Three Key Theories International Relations Students Need to Know
September 08, 2022
Whether your goal is to work in government, a global corporation, academia, journalism
or a nongovernmental organization, a degree in International Relations opens the door
to a wide range of career opportunities. Learning to view the world through the lens of
key theories that have shaped our understanding of today's world will help you apply
relevant trends, ideas and constructs to your pursuits.
As a student at Webster Vienna Private University, you can expect to dive straight into these key theories with instructors who have years of experience in international relations. Associate Director and former Chair of the International Relations department Samuel R. Schubert, Ph.D., and Professor Jozef Bátora, Ph.D., shared their insight on these theories.
Three Important Theories in a Contemporary Context
Schubert explained the three most prominent theoretical schools.
“Realism tends to have the largest explanatory power because, in its most simple form, it is rooted in the notion that material self-interest, defined in terms of power, drives and explains state behavior," Schubert said.
"However, some of the biggest players in modern times, from intellectuals to politicians, have been highly influenced by notions of Liberalism in one form or another – economic, political or moral – and have expanded our understanding of how states and elites drive preference formation shaping those power-linked interests.
"The third, Social Constructivism, deepened our understanding of how those interests
are formed and changed over time as are any associated ideals, morals, and values.
While the first focuses squarely on relative gains, the second is more inclusive of
absolute gains and the third reveals how the meaning and value of what is deemed an
interest changes over time,” Schubert said.
Bátora explained the role of key international institutions and how they affect our world.
“The principle of territorial state and sovereign state as a key principle of political organization in the international order is challenged or compromised by various other sources of political authority,” Bátora said.
“As an academic discipline, international relations is in the realm of social sciences,"
he continued. "In recent decades, some of the most relevant IR research has built
on various kinds of social science theories to explain complex phenomena in global
politics. This includes the rise in importance of non-state actors, terrorism, formation
of security communities and identities, and systemic change in the role of key international
institutions such as diplomacy, war, territoriality and sovereignty.”
While theory is essential to the study of International Relations, students at WVPU are encouraged to pursue their own passions.
“You should be looking at your own project in life and try to make the best out of the environment and resources here at WVPU for learning, networking, and taking initiative,” Bátora noted.
Committing to Research to Further Explore Theory Implications
Bátora is an example of WVPU's commitment to continuous research, which helps students stay up-to-date on international developments and academic research throughout their studies.
“A lot of my research seeks to understand institutional change dynamics in international political orders,” Bátora said. “I’ve introduced the concept of interstitial organizations into IR literature. And so I’m looking at how states and other actors cooperate around the delivery of foreign policies by creating these organizations that tap into resources from multiple institutional domains and recombine these rules, norms and practices from different fields so alternative practice frames emerge. Thereby you get alternative institutional dynamics that lead to change of international orders.”
Relevant research is an important component of an International Relations Degree at WVPU
At WVPU, students and their professors are involved in active research, working together to uncover the complexities found throughout the theories contributing to International Relations courses.
“We always update curricula with some of the latest research," Bátora said. "This
sometimes includes our own research that we present to the largest IR conferences
around the world, and bring it to our students and have a debate about it, which is
usually an enriching experience for all of us involved. Also, the regular research
seminars in IR and politics on campus often feature leading IR scholars from around
the world and students in our IR programs are invited to take part.
“In particular, Vienna is a very relevant place in terms of thinking about a world which is built on international organizations and rules," Bátora said. "It’s a fabulous place to study IR in this context in which you get your theoretical gear in your program on campus, and then you have the real world of diplomacy and international organizations delivered to you by practitioners’ guest lectures on campus and, indeed, all around the campus. Students get to see their research and theoretical studies come to life in this vibrant multicultural city."
Investigating These Theories in Modern Times with an International Relations Degree
Both professors from WVPU agreed that while these theories may be based on historical events, their modern relevance cannot be ignored.
“All of these theories are relatively modern," Schubert said. "While they may be rooted in historical concepts and contexts, the lessons we derive from them are as poignant today as they were centuries ago."
Throughout their studies at WVPU, students get a taste of what it’s like to study real-world topics.
"We always try to connect theories to the real world. We always try to see what this
or that theoretical approach can help us with in explaining what is going on in the
world,” Bátora added.
In his courses, Schubert provides students a clear vision of what exactly a theory is, and how students earning an International Relations degree can use each theory optimally.
“A theory is a lens where you look at the world through that lens, and that lens filters out all the noise that’s around and gives you these core variables to look at,” he said.
With such a vibrant, multicultural and tight-knit community at WVPU, students are
able to bring their ideas and curiosities about the world to their courses openly
and without reservation.
Approaching global politics with an open mind is essential for students studying International Relations. Bátora advised students looking to enter this program to “be open-minded and think about how you can use your time at Webster Vienna for making a difference.”
Schubert stressed that students also "care about the world and the role you want to play in it.”
With the direction of the passionate professors at WVPU, students will have the skills
and knowledge to succeed in those roles.
Interested in earning an master's in International Relations or bachelor's? Contact WVPU for more information!