The "Third Debate" 25 Years Later

In 1989, Yosef Lapid published an article in International Studies Quarterly that became a touchstone for a variety of theoretical and methodological debates in the field. "The Third Debate: On the Prospects of International Theory in a Post-Positivist Era" (click on the link below to access the original article) generated quite a bit of discussion about the potential contribution of a variety of alternative approaches to international studies, and contributed to a generally self-reflective moment in the field. Lapid's piece, although certainly not the only call for questioning the foundations and direction of the field in the post-Cold War era, managed to knit together the "Great Debates" narrative of the field's origins and development with a call for diversity and pluralism that struck a responsive chord with many.

2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of that piece in International Studies Quarterly. To mark the occasion, this Symposium looks back at 1989 as well as looking around at the present state of international studies scholarship, and asks whether Lapid's diagnosis of the prospects of international theory have been fulfilled or frustrated a quarter of a century on. The Symposium features six contributions, to be published over the next three days:

Yosef Lapid leads off with an author's retrospective. He finds cause for "pianissimo bravos" for international theory.

Yale Ferguson and Richard Mansbach, participants in the initial "Third Debate" with an ISQ article of their own, come to a more pessimistic appraisal of the situation, nothing that although the "3rd Debate" helped to create diversity and openness, the resulting "post-positivist islands" of scholarship have made consensus harder to achieve.

Cynthia Weber's contribution focuses on the effect that the "Third Debate" had on critical scholarship in the field, and uses the analogy of "gentrification" to describe the process by which new theoretical constructs came to occupy the field's central concerns. Critical scholarship did not vanish, she argues, but was marginalized.

In her contribution, Helena Rytövuori-Apunen argues that Lapid's infelicitous characterization of the Third Debate as involving "positivism" and "post-positivism" unintentionally steered the debates about theory and methodology in the field in an unproductive direction. She outlines the case for a critical reconstruction of such debates along more pragmatic lines.

Richard Price provides a view from the standpoint of someone who was a Ph.D. student when Lapid's original article was published, and describes the kind of theoretical and methodological openness that he as a student felt that the piece signaled.

Finally, Annick T. R. Wibben asks specifically about the fate of feminist theory in the Third Debate and its aftermath, questioning whether notions of methodological pluralism are sufficient to make space for the challenges posed by feminists and other critical scholars.

As always, readers are welcome to join in the conversation in the comments sections under each post in the Symposium, as well as here under this main post.

Discuss this Article
Colin Wight
Monday, March 31, 2014 7:21 PM
This is a great symposium and a nice complement (and compliment I suppose) to our special issue (EJIR). I still think there's a missing politics of disciplinary identity that plays a major role as well as a massive confusion surrounding epistemology.

Join the Discussion...
Only registered users may post comments.
ISQ On Twitter