July 06, 2017

Regime Theory as IR Theory: Reflection on Three Waves of ‘Isms’

6 Jul 2017

By Nik Hynek for Central European Journal of International and Security Studies (CEJISS)

What role does regime theory play in discourses about international relations? While exploring this question, Nik Hynek first looks at three ‘waves’ of theorizing – 1) neo-neo-convergence analysis, 2) cognitivism, and 3) radical constructivism/post-structuralism – and then traces how these approaches actually coincide with the real world.

This article was originally published in Volume 11, Issue 1 of the Central European Journal of International and Security Studies (CEJISS).

This article analyzes the significance of regime theory, or regimes theorization, for the field of International Relations. It tries to reflect on theoretical affinities between the two, with an intention to recast regime theory as IR theory. While this may not be surprising given that regime theory has been a standard occupier of IR theoretical space, not much has been systematically written on both evolutionary qualities of regime theory as such, and its changing yet strong pegging to IR theories and approaches. This is where the main contribution of this theoretically oriented article lies. The article proceeds as follows. First, it discusses existing IR theorization of regimes which has coalesced around three specific ‘waves’ of regimes theorization: the neo-neo-convergence regime theory; cognitivism; and radical constructivism/post-structuralism. Second, it assesses heuristic utility of the three waves of regime theorization in relation to possible domains of empirical application. Finally, more general trends in relation to heuristics are discerned and flagged in the conclusion.


This article analyzes the significance of regime theory, or theory of regimes, for the field of International Relations. Specifically, it tries to reflect on theoretical affinities between the two, namely to recast regime theory as IR theory. While this may not be surprising given that regime theory has been a standard occupier of IR theoretical space, not much has been systematically written on both evolutionary qualities of regime theory as such, and its changing yet strong pegging to IR theories and approaches. This is where the main contribution of this theoretically oriented article lies. The article proceeds as follows. First, it discusses existing IR theorization of regimes which has coalesced around three specific ‘waves’ of regimes theorization: the neo-neo-convergence regime theory; cognitivism; and radical constructivism/ post-structuralism. Second, it assesses heuristic utility of the three waves of regime theorization in relation to possible domains of empirical application. Finally, more general trends in relation to heuristics are discerned and flagged in the conclusion.

Theorization of Regimes in IR: Three ‘Waves’ of Scholarship

This part begins with a theoretically oriented discussion of regime analysis which can be identified within the discipline of IR. Indeed, such discussion needs to factor in the empirical domain in question, the scope, complexity and theme of regulation (Keohane and Victor 2010; Alter and Meunier 2009; Drezner 2009), as well as political dynamics and leadership related to their formation and effectiveness (Levy, Young and Zürn 1995; Young 1991). This takes on importance when considering that majority of the existing scholarship on theories of regimes came to be articulated from within International Political Economy and Earth Science, rather than Security Studies (for notable exceptions, cf. Müller 1995; 1993; Krause 1990; Nye 1987; Jervis 1982). Geographically, complex interplay between regional and global attempts to regulate specific issue areas (Adler and Greve 2009; Bourne 2007; Duffield 1994). Legally, the range of regulative difficulties were discussed in existing studies (also, cf. Efrat 2010; Miron 2001; Krause and Latham 1998; Aceves 1997).

The discussion of the three “waves” of theorization of regimes is utilized towards an extraction of some of the criteria suitable for its application to cross-empirical domains. The specific attention is being paid to the category of security regimes (cf. Jervis 1982). To structure them further, thematics of those security regimes plays the key role (cf. Kratochwil 1993). Indeed, not all security issues experience that same degree of regulation. For instance, Ethan Nadelmann (1990; for effectiveness, cf. Getz 2006) delimited global prohibition regimes as institutionalizations of explicit and implicit norms prohibiting certain activities of both state and non-state actors (through systemic diffusion in the international space, in international public law as well as domestic criminal law), and processes by which these norms are enforced. Thus, prohibition and regulatory regimes thus conceived are substantive (rather than merely procedural), and global in scale – or at least they contain a globalizing (or totalizing) ambition in order to eliminate possible ‘regime leakages’ and exploitation of loopholes (Müller and Wunderlich 2013; Garcia 2011: 40-41, 69; Alker and Greenberg 1977). On the other side of the regulatory spectrum, there are international non-regimes, i.e. functional and thematic instances of empirical absence concerning the formation of regulating rules and institutions, and of “transnational policy arenas characterized by the absence of multilateral agreements for policy coordination among states” (Dimitrov, Sprinz, DiGiusto, and Kelle 2007: 231).

