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Correspondence John S. Dufªeld Isms and Schisms: Culturalism versus Realism in Security Studies Theo Farrell Richard Price Michael C. Desch To the Editors (John S. Dufªeld writes): Michael Desch’s survey and critique of the new cultural literature in security studies is a welcome addition to the debate about the potential contributions of this research program to the problem of explaining state behavior in the realm of international relations.1 At a minimum, his article should prompt culturalists to make greater efforts to deªne their terms as well as to clarify what they have in common and how their individual approaches differ. Nevertheless, Desch’s analysis is marred by six ºaws that undermine his contention that “the best case that can be made for these new cultural theories is that they are sometimes useful as a supplement to realist theories” (p. 142). First, Desch mischaracterizes the issues at stake in the debate between realism and culturalism. He repeatedly describes the crucial question as “whether these new theories merely supplement realist theories or actually threaten to supplant them” (pp. 141, pp. 143, 144). This dichotomous characterization, however, needlessly oversimpliªes and distorts the debate, because one can easily imagine a variety of other possible relationships between culturalism and realism. One equally plausible alternative is that neither approach is in any sense superior, but that both may be indispensable to any fully satisfactory understanding of security affairs. Second, Desch employs a double standard in assessing the relative merits of cultural and realist approaches, one that necessarily skews the outcome in favor of realism. He argues that “to make the case that cultural theories should supplant realist theories, the new culturalists would have to demonstrate that their theories outperform realist theories in ‘hard cases’ for cultural theories” (p. 144). If we are to have conªdence in International Security, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Summer 1999), pp. 156–180© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. John S. Dufªeld is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia. He thanks Thomas Berger, Martha Finnemore, Iain Johnston, Jeffrey Legro, and Thomas Risse for valuable comments on an earlier draft. Theo Farrell is Senior Lecturer in International Security at the University of Exeter. He thanks Emily Goldman, Peter Viggo Jakobsen, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Richard Price is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He thanks Lynn Eden, Peter Katzenstein, Elizabeth Kier, Jeffrey Legro, Ido Oren, Christian Reus-Smit, and Alexander Wendt for their reactions to earlier drafts. Michael C. Desch is Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. 1. Michael C. Desch, “Culture Clash: Assessing the Importance of Ideas in Security Studies,” International Security, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Summer 1998), pp. 141–170. Subsequent citations to this article are in parentheses in the text. 156 his claims about the superiority of realism, however, we must hold it up to the same standard, demonstrating that realist theories consistently outperform their culturalist counterparts in what are hard cases for the former. In fact, Desch later admits the need to employ a more symmetrical methodology for comparing the merits of culturalism and realism when he invokes Imre Lakatos’s “three-cornered ªght” (p. 158). Third, Desch’s conception of realism is so broad that it obscures what is distinctive about the term and renders comparisons with other approaches problematic. Although he does not explicitly deªne realism, Desch suggests that the common denominator of realist theories is an emphasis on material factors (pp. 155–156). Yet two of the speciªc approaches that he includes within the realist research program, organization theory and traditional realism, do not clearly meet even this minimal requirement. Even noncultural strands of organization theory tend to emphasize the rule-determined structures and processes of organizations rather than factors that are indisputably material in nature. As a result, not surprisingly, scholars have often regarded organization theory as a fundamental alternative to central variants of realism, such as balance-of-power theory.2 Likewise, Desch’s passing reference to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 156-180
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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