Opportunity and Willingness: From "Ordering Concepts" to an Analytical Perspective for the Study of Politics (2017)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


The opportunity/willingness framework (O/W) is presented as an agent-structure approach to the understanding of international relations (IR) and international conflict, with deep roots in the "ecological triad" of Harold and Margaret Sprout. While originally developed to organize thinking about international politics, this article describes how it has evolved into a guide for generating IR theory, developing research designs to study IR, and ways to evaluate those theories. It does this by showing how to synthesize what we know and bring together apparently disparate hypotheses and evidence to bear—crossing a variety of analytic boundaries—and by pulling together what we know across levels of analysis, academic disciplines, and the sub-disciplines of political science. O/W compels scholars to cross, link, and synthesize levels of analysis—complementing theories built around levels of analysis, while at the same time moving them forward in order to deal with the complex causation they have to confront. This complex causation derives from the logical features of O/W, which regards opportunity and willingness as jointly necessary conditions for the occurrence of any event. A discussion of the characteristics of necessity and sufficiency as causal processes leads to the conclusion that not only does this joint necessity distinguish O/W from theoretical approaches that are deterministic, monocausal, or are concerned only with either opportunity or willingness, but is the beginning of a logical story that demonstrates how this framework can deal with causal complexity. The joint necessity of opportunity and willingness, along with its two corollaries of "substitutability" and "nice laws," forces a researcher to more fully specify the logical and substantive structure of the theoretical statements under investigation, and to ensure the research design is relevant to the theory and set of research hypotheses—such that there is a coherent relationship among the components of logic, theory, and method. At the end of the logical story developed in the article, it can be seen that O/W has moved well beyond an organizing principle and is a model of causal complexity of great potential.