Consequentialist Regime Theories

The first generation of regime analysis can be linked to what has been known as the theoretical convergence between neoliberal institutionalism and neorealism (Andreatta and Koenig-Archibugi 2010; Baldwin 1993; Nye 1988; Keohane 1986; Ruggie 1983). It newly emerged as as a research venue linked to the complex interdependency theory (Ruggie 1983, 1975; Keohane and Nye 1977; Young 1982), which attempted to balance the focus on state-centric framework and relative capabilities with importance of international institutions and absolute gains. While not entirely neo-neo synthesis (Waever 1996) as differences on the degree of possible cooperation, role of hegemons, and centrality of international institutions remained (Breitmeier, Young, and Zürn 2006; Keohane and Martin 1995; Grieco 1988), the convergence could be seen in the consequentialist reasoning, reduction of uncertainties, fears and transaction costs, as well as in the existence of future expectations driven by the conviction that cooperation among states is possible despite the structural logic of anarchy (Oye 1986; Rosenau 1986).

Existing definitions of regimes clearly demonstrate the theoretical link. Stephen Krasner (1982: 186) who depicted regimes as “sets of implicit and explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations.” Further down the denotative line, Haas (1983) argued that ‘principles’ featured beliefs of fact, causation and rectitude; ‘norms’ could be comprehended as standards of behavior defined in terms of rights and obligations; ‘rules’ then being specific prescriptions and prohibitions concerning actors’ behavior; and procedures encompassing dominant practices for making and implementation of collective choices. Another influential rationalist scholar, Robert Keohane (1989:4), specified regimes as “institutions with explicit rules, agreed upon by governments, that pertain to particular sets of issues in international relations”, where institutions were understood as “persistent and connected sets of rules (formal and informal) that prescribe behavioral roles, constrain activity, and shape expectations” (Ibid: 3). Moreover, Keohane also pointed to the importance of enforcement mechanisms by way of “injunctions” (Keohane 1984: 57). On the other hand, while sharing the rationalist convictions, Oran Young (1980: 331-332) attempted to go for a broader depiction of regimes that would circumscribe the problematic part concerning rules, norms, and principles: “regimes are social institutions governing the actions of those interested in specifiable activities. As such, they are recognized patterns of practice around which expectations converge.”

General theoretical contours and two influential specimen in the form of Krasner and Keohane’s definitions of regimes referred to above testify to the multiple limitations of this generation of scholarship. Theoretically, critics pointed out the paucity of linkages between “informal ordering devices of international regimes with the formal institutional mechanisms of international organization” (Kratochwil and Ruggie 1986: 754). These authors also questioned the degree of conceptual precision (hierarchy and relations among components), instrumentalism, and predominantly positivist epistemological and methodological leanings. The consequences were said to be the lack of attention to actors’ interpretations, meaning attachment and intersubjective understanding (Ibid: 763-770). Moreover, another identified shortcoming of the early generation of regime theorization was said to be its lack of focus on domestic politics (Haggard and Simmons 1987; for exceptions, cf. Ruggie 1982; Young 1980). Theoretical underdevelopment of affinities between domestic politics and its international corollaries has also been connected to reductionism in understanding various facets of sovereignty. While state-centrism has indeed been one of the edifices in analyzing regimes, state sovereignty has usually been depicted in a narrow sense. Krasner’s (1999) understanding of sovereignty has become the IR standard: he decouples sovereignty through the specification of its four types – international legal (diplomatic recognition, prerogatives, formal position), Westphalian (noninterference into domestic matters), domestic (national authority structures and their efficiency), and interdependence (“states are losing their ability to control movements across their own borders”, Krasner 2003). Ironically, the last two – domestic sovereignty and interdependence sovereignty, with their focus on state control rather than state authority, have been largely absent from IR focus generally and theorization of regimes specifically (Goldsmith 2000: 962).

