Tag Archives: definitions

Definitions and Progress

A couple days ago a post on Duck of Minerva linked to a working paper called “I can has IR theory?” [pdf]. The title was funny, but something about the contents bothered me.

I Can Has IR Theory Appears to have tow components
1. It is an extended hit peace against “neopositivism,” which appears to be a methodology (or something) disliked by the authors. It is difficult to know if this is true, however, because the authors do not bother to define their terms.
1. It includes a discussion of “scientific ontology,” which likewise is never defined.

Unlike “neopositivism” though (the only thing I can tell about which is that the authors — Patrick Jackson and Daniel Nexon — dislike it, and that it appears to be related to quantitative methods), the article includes numerous descriptions of “scientific ontology.” It is these descriptions that bothered me.

“Scientific ontology” appears to be synonymous for “nomological network,” an antiquated and simplistic form of modeling that is prone to error.

First, some passages from Jackson and Nexon’s working paper:

To be more precise, we think that international-relations theory is centrally involved with scientific ontology, which is to say, a catalog—or map—of the basic substances and processes that constitute world politics. International-relations theory as “scientific ontology” concerns:
• The actors that populate world politics, such as states, international organizations, individuals, and multinational corporations;
• Their relative significance to understanding and explaining international outcome
• How they fit together, such as parts of systems, autonomous entities, occupying locations in one or more social fields, nodes in a network, and so forth;
• What processes constitute the primary locus of scholarly analysis, e.g., decisions, actions, behaviors, relations, and practices; and
• The inter-relationship among elements of those processes, such as preferences, interests, identities, social ties, and so on.

(Note how they are measured is left out.)

And this passage (as mentioned above, “Neopositivism” is never defined and only loosely described, so focus on the passage related to “scientific ontology”)

The Dominance of Neopositivism
This line of argument suggests that neopositivist hegemony, particularly in prestige US journals, undermines international-relations theorization via a number of distinct mechanisms:
• It reduces the likelihood that international-relations theory pieces will be published in “leading” journals because neopositivism devalues debate over scientific ontology in favor of moving immediately to middle-range theoretic implications; • It reduces the quality of international-relations theorization by requiring it to be conjoined to middle-range theorizing and empirical adjudication; and
• It forces derivative middle-range theories to be evaluated through neopositivist standards.

(Note that scientific ontology thus excludes “middle-range theoretical implications.)

In an earlier work, I wrote that :

As a measure of construct validity, nomothetic span is more inclusive than Cronbach and Meehl’s (1955) concept of the nomological network, as nomothetic span includes not only how a construct relates to other construct, but also how measures of the same construct relate to each other (Messick, 1989).

Because the undefined concept of “scientific ontology” appears to be more or less identical to the idea of nomological network, which was described a half century ago. Without incorporating measurement into a model, it’s impossible to a functional definition, a method of falsifying the model, or even a way to make useful predictions. And without this ability, it’s impossible to make progress.

Operational definitions are absent from Jackson’s and Nexon’s piece, both from their primary terms, and their view of “scientific ontology.”

Definitions and Understandings

Major props to Joseph Fouche of the Committee on Public Safety, for a series of great visualizations of the Generations of Modern War, xGW, and other buzzword-heavy systems that are popular around here.

The most humorous:


The most thought-provoking:


Joseph’s excellent visualizations made me think of the definition of “Core” or “Functioning Core,” which Tom Barnett adopted from Immanuel Wallerstein to describe those countries at the heart of the global capitalist system.

Tom’s previously given three different definitions for the term, and in the glossary to his new book, Great Powers, offers a fourth.

Readers of my blog know that my definition is different yet, as seen (among other places) in this visualization:


Is there a definition of functioning core around that would allow us to make predictions about whether specific states where inside or outside? Tom once gave an operationalized description, but I think that one is closer to describing states that happen to be rich than states that are interconnected.


Is there any reason (aside from politics, obviously) why Cuba is on the list of state sponsors of terrorism but Russia is not?

It seems that Cuba does not publicly sponsor terrorists, but Russia does. Most recently, Russia has been arming and funding the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia by non-state actors who use organized violence against civilians as a means of achieving political objectives.

The Definition of the Functioning Core and the Non-Integrating Gap

In the Esquire article, “The Pentagon’s New Map,” Thomas Barnett defined the Core and the Gap this way:

So how do we distinguish between who is really making it in globalization’s Core and who remains trapped in the Gap? And how permanent is this dividing line?

Understanding that the line between the Core and Gap is constantly shifting, let me suggest that the direction of change is more critical than the degree. So, yes, Beijing is still ruled by a “Communist party” whose ideological formula is 30 percent Marxist-Leninist and 70 percent Sopranos, but China just signed on to the World Trade Organization, and over the long run, that is far more important in securing the country’s permanent Core status. Why? Because it forces China to harmonize its internal rule set with that of globalization—banking, tariffs, copyright protection, environmental standards. Of course, working to adjust your internal rule sets to globalization’s evolving rule set offers no guarantee of success. As Argentina and Brazil have recently found out, following the rules (in Argentina’s case, sort of following) does not mean you are panicproof, or bubbleproof, or even recessionproof. Trying to adapt to globalization does not mean bad things will never happen to you. Nor does it mean all your poor will immediately morph into stable middle class. It just means your standard of living gets better over time.

