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Interpreting theories in international relations

The basic problem for anyone wanting to understand contemporary world politics is the amount of material that is out there. Where on earth would you start if you wanted to explain the most important political processes? How, for example, would you explain the reasons behind 9/11, the War in Iraq, the recent global financial crisis, or the ongoing Syrian Civil War?

Whether you are aware of it or not, whenever you are faced with such issues, you have to resort to theories. A theory is not just a formal model with hypotheses and assumptions, rather, it is a kind of simplifying device that allows you to decide what the most important factors are.

Students often feel that the theoretical side of international relations is daunting, but think of it this way: imagine you own several pairs of sunglasses with different-coloured lenses. Put on the red pair and the world looks red, put on a yellow pair and it looks yellow. The world is not any different, it just looks different. So it is with theories.

In the following video, Professor Sir Steve Smith, author of The Globalization of World Politics, discuss different theories behind the Syrian Civil War, how to interpret them, and how they are important.

Sir Steve Smith is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter. He was President of Universities UK from 2009 to 2011, and President of the International Studies Association for 2003-4. He is Editor of International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity (with Tim Dunne and Milja Kurk) and Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases (with Tim Dunne and Amelia Hadfield), as well as author of many academic papers and chapters in major international journals and edited collections.

Trusted by over 300,000 students in over 120 countries, The Globalization of World Politics is the most authoritative and complete introduction to international relations available, making it the go-to text for students of international relations. You can view more related videos at the Online Resource Centre.

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