The most interesting criticism of the first wave of regime analysis was offered by Strange (1982) and Keeley (1990) who both focused on what could be termed as the politics of regime theory. In her iconoclastic, and one could argue time-proven, criticism and refusal of the denotative dynamics supposedly leading to greater robustness of the concept and theory, Susan Strange (1982: 480, 487-488) maintained that they were articulated in a way which “tends to exclude hidden agendas and to leave unheard and unheeded complaints, whether they come from the underprivileged, the disenfranchised or the unborn, about the way the system works … government, rulership, and authority are the essence of the word ‘regime’, not consensus, nor justice, nor efficiency in administration.” All of this with heavy focus on U.S. concerns, issues, and preferences. In a similar vein, Keeley (1990: 83-84) argued that consequentialist regime theory is implicitly skewed towards liberal analysis and the sense of a community among international actors. In an original and witty way, he took Krasner’s work and - in his own words - “abused” it to study non-liberal regimes through which historical empires (the Mongols and Athenians) spread and maintained influence, thus putting “more distance between a theory of regimes … and prescriptive analyses of or claims made for particular regimes …., as prescriptions make it a language of apology or justification, a form of special pleading by and for the powerful and satisfied” (Ibid: 84).

Cognitivism and Theories of Regimes

By the beginning of the 1990s, a new strand of regime theorization came to the disciplinary prominence. The ascent made by cognitivist, or knowledge-based, theories of regimes rendered the previous assumption of consequentialism and fixed, rationally determined state preferences flawed, and out of touch with empirical domain (Smith 1987). Additionally, it cautiously shifted the debate of regimes from state-centrism to neo-functionally (Haas 1982) and neo-institutionally (March and Olsen 1998, Powell and DiMaggio 1991: 5-8) inspired research on international organization, their bureaucracies, and involvement of epistemic communities, i.e. transnational networks of scientists which stepped frequently into the decision-making process under conditions of political uncertainty and issue complexity, altering previous decisional paths and understanding of problems (Haas 1992). As Peter M. Haas (1989: 377) noted on theoretical cross-fertilization of the scholarly work on epistemic communities and theorization of regimes, “in addition to providing a form of order in an anarchic international political system, regimes may also contribute to governmental learning and influence patterns of behavior by empowering new groups who are able to direct their governments towards new ends.” Last but not least, the rise of cognitivist research program on regimes could be seen as a specific response to the previously articulated – and at least partially justified, fierce criticism of the state-centrism, faddishness, and epiphenomenalism of regime theorization.

The development outlined above ought to be understood as a part of a more general IR debate, known as the Third Great Debate between positivism and post-positivism (Lapid 1989), and the gradual rise of theoretical eclecticism in IR (Lake 2013), with an emphasis on mid-level theorization. One of the effect could also be observed at the level of the label itself: ‘regime theory’ was largely replaced by ‘theories of regimes’ for this wave of theorization (Hasenclever, Mayer and Rittberger 1997; Haggard and Simmons 1987). And just ‘theorization of regimes’ for the third wave of scholarship, as it has drawn on theoretical approaches, many of the originating from the outside of IR, rather than substantive IR theories. It is here where the distinction between regime-theoretical ‘thinliners’ and ‘thickliners’ can be invoked (Stokke 2012: 5), with the moderation of his overly optimistic view of a “heathy conceptual and methodological debate” supposedly taking place between the two positions (Ibid: 5; cf. Hynek and Teti 2010). The ontological and epistemological opening for the second ‘wave’ of regime theorization was already made by Kratochwil and Ruggie (1986: 774) who sparked off the discussion on a dialogical character of such analysis: “we proposed a more interpretive approach that would open up regime analysis to the communicative rather than merely the referential functions of norms in social interactions … The ontology of regimes consists of an intersubjective basis.” Too, they highlighted the importance of epistemic politics (Ibid: 775). Methodologically, Puchala and Hopkins’ (1982) work on inductive analysis and qualitative research investigating participants’ perceptions, understanding and convictions paved the way for the cognitivist – and comparativist shift (Rublee 2009).

