A Sociological Perspective in the Study of International Relations (1974)

in: International Social Science Journal, Volume 26, Issue 1

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There are 2 ways in which sociology can be useful for the study of international relations: as a theory, & as a set of research concepts & methods. The potential uses of sociological theory are directly related to the fact that in the study of international relations states are treated as a basic units of observation & their behavior towards each other constitutes the central analytical variable. The field of international relations has expanded in the last 2 decades; the central concept around which the whole structure has come to revolve is the foreign policy of sovereign states. The following propositions are offered: (1) Foreign policy formulation & execution depend on domestic conditions, external constraints, the perceptions of policy makers, influential circles, & the public regarding the 1st 2 items, & the foreign policies of other nations. (2) Foreign policy execution results in changes in the foreign policy environment, domestic feedback of foreign policy, & modifications or strengthening of previous perceptions. It is particularly from the point of view of Marxist sociological theory (foreign policy is determined by domestic policy), that the importance of the sociological approach to the study of international relations can be fully grasped. There are 4 areas in which the Marxist hypothesis needs to be elaborated. (I) The need to define the extent to which domestic SE structure determines foreign policy, & identification of other factors which may restrict or modify its impact. (II) Attention should be paid to lasting features of national life, especially national character. (III) The microfactors of foreign policy formulation & execution must be considered in their relationship to macrofactors. (IV) Ideological & psychological conditions must be accounted for, both insofar as their relationship with the SE structure can be demonstrated & to the extent to which they can be considered as autonomous forces in international relations. Thus, sociological theories can contribute to the study of international relations both directly & indirectly. One aspect of contemporary sociological research--comparative cross-national research--has prepared the ground for comparative studies of the sociological aspects of international relations. A. Leon.


International, Relational, Relations, Sociology