Mackinder Forum Seminar #43: “Prediction, Policy, and International Relations Theories” by Joseph Grieco

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On Sunday, November 7, 1:30-3:00 pm Eastern US Time, Professor Joe Grieco addressed the Mackinder Forum Seminar on “Prediction, Policy, and International Relations Theories.”

ABSTRACT: How can the field of International Relations (IR) make a useful contribution to decision-making and public discourse on foreign policy? We in IR often wish to reply that we possess a capacity to use our theories to make policy-helpful predictions Yet, there are multiple constraints on the performance of IR theory in providing such predictions, including the inherent weakness of our theories; a natural tendency to incorporate normative preferences into our theories in ways that may vitiate real-world predictive accuracy; and perhaps most acutely the likelihood that the targets of our analysis, usually the national leaders and policy officials of foreign countries, are self-aware strategic actors who can short-circuit the causal pathways linking antecedent conditions in our theories to expected outcomes. Prediction can play an important part in IR theory development, and IR predictions about policy may improve as a result of some future improvements in our scholarship. However, another pathway for IR to achieve policy utility might be pursued simultaneously. That is, instead of trying to make forecasts about the future to which policy might be directed, it might be more efficacious if IR scholars undertook different forms of what in the economic development field is termed policy-impact analysis. That mode of work seeks to ascertain whether a policy that is already being pursued is or is not attaining the policy’s stated goals. Impact-evaluations of policy might shed light on the efficacy not just of a particular foreign policy, but of the theory in IR or another field of Political Science that is underpinning the policy. Hence, by contributing to better policy making, IR policy-impact evaluations might open the door as well to better IR theory.

READING: Joseph M. Grieco, “Searching for a Comparative Advantage:  How the Field of International Relations Might Contribute to Foreign Policy,” in Enrico Fassi and Victorio Emanuelle Parsi, eds., The Liberal World Order and Beyond (Milan:  Universita Cattolica, 2021).

BIOGRAPHY: Joseph M. Grieco is Professor of Political Science at Duke University, Durham, USA. His research concentrates on theories of international relations, issues of international political economy, and problems of international conflict. He is the author of Cooperation Among Nations: Europe, America, and Non-Tariff Barriers to Trade (1990), and Between Dependency and Autonomy: India’s Experience with the International Computer Industry (1984); and the co-author (with G. John Ikenberry) of State Power and World Markets: The International Political Economy (2002). Articles and notes by him have appeared in International Studies Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Studies Quarterly, Security Studies, Review of International Studies, American Political Science Review, International Organization, Journal of Politics, and World Politics. He served with the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the International Monetary Fund as an International Affairs Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, 1990-91. During the summer of 1994 he was the Karl W. Deutsch Visiting Professor at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin; and since 1996 he has been a Visiting Professor at the Catholic University of Milan.