Thomas Kuhn and International Relations Theory: Realism in “Crisis”

Author/s (editor/s):

Peter Van Ness

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 2014/1 (PDF, 468KB)

Peter Van Ness, ‘Thomas Kuhn and International Relations Theory: Realism in “Crisis”’, IR Working Paper 2014/1, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Affairs, The Australian National University, January 2014.

In 2012, the University of Chicago Press published a special fiftieth anniversary edition of Thomas Kuhn’s influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn, who died of lung cancer in 1996, was a physicist trained at Harvard University and is best known for his work on the history and philosophy of science. His interpretation of the evolution of science and the concept of ‘paradigm change’ have had a major impact on our understanding of intellectual life, both in the physical sciences and in the social sciences. This paper briefly reviews Kuhn’s approach, and then applies it to an analysis of the current state of International Relations theory in a critique of Realism. My argument is that Realism, as what Kuhn would call ‘normal science’ in International Relations theory, is in crisis because of its inability to explain a growing number of anomalies, which in turn can be better explained by a different paradigm, Cooperative Security.

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