The most systematically developed research program within this wave of scholarship has been represented by a European take on theories of regimes: the Tubingen School under the intellectual leadership of Volker Rittberger (Hasenclever, Mayer and Rittberger 1997). Not only did the authors provide IR field with rich understanding of cognitivism and its versions, but they, too, attempted to link it to the previous wave, and, at the same time, built up a path for the third wave of regime theorization. Specifically, the authors divided theories of regimes into three strands (power-, interest-, and knowledge-based). Power-based theories of regimes were said to be linked to security concerns driven by international anarchy and uneven power distribution, flagging the importance of relative gains (Ibid: 116-125). Theoretical inspiration was taken from hegemonic stability theory, realist theory of cooperation (defensive positionalism), and power-based research program based on non-Prisoner’s Dilemma game theory (Ibid: 86-135) Central variable was said to be power, with rationalist orientation and weak understanding of institutionalism (Ibid: 6). Interest-based theories of regimes were depicted as dealing with issues of overcoming collective action dilemmas (Ibid: 33-44), featured an analysis of institutional bargaining (Ibid: 68-82), and studied spillovers and their conditional circumstances (e.g. intra-institutional reuse of solutions due to cost efficiency, Ibid: 74-76; cf. Johnson and Urpelainen 2012). Cooperation was said to be the outcome of institutional bargaining and led to agreements and commitments (Ibid: 20, 33-70-72). Two specific approaches to cooperation were a broadened contractualism based on game theory (“situation-structuralism”, Ibid: 44-59) and “problem-structuralism” oriented on issue areas/themes (Ibid: 59-68). Interests served as the central variable, sense of institutionalism was stronger than with power- based theories but weaker compared to cognitivism, and absolute gains dominated a behavioral component (Ibid: 6).

The main contribution of the Tubingen School lies in its systematic incorporation of the cognitivist approach to regime analysis, linking it to broader theorization of IR. As has already been made clear, distinct feature of the second wave of regime-theoretical scholarship is cognitivism. Unlike the other two types of theories, cognitivist theories of regimes have sociologically-derived meta-theoretical orientation (albeit of different degrees), with knowledge being the central variable. They display strong sense of institutionalism and their behavioral model is oriented at roles dynamics (Ibid: 6). Taking clues from the Constructivist Turn in IR, itself an effect of the Third Great Debate, cognitivists study ways and mechanisms through which knowledge, that is chiefly intersubjectively held ideas and beliefs, relates to actors’ identities and actions. Codified and formalized sets of ideas, that is norms, are at the forefront of research. The authors distinguish between two types of cognitivism: “weak” and “strong” (Ibid: 136-139). While the former attempts to make sense of the actual behavior of an actor, the latter interrogates intersubjective structures, namely the relationship between the Self and Other (Ibid: 138). The weak cognitivism mirrors a more general strategy of the ‘thin, complementizing’ Constructivism in IR, which attempts to make rationalist accounts more robust by theorization of preference formation, i.e. what rationalists take axiomatically for granted (Ibid: 154-155; cf. Klotz 1995. It is here where the link to literature on epistemic communities and role of science in theorization of regimes exists (cf. Lidskog and Sundqvist 2002). Scientists are portrayed as powerful interlocutors and knowledge shapers (Ibid: 149-152). As for the strong cognitivism, itself based on the ‘thick Constructivism’ (Ibid: 156), Giddens’ (1984, cf. Wendt 1987) structurationist approach to agency-structure debate is taken seriously, and four specific cooperation areas are highlighted. The power of legitimacy studying social fabrics of international political life and its norms and rules (Ibid: 169- 176); the power of arguments inspired by Habermas’ communicative rationality and ethics (Ibid: 176-185); the power of identity where Self/ Other binary gets at the forefront (186-192); and the power of history, i.e. dialectical perspectives on historical creations of world orders and their structural features and maintenance mechanisms (Ibid: 192-208).

