The Meanings of Scientific Progress in the History of International Relations – Selected Cases




International Relations, philosophy of social sciences, historiography – IR, progress in IR, theory of IR


This article aims at reconstructing and interpreting the meanings of scientific progress present in selected important works within the discipline of International Relations (IR). This research objective stems from the gap in the literature concerning scientific progress in IR, as it is mostly concerned with the evaluation of the progressiveness of particular approaches, paradigms within the discipline. The reconstruction of meanings given by particular IR scholars to scientific progress is conducted only as far as its instrumental for the critique of their approaches and making room for the approaches of the critics. My objective is different – using a method inspired by the history of ideas and the research technique of qualitative content analysis, I will attempt to answer the following research questions: Q1 – How is the category of scientific progress of IR understood by particular scholars? Q2 – What are the contexts of its usage? Q3 – How can we interpret the rationale behind the employment of particular meanings in particular contexts? Q4 – How, on the basis of all cases, can we depict the flow of ideas of scientific progress through the history of IR? The cases selected span the development of IR from World War II to the early 2000s: Edward Carr’s The Twenty Years’ Crisis; Morton Kaplan’s texts from the early phase of the second great debate; John Vasquez’s The Power of Power Politics; and Miriam and Colin Elman’s Progress in International Relations Theory. On the basis of these cases I will argue that the notion of scientific progress in IR is an essentially contested concept within the discipline. Despite certain similarities in the meaning of the term among the cases – a cumulative notion of scientific progress – all of them are used in a way that is intended to legitimize the approach of a particular author as ‘properly scientific’. Another conclusion drawn is that although differing in kind, all of the cases consider important historical events that do not shape the meanings of progress themselves, but instead create a window of opportunity for particular meanings, as their context.


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Author Biography

Mateusz Filary-Szczepanik, Jesuit University Ignatianum in Krakow

PhD in political science. Assistant professor at the Jesuit University Ignatianum in Krakow. Graduate of interdisciplinary doctoral studies at the Jagiellonian University. His research focuses on realist theories of IR. His thesis comparing the theories of Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz was judged the best PhD dissertation of 2017 by the Polish International Studies Association (PTSM). His other academic pursuits concern the philosophy of science and historiography of IR. Teaching classes on the introduction to international relations, empirical research method for political science, and logic. Dedicated educator conducting workshops for high-schoolers about international decision making for Regional Centre for International Dialogue (RODM) on the basis of grant of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


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2021-12-16 — Updated on 2022-03-11


How to Cite

Filary-Szczepanik, Mateusz. (2021) 2022. “The Meanings of Scientific Progress in the History of International Relations – Selected Cases”. Politeja 18 (6(75):29-50.



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