Sunday, January 9, 2011

Theoretical Eclectic Approach in the International Relations of the Middle East: An Introduction

A theory tries to explain and laid down logical statements and assumptions that would permeate to guide and assist the members of the academe and/or practitioners on how to study and conceptualize the complexities and intricacies of International Relations (IR) of the Middle East. A strong theory is set under one paradigm with its strong explanatory power that encompasses temporal and spatial elements of a certain phenomenon. However, is this line of argument applicable to conceptual approaches to the area study of the Middle East?
     In international relations, prominent scholars, some even identified with particular research traditions, have acknowledged the need for incorporating elements from other approaches in order to fashion more usable and more comprehensive forms of knowledge. However, it requires an alternative understanding of research practice that is coherent enough to be distinguishable from conventional scholarship and yet flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of problems, concepts, methods, and causal arguments.
     Eclecticism has been a fashion fad in the contemporary trend of international relations theory especially in looking into area studies. This approach was used and still being utilize by IR scholars in presenting theoretical framework(s) for cases and issue-areas of the Middle East. Fred Halliday’s historical/political sociological approach; John Galtung’s structural theory of imperialism which was enshrined to Immanuel Wallerstein’s modern world system’s approach; Birthe Hansen’s (neo)realism, Stephen Walt’s balance-against-threats and other scholars attempt to converge realism with constructivism; and other scholars like Shibley Telhami, Michael Barnett, Raymond Hinnebusch and Anoushirvan Ehteshami interpretations of constructivism (a mix of qausi-conventional to quasi-constitutive elements of constructivist theory).
     Eclectic scholarship is delimited by the fact that an eclectic theory drawing upon research traditions founded on competing ontological and epistemological principles can produce an artificial homogenization of incompatible perspectives along with a host of unrecognized conceptual problems that subvert the aims of the theory. The problem starts when you pick terms and concepts that are ontological and epistemological conflicting with each other. However, in trying to understand and conceptualize the IR of the Middle East, we need several sets of paradigms (patterns of explanations), assumptions and propositions that draw upon the multiplicity of theories, styles and ideas, which will help us gain a wider scope of insights into the telescopic array of issues and/or case for the study of the Middle East.
     For example, for the sake of an exercise, can rational choice theory explains why Hamas legitimately won in the Palestinian election, might game theory clarify court politics in Maghreb countries, could neo-realism shed light on Sudanese politics? Moreover, can we combine realism and constructivism to examine Arab-Israeli negotiations? These questions, I leave it to you… if you find eclectic scholarship more helpful than conventional ones.

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