Exploring the agent/process problem in international negotiation

How do power asymmetries and domestic influences effect the course and outcome of international bargaining? The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) most recent round of multilateral negotiations have suggested an answer to this question in its struggle to continue the economic liberalization process. Known as the Doha Development Round (“Doha Round”), substantive talks began in November 2001 and reached a stalemate in 2008, in which rising powers and developed countries failed to settle an agreement on the scope, modalities, and aims of the negotiations on agriculture[1].

The following analysis seeks to expose the theoretical basis of the Doha Round and its failures by examining the events primarily through the lens of William Zartman’s model of process and implementation. For the purposes of this study, I will specifically examine the bargaining relationship between the developed and developing country coalitions on the issue of agriculture liberalization. Where process analysis fails to account for the intricacies and dynamics of state actors, I will insert W. M. Habeeb’s theory on issue-specific bargaining power as well as Robert Putnam’s model of two-level games. Using the Doha Round as a case study, I will contend that general theories of process as espoused by Zartman fail to capture the complexities and difficulties of multilateral negotiation in an intergovernmental context. In order to fully realize this, factors at both the structural and domestic levels must be considered.

Continue reading “Exploring the agent/process problem in international negotiation”

Exploring the agent/process problem in international negotiation

Abridged: toward a modular framework for integrative research in IR theory


International relations (IR) theory as a discipline of study has both suffered from and found communicative grounding in a series of well-connected “Great Debates” between generations of conflicting theoretical schools. Presently, the crux of the fourth Debate can be summed as such: positivism versus interpretivism (sometimes conflated with “post-positivism”). In recent years, there have been a number of calls to reverse the so-called “balkanization” of the field (Colgan, 2016: 7), mostly advocating for a degree of cross-theoretical dialogue, and a pragmatic admission that both schools offer mutually enriching tools for problem solving (Price & Reut-Smit, 1996; Kowert & Shannon, 2002; Fearon & Wendt, 2002; Katzenstein, Keohane, & Krasner, 1998). At the same time, there have been counter-argumentative efforts that reify the divisions between the two predominant philosophies, pointing to certain fundamental rifts in methodology that demand consideration (Moravcsik, 1999; Mearsheimer, 1994). At the forefront of the epistemic divide are a growing school of scholars who are crafting an obscure, though earnest, conciliatory framework for bridging the rival paradigms. Borrowing from recent developments in the philosophy of social science, “critical realists” (or critical naturalists) have provided a possible catch-all epistemology that accommodates for the ontological claims from both sides of the field (Jackson, 2010; Bhaskar, Esbjorn-Hargens, Hartwig, & Hedlund, 2016). I intend to situate this emerging interface within the established canon of IR theory in such a way that it provides space for a possible détente between opposing theoretical factions. To this end, I will illustrate my solution using the concept of modular design.

In plain terms, positivism is a collection of multiple epistemological approaches that share the foundational assumptions in the efficacy of (i) data derived from empirical evidence, and (ii) its interpretation through reason and logic, as the only source of true positive knowledge (Larrain, 1979); albeit, this statement has no intention of ever “being proved” as a truth claim itself (p. 197). And here lies the crux of the debate: positivism, on the whole, relies on a Humean account of causality and a foundational claim of scientific laws as being those extracted from the empirical unification of events. These assumptive premises have been questioned as to whether they are consistent with some general “goal of understanding” (Smith, 2006: 192). Smith (2006) goes on to point out that the antithetical method employed by the interpretivist of rejecting natural or social causality contradicts their inclusion of this world in their research should it maintain any pretenses to science or ‘inquiry’ (p. 192). We can now infer that the ontological status of causality, and thus what can be known about the world in general, presents a rift between the two parties that fundamental obstructs their ability to meaningfully communicate with each other—or, in more temporal terms, there is no mid-level theory on which these epistemologies can interact.