Radical Constructivist/Post-Structuralist Theorization of Regimes

This section tackles what can be termed the third wave of theorization of regimes, namely the incorporation of radical critical social and political theory to regime analysis. While the Tubingen School contained discussion of strong cognitivism, and their outlined cooperation areas promised to open up new venues of research, it has stayed at the declaratory level and never produced specimens of such theorization. Ontologically and epistemologically, this wave goes beyond “strong cognitivism”. Rather than being linked to Wendt’s substantive-theoretical version of Constructivism inspired by mind-independent, scientific realist ontology, or it espouses a more radical, mind-dependent (i.e. anti-foundationalist) ontology and anti-essentialist epistemology (Hynek and Teti 2010: 174; cf. Sismondo 1996: 6-7, 79). As a consequence, correspondence theory of truth, and the possibility of ‘truth discovery’ as such, need to be flatly rejected (Sayyid and Zac 1998: 250- 251). The previous wave managed to exclude radical constructivist and post-structural scholarship from considerations: ‘critical’ Constructivist research on regimes became limited to Kratochwil, Ruggie, Haas and their followers. With theorization of regimes and also more generally, this strategy produced a disciplinary effect in the form of de-legitimization of ‘post-structural’ critiques as unscientific, and unfit for regime analysis. It presented the ‘loyal opposition’ of Kratochwil and others as the (only) critical alternative, providing at best a ‘thick’ description of norms inside regimes and their complexes, thus backing up (and cyclically re-legitimizing) ‘thinner’ versions. Rooted in the elision of ontological differences between Constructivism and Neo-utilitarianism, the demarcation between “thin cognitivism” and “thick cognitivism” policed the boundary of acceptable research on regime theorisation, contributing to the more general ‘immunization’ of the mainstream IR against radical-constructivist/post-structural critiques (Hynek and Teti 2010: 180-181; Keeley 1990: 83-85).

Not only have been radical approaches to regime analysis underpinned by strikingly different ontology, epistemology, and methods, by they, too, have drawn on markedly different intellectual inspirations. By taking clues from outside of the discipline, continental philosophy and linguistics has played an especially important role. The third wave does not begin with denotative exercises of the previous two waves: it flees them. Endless wrangles over what is the difference between rules and norms, and their subtypes, as far as degree of specificity, deontology, links to interests and alike, are being replaced by the arrival of connotation. Neither interested in (re)articulation of regime theory nor contribution to theories of regimes, this wave embraces the process of theorization as an end-goal. As Foucault maintains, process of theorization “is always local and related to a limited field …. Theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice” (Deleuze and Foucault 1977: 205). In the conversation between Foucault and Deleuze, theory gets a whole new meaning: rather than synbooking or totalizing phenomena, it is seen as a “box of tools” used in order to expose power where it is most unexpected. To understand theory as practice, one needs to ask: what kind of practice? As Deleuze (1987: 19) suggests, it lies “in developing a compass” and can be comprehended as “the art of conceptual and perceptual coloring” (Lorraine 2005: 207). As a result, theorization becomes conceptual practice, and is linked to a mode of experimentation. Experimentation is simultaneously theoretical and practical: it takes seriously interconnection between orders of assembled conditions and the resulting tendencies, thus investigating “what it does and what is done with it” (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 180). Experimentation is thinking anew, tackling “the new, remarkable, and interesting that replace the appearance of truth and are more demanding than it is” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 110). Similarly to Foucault’s (1977) genealogy based on further epistemological cultivation of Nietzsche, Deleuze also pits experimentation against history. While distancing it from historiography, experimentation requires history as it represents “the set of almost negative conditions that make possible the experimentation of something that escapes history” (Ibid: 111).

It is only within this wave where the four “cooperation areas” flagged by the Tubingen School (i.e. power of legitimacy, narrative structures, identity-related binary separations, and conditions of possibility for emergence and transformations of historical orders) are taken seriously, and theorized through the means of experimentation and conceptual practice. The best examples of regime analysis where these four areas can be found properly examined is the scholarship of Richard Price (1995, 1997) on the chemical weapons regime and Nina Tannenwald on the nuclear weapons regime (1999, 2007). Their scholarship can be understood as radical constructivist rather than post-structuralist, in spite of their meta-theoretical orientation and intellectual sources being identical (Price’s genealogy) or similar (Tannenwald’s social construction). As Price (1995: 88) put it, “genealogy injects a different dimension of power into the study of norms, an element that often seems neglected in the attempt to distance the role of norms and ideas from realism’s focus on material power.” Unlike post-structuralists, they both still subjected themselves to testing the null hypothesis (H0), articulating their theoretical and interpretive position vis-a-vis the mainstream IR and rejecting the “residual variance” of their accounts. This is despite the fact that their accounts still reflected notable differences between the two regimes, such as loci of their origins, presence/ absence of hegemony during their formation, means of their spreading, robustness, and types of stigma, to mention but a few.

