international political economy’ can be answered using qualitative and quantitative research methods. Krasner’s explanation of IPE suggests inter-paradigm debate approach because the article examines an academic debate between liberalism, realism and domestic politics (Griffiths et al, 2002, 166).

Enloe’s thinking of ‘the political’ is related to epistemological relativist because she assumes that race and inequality exist in the world, which leads to power inequalities (Landman, 2003 16). Her aim is to understand power relations in international system by studying margins (McNabb, 2010, 4). The theoretical frameworks Enloe describes apply to behaviouralism approach because she focuses on studying people rather than institutions. Her approach to study power relations is related to qualitative methods by collecting data on what people think about power relations and why they think it through observations or interviews (McNabb, 2010, 227). Enloe’s description of power relations suggests inductive approach because her study would not start with hypothesis but the theory would be grounded within the data.

Enloe description of power relations suggests constructivism approach because the focus is not on military power or international institutions but rather on norms and beliefs of Mexican people (Griffiths et al, 2002, 50). Constructivists emphasise the problem with the belief of Chiapas not seen valuable to Mexican people. Enloe gives an example of the dialogue between Mexicans, who believe that Indians are not worth 75 centavos a day. This is an example of racial class hierarchy in Mexico.

Comparing Krasner’s and Enloe thinking on examining power relations and their definition of ‘the political’ shows, political phenomena cannot be understood objectively. They both are open to interpretations. Krasner assumes power relations are understood through different theories and gender or race do not offer valuable insights, which can be used by policy makers. He thinks that studying the assumptions of liberalism, realism and domestic politics are important to understand power relations in international system. Krasner would look at the findings of economists and political scholars to understand power relations. Enloe, however, believes that looking at the findings of political scholars do not give clear picture of power relations. The results are simplified and they do not explain what happens in the margins. Enloe points out that researchers find different outcomes from the studies of power relations because they only study ‘centre’.  She argues that feminist and anthropological studies provide a better understanding of power relations between the margins and the ‘centre’.

To conclude, Krasner and Enloe arguments differ on the political phenomenon, they focus on power in international system through different perspectives. Krasner’s focus is on the assumptions of liberalism, realism and domestic politics to understand power relations in international system. Enloe focused on the power inequality between the margins and the ‘centre’. It has been shown that Krasner and Enloe are related to different research methods and techniques as they have different assumptions. Krasner and Enloe’s approaches on examining power relations and their definition of ‘the political’ show that political phenomena cannot be understood objectively. Krasner thinks looking at findings of the economists are important, whereas Enloe thinks feminist and anthropologist findings should be studied to look at power relations in international system.



Clarke, K. A. and Primo, D. M. (2012). A Model Discipline: Political Science and the Logic of Representations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Griffiths, M. and O’Callaghan, T. (2002). International Relations: The key concepts. London: Routledge.

Landman, T. (2003). Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics: An Introduction: London: Routledge.

McNabb, D. E. (2010). Research Methods for Political Science. Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. 2nd Ed. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.

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