Theories of International Relations allow us to understand and try to make sense of the world around us through various lenses, each of which represents a different theoretical perspective. In order to consider the field as a whole for beginners it is necessary to simplify IR theory. This chapter does so by situating IR theory on a three-part spectrum of traditional theories, middle-ground theories and critical theories. Examples are used throughout to help bring meaning and perspective to these positions. Readers are also encouraged to consult this book’s companion text, International Relations Theory (2017), which expands greatly on the subject matter of this chapter.
Before we get started, one very important note. You may notice that some of the theories you are introduced to here are referred to by names that also occur in other disciplines. Sometimes this can be confusing as, for example, realism in IR is not the same as realism in art. Similarly, you may hear the word ‘liberal’ being used to describe someone’s personal views, but in IR liberalism means something quite distinct. To avoid any confusion, this note will serve as a caveat that in this chapter we only refer to the theories concerned as they have been developed within the discipline of International Relations.