 Specifically, they showed how liberal and realist – but by extension also cognitivist -approaches are indeterminate, or outright mistaken, in their inability to explain the de iure existing non-use prohibition regime related to chemical weapons, and the de facto present non-use prohibition regime related to nuclear weapons. As the authors maintained, “with its ahistorical approach, rationalist regime theory has little to say about the origins and evolution of norms and practices that cannot be conceived as simply the rational calculation of the national interest. It is precisely because the taboos embody an ‘irrational’ attitude towards technology” (Price and Tannenwald 1996: 124). By the virtue of being interested in wider normative contexts, Price and Tannenwald successfully attempted to problematize rationalist explanation of the existence of those regimes, as well as the motivation of states for cooperative action and general observation of related norms. Their question is therefore “how certain weapons have been defined as deterrent weapons whereas other weapons have not?” (Price and Tannenwald 1996: 115). Simultaneously, even the “thick cognitivism” as outlined by the Tubingen School (cf. “The critics of the critics” in Hasenclever, Mayer and Rittberger 1997: 208-210) seem to avoid at best this type of analysis which relies on an investigation of historical contingencies probed through the means of Foucaultean genealogy. It marginalizes an analysis of moral discourses through which power hierarchies and political separations have been achieved and upheld; ideas, knowledge, and collective identities are being rejected to be more than variables.

Heuristic Utility of the Three Waves

The utility of the consequentialist regime theory mainly lies in highlighting structural (material) conditions and incentives for regime formation; regime evolution and maintenance; and regime compliance. With regard to regime formation, the following questions can be posed: Did the regime result from particular interests of hegemonic powers, from a different “tier” of states, or another type of actors?; how precisely was the issue area specified and subsequently institutionalized?; what role did “norm entrepreneurship” play in a given regime formation?; was it pursued through coercive diplomacy; what kind of reasoning drove the other states when joining the regime (following rational interest, specification of cost/benefit, coercion, bandwagoning etc.)?. As for regime evolution, one’s attention is steered, inter alia, at these questions: did the regime evolve along the lines of great power interests, and if not, why?; how has the evolutionary dynamic changed after the initial stage of formation (from power/interest driven to path-dependency or even normative persistence; did the regime become more coherent due to the substantial economy of transaction costs/information sharing procedures? Last but not least, questions related to compliance relate to reasons why states complied with the regime – bargaining for profit, procedural calculations, rewards, coercion, compellence, and/or normative compliance?; were effective verification mechanisms formed within the regime, and why?; what were outcomes of non-compliant behavior, and impact on robustness of a regime?; did the motivations among the members to comply with a given regime change over time? More recent studies drawing on this type of scholarship have further contributed by examination of interplays of international regimes (Muzaka 2011; Stokke 2003), cross-scale interactions (Young 2000), regime complexity (Gomez-Mera 2015), and ontological pluralization, especially incorporation of other types of actors (Biermann and Pattberg 2008; Arts 2000).

To make a few remarks on the utility of the cognitivist wave of regime analysis, it can be divided into three areas: actors and identities involved in regimes; regime-related processes and outcomes; and ideas through which knowledge is produced and politically used. In regard of actors and their identities, it is to study primary and secondary agents and their identities, push-pull dynamics vis-a-vis IOs and their politico-scientific justification, transnational dynamics, as well as links between ideas and national interests. Too, role conceptions/ playing are important objects of examination for regime analysis, not the least because they render foreign policy analysis relevant by virtue of bridging domestic and international environments. With respect to processes and outcomes, focus ought to be steered on cognitive and communicative mechanisms such as persuasion, coercion, forms of legitimation; network analysis related to workings of epistemic communities (and other types of actors), and thematic analysis as well as research on formation and use of narrative structures more generally. Finally, relationships between ideas and norms needs to be scrutinized, their specific types (principled, causal, etc.) and codification (i.e. treaty regimes, cf. Sitaraman 2009), as well as an interplay between cognitive, regulatory, and behavioral components and how those contribute to identity formation and reproduction. How do actors’ identities affect their stance on norm determinacy in formation and recreation of regimes? What is the role ideas play in the best possible achievement of a desired social and political purpose as far as regimes are concerned? How is cognitional (and political) success influenced by a degree of intersubjectively shared knowledge?