In advancing further with respect to the positivist’s dilemma, it would be a disservice to the debate to not continue expounding its foundational difficulties. At its core, the positivist advances a causal mechanistic framework that rests upon grossly unempirical assumptions regarding “timeless necessary connections” between causal events (that is, the inextricable quality linking ∆X with ∆Y); however, to accept this as true would be to accept that nothing, in empirically verifiable terms, binds X and Y together, and the fact that “all past [X] has been [X and Y together, and the fact that “all past [Xs] have been [Ys] is a matter of cosmic coincidence” (Hildebrand, 2016: 4). This is a cogent description of David Hume’s critique of inductive reasoning which, in broad terms, posits that inductive arguments are concerned with inferential justifications from the premises; however, inductive premises are justified themselves by subjective experiences which themselves have no immediate bearing “on how the inference from that premise to the conclusion is justified” (BonJour, 2010: 53).

Continue reading “Abridged: toward a modular framework for integrative research in IR theory”

Abridged: toward a modular framework for integrative research in IR theory

everyday Pity

He had been married eleven weeks and kept a keen awareness for the Greater Good and the Bigger Picture. These were the linchpins of his 30-week Life Plan 20/20 Workbook he had been following near-verbatim since August. He had insisted on taking his marriage seriously, and this constituted the first in what he thought would be a series of fully grown decisions.

His deep-down predilections were that of a boy’s, however, and his curiosity for the more illicit side of temptation ended up toying with lesser motivations.

Later that week he decided to stow away his half-smoked pack of cigarettes under his box spring before driving to the local hardware store. It was there, in the parking lot, where he subdued his lungs with the smoke and sediment of what he decided would be his very last non-emergency cig.

He had kicked the idea of such a sacrament around for twenty or thirty seconds in his head while tying his boots, in his coat room, minutes earlier. He enjoyed the cigarette and, feeling satisfied with the ritual, ashed the remains atop the potted plant, frozen, on display outside the automatic doors.

Tapping the slush from his boots, he wove through the columns of clearance shelves and display pyramids that lined the entrance, only stopping once to check the expiration date of the deceptively priced Value brand Small Dog: Complete Nutrition Dog Food formula which boasted a product code linked to a printable coupon that, to his limited knowledge, was uncalled for given its reduction to a seven kilo zipper bag.

Seeing as there was, in fact, no posted expiration date, he carried on toward the back where they housed the electronic equipment.

He realized he was still carrying the bag of dog food. Embarrassed, he put it down deviously among the swimming pool chemicals. For a moment, his cunning redeemed him.

He turned back around to grab a cart, then thought better of it. He didn’t need one, he thought.

At the rear of the store he found a cabinet wedged between two tables. Each table held transparent gallon jugs with a generic white label spelling out its viscous fillings and its expiration.


The wall unit had pristine glass doors whose sheen was telling of the contents’ newness. The doors were padlocked, and an emboldened sign above the handles pictured a smiling sales rep.

A visibly pubescent sales rep came over and unlocked it after checking his ID. He helped him pick out a marked down Chinese device and a doubly more expensive kit of required ancillaries which included e-juices, replacement coils, a sub-ohm tank, a regular tank intended for what he described as “throat hits”, and two jugs of vegetable glycerin.

He went back for the shopping cart. He used the self-service checkout and left.

A smoker was idling outside. The cherry burning between her middle and forefinger dour like a candlelight vigil for his own, most desirable companion.

The pavement was freshly salted on Monday morning but the smell of it lingered even in the car, even in his driveway. It was there that he thought maybe it wasn’t the salt.

Lugging his things inside, he sat down on top the hood of his deep freezer. He kept it in the hallway because living space was sparse within his housing budget and its installation made for shorter grocery trips as the kitchen was still a-ways down the hall and carrying grocery bags becomes an odious experience when performed as drunk as he often liked to be when he bought groceries.

Even when he wasn’t drunk he found it made for a seat preferable even to the leather furniture his roommate’s parents had bought for the living room. He enjoyed the humming sound that it made, and how it would rattle against his hanging feet.

Continue reading “everyday Pity”

everyday Pity