In sum, it is always possible to fall off this bandwagon called globalization. And when you do, bloodshed will follow. If you are lucky, so will American troops.

In the glossary to Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating, Thomas Barnett defined “Functioning Core” as:

Functioning Core Those parts of the world that are actively integrating their national economies into a global economy and that adhere to globalization’s emerging security rule set. The Functioning Core at present consists of North America, Europe both “old” and “new,” Russia, Japan and South Korea, China (although the interior far less so), India (in a pockmarked sense), Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and the ABCs of South America (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile). That is roughly four billion out of a global population of more than six billion. The Functioning Core can be subdivided into the Old Core, anchored by America, Europe, and Japan; and the New Core, whose leading pillars are China, India, Brazil, and Russia.

and “Non-Integrating Gap” as:

Non-Integrating Gap Regions of the world that are largely disconnected from the global economy and the rule sets that define its stability. Today, the Non-Integrating Gap is made up of the Caribbean Rim, Andean South America, virtually all of Africa, portions of the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and most of Southeast Asia. These regions constitute globalization’s “ozone hole,” where connectivity remains thin or absent in far too many cases. Of course, each region contains some countries that are very Core-like in their attributes (just as there are Gap-like pockets throughout the Core defined primarily by poverty), but these are like mansions in an otherwise seedy neighborhood, and as such are trapped by these larger Gap-defining circumstances.

Contrast against:

My initial definition of the Core has been and always will be: these are not places where America should expect to war. You can counter, “But we should expect to go to war with everybody all the time! That’s the only prudent thing to do.” But I disagree. A strategy of defending against all possibilities is not a strategy, but a ceding of all initiatives to your enemies. Plus, successful grand strategy is about maximizing your friends and minimizing your enemies. It’s not about a fair fight, but a completely unfair routing of your opponents. You just need to be clear about who those are and who your friends are and who you can live with and work with from among the undecideds.

If “Core” / “Gap” is merely some self-selected conflict space, where we refuse to be maneuvered into conflict, then we can shrink it by merely avoiding conflict when it presents itself. By this definition India has no Gap except Kashmir, because the Indian government just ignores insurgencies elsewhere.

If the likelihood of military conflict is a function of economic connectedness, global rulesets, etc, then likelihood of being a theater of armed conflict is a good description of the Core/Gap divide.

Georgia and Ukraine are connecting. They are new democracies. They are both in the WTO. They have been talks with the European Union and NATO, and hopefully more will come of this in the future. Paying attention to the direction of connectivity, Georgia and Ukraine are on their way “up” to the core.

Russia is disconnecting. It is a new dictatorship. Russia is not even close to being in the WTO. It has suspended its cooperation with NATO. Paying attention to the degree on connectivity, Russia is on its way “down” to the gap.

Working definition of "Global Guerrillas," Try 2

My first proposed definition for “Global Guerrillas” received some amazing feedback, so I thought I try once more. The new version attempts to incorporate reader suggestions, such as explaining how g.g.s are “global” and dropping the required connection to a “bazaar of violence.”

global guerrillas (n. pl) are non-state actors who violently oppose a state. They attempt to preserve domestic anarchy and prevent the formation of a national government or state-level hegemon. Compare with balance-of-power realists, who attempt to preserve international anarchy and prevent the formation of a world government or system-level hegemon. Contrast against insurgents, who are non-state actors who violently oppose a state in order to replace or modify a government. Also constrast against anarchists, who reject any form of government. [ > Global, total, Guerrilla, anti-government actor].

For background, read my posts on the elements of global guerrilla theory, as well as the contested (though non-gibberish) nature of John Robb’s collected writings. Additional information is available from Dreaming 5GW, Shloky, and Soob.

Liberal Bias and Mental Blindness

“War,” World Book Encyclopedia: Volume 21, 1988, pg 24.

I was browsing through an old encyclopedia in my home today, and found this under “War”

Modern warfare has moved away from the days when soldiers with rifles were the most important part of an army. War has been mechanized until it is in large part a contest in producing machinery. In Thomas Jefferson’s day, it made sense to protect “the right to keep and bear arms,” so that people could overthrow a tyrannical government. Today, the private citizen cannot keep the kinds of weapons that would serve this purpose.

The Uzbekistani rebels would disagree.

More seriously, it’s interesting to see an encylopedia written just 13 years after the fall of Saigon state that warfare must be mechanized to defeat a government. Part of it is just mental blindness, but the tome’s liberal bias compounded it.

To think of it in OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) terms, the orientations (“war is mechanized,” “for safety people must be disarmed) implicitly guided the observations (“small arms cannot defeat a government”).