As for the third “wave”, i.e. radical constructivist/post-structuralist theorization of regimes – the utility is manifold. Ontologically, it goes beyond the dichotomy, or juxtaposition, of state-centered and transnational analytical frameworks (for these, cf. Lipson 2005/6). It is capable of examining regime complexes, understood as a plural mix comprising actors, networks and artefacts: both material and ideational, and their coproductions and hybrids. Deleuze and Guattari (1983, 1987) and Foucault’s (1991) analyses are vital for studying assemblages and ways in which they have been linked to state apparatuses and their rationalities, thereby creating governmentalized assemblages (Hynek 2012: 31-34; Joseph 2012; Krause 2011). This wave takes seriously ethics and culture, and examines them as socially-constructed, if contingent categories (Tannenwald 2013). Relevant scholarship recognizes the necessity of flexible analytical toolboxes comprehending structures as contingent, open, where seeds of resistance come from within: “Increasing interdependence among issues and issues-areas may thus produce increasing strains on regimes. In such circumstances, arguments that specific regimes order the entire system become problematic even if some issue-areas, regimes, or instruments are more significant than others. Theoretical approaches that rely on a grand unifying order become particularly suspect. ‘The system’ may be a fragmented, ill-coordinated thing; it may be broken-legged and limp along accordingly” (Keeley 1990: 95-96). Importantly, such an analysis also avoids siren sings of prescription and normativity, be it explicit or implicit kind (cf. Taylor 1985). Finally, collective identities are taken seriously and get scrutiny: on one hand, their conditions of emergence, on the other, their structural and productive effects (see the next session). Last but not least, this wave attempts to expose forms (e.g. informal empires) and sources (e.g. use of knowledge) of international anarchy, hierarchy, and heterarchy (Wendt and Friedheim 1995; Crumley 1995).


Theorization of regimes – and that includes international security regimes - is not dead, albeit Strange’s (1982) five criticisms, or “dragons”, have been swirling around theoretical grounds ever since she used them to critique what she believed were major deficiencies of the theory. Judged by the number of regime-analysis publications in academic journals and books, theorization of regimes has seen its peak, with more recent contributions having focused on refinements and new venues of limited ambition, such as regimes interplay, complexity, etc. Therefore, theorization of regimes has had many features of an explicit, progressive scientific research program – to invoke Lakatos’ (1970) understanding of scientific work - for much of it life. The move from neorealism and hegemonic stability theory to neoliberal institutionalist regime theory, and from there to theorization of cognitivism and stronger incorporation of the role of ideas and norms, can be understood as “progressive problem shifts”, both theoretically and empirically. That is, however, within an image of the IR field remaining intact when it comes to the nature of its general paradigm (Kuhn’s ‘normal science’) and ‘disciplinary’ standards. As was shown, the development in and around the field of IR experienced two trends which coincided with the existence and refinement of normal-scientific regimes theorization.

The trends – i.e. the opening the disciplinary boundaries (since the Third Great Debate) and the rise of theoretical and analytical eclecticism, which are still visible and even stronger today, have synergistically – and irreversibly - worked to change the IR landscape. For some, this has been to better, for others, the perception has not been so positive, as the special issue of EJIR on the end of IR theory showed (Dunne, Hansen, and Wight 2013; Reus-Smit 2013; Lake 2013). Be as it may, it could be argued that the development of regime-theoretical research program has displayed signs of what Lakatos would have called “negative heuristics”, i.e. certain propositions of a research program that are non-revisable. Here, it was regime theorization based on “ism” of one sort or another, just with a more limited range, state-centralism, and marginalization of insights from radical constructivism and post-structuralism. For these reasons, this article sets the agenda for a theoretical preparation of an open-ended, eclectic position that puts into the center the discussion conceptualization of power, its exercises, multiplicities, as well as general outline of relevance for theorization of international security regimes. From Lakatosian “hard-core” research programmatic perspective, this looks as an example of epistemological pluralism, and theorization of regimes – and its multiple affinities with IR theory – would benefit from such a perspective immensely.


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About the Author

Nik Hynek is an associate professor at Metropolitan University Prague and Charles University in Prague

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