IR Field Exams | Department of Political Science

IR Field Exams

International Relations Sample Field Exam Questions

  1. Increasingly IR scholars are acting more like Comparative Politics scholars in employing nation-state and societal level variables to explain international phenomena. In particular, theories of conflict the use of force and war are becoming increasingly reliant on domestic political incentives and institutional structures to explain phenomena. First, assess what actual and theoretical developments account for this trend in IR scholarship. Second, analyze the appropriateness of this trend for international relations theory. Do IR scholars risk losing what is uniquely "international" about their theories by placing increasing reliance on state-level variables, or is this argument indicative of outmoded thinking? Be sure to cite relevant literature, but do not merely recite who said what.
  2. The state has largely been the chief social actor in the international system since the Peace of Westphalia. Yet, some scholars have suggested that we are witnessing the "withering" of the state. Is the state as actor losing its primacy in international system? Why or why not? How have changing conceptions about the relevance of states been reflected within IR research?
  3. Rules in international system typically lack any form of enforcement but area commonly obeyed by even the most powerful states. Explain this apparent contradiction between states' tendency to follow rules and the lack of coercive enforcement agent.
  4. Two approaches to counterfactual reasoning are referred to in the literature as idiographic and nomothetic. In your answer, do the following: Discuss each approach and compare each with the other; Select an example of political behavior in international relations, apply each approach to this example, and discuss any implications that you identify in your application; and Discuss which approach you find more compelling for the study of international relations.
  5. The word, political economy, suggests that economic decision-making is intertwined with political decision-making. Although the realm of economy is different from that of politics, why and how are they likely to be intertwined with each other in international relations? What theoretical traditions exist to explain that phenomenon in international relations and on what point do they disagree or differ most? How does the intertwined economy and politics affect the prospects of cooperation among states? How are the differences among the theoretical traditions related to the explanations of foreign (economic) policy making? Provide concrete examples to solidify your answers.
  6. Thinking and research on public opinion and United States foreign policy have evolved greatly over the last fifty years. Where once the public was viewed as unconcerned and their beliefs, unstructured (Almong, Lippmann), more recent scholarship indivaates that these views may not be correct. What accounts for this transformation? What were the real world and theoretical bases for the former view? How has the recent research undermined these earlier theories? Discuss at least one element of the old Almond-Lippmann consensus that has yet to be discredited.
  7. You have earned your first job and are now in the midst of applying for a research grant to study your area of interest in international conflict. Unfortunately, a rather persnickety grant reviewer is arguing that after decades of funding IR conflict research no further funding should be made because virtually no cumulative scholarship has been conducted. How might you convince the reviewer that IR conflict scholarship is cumulative and warrants further funding? Cite specific examples.

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