The Five Most Important Concepts in International Relations

Stephen Walt, a Harvard professor of international relations, has a post up on Foreign Policy about the five most important concepts in international relations. It’s in honor of all the graduating students out there (shout out to the class of 2014—congratulations!).

Obviously there’s more to international relations than this (which reminds me how much I wish I had some extra money lying around so I could go get an international relations degree!), but here’s what Professor Walt says is the most important:

  1. Anarchy—there’s no central authority on the world stage, unlike in domestic politics.
  2. Balance of power—everyone always worries about how their strength relates to others, and big shifts in balance of power usually means big problems.
  3. Comparative advantage—it’s better to specialize in producing something you have a relative advantage at than try to do everything.
  4. Misperception and miscalculation—basically, people are stupid and often act stupidly.
  5. Social constructivism—states’ behavior is often shaped by prevailing social attitudes.

Admittedly, I’m not sure I agree with this list or not, but I thought it was interesting enough to share. (And interesting enough to make me want to quit my job that I haven’t even started and go study international relations!)

What do you think? What are the most important concepts in your field?


4 thoughts on “The Five Most Important Concepts in International Relations

  1. The very same article just popped up in my facebook news feed 🙂 During my undergraduate studies I did quite a bit of IR and found it very enjoyable – and I’m personally very fond of social constructivism (the concept is used a in a lot of other fields too).


    1. I’d actually never heard of social constructivism before reading that article–either it’s not that popular in the US, or isn’t popular in the history field. It sounds interesting, though, and I definitely want to learn more.


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