World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Challenges to Theorical Perspectives of International Relations (457) - Panel

· Date: FRI, 23 / 11.30 am - 1.30 pm

· Language: English

· Description:

Chair: Nassef M. Adiong(Middle East Technical University)

Paper Presenter: Nassef M. Adiong (PhD Student, Middle East Technical University, Turkey), “Eclecticism in the Study of International Relations of the Middle East”
A theory tries to explain and laid down logical statements and assumptions that would permeate to guide and assist the members of the academe and/or practitioners on how to study and conceptualize the complexities and intricacies of International Relations (IR) of the Middle East. A strong theory is set under one paradigm with its strong explanatory power that encompasses temporal and spatial elements of a certain phenomenon. However, is this line of argument applicable to conceptual approaches to the area study of the Middle East? Eclecticism has been a fashion fad in the contemporary trend of international relations theory especially in looking into area studies. This approach was used and still being utilize by IR scholars in presenting theoretical framework(s) for cases and issue-areas of the Middle East. Fred Halliday’s historical/political sociological approach; John Galtung’s structural theory of imperialism which was enshrined to Wallerstein’s modern world system approach; Birthe Hansen’s (neo)realism, Stephen Walt’s balance-against-threats and other scholars attempt to converge constructivism with realism; and other scholars like Shibley Telhami, Michael Barnett, Raymond Hinnebusch and Anoushirvan Ehteshami interpretations to constructivism (a mix of qausi-conventional to quasi-constitutive elements of constructivism). These are just some of the prominent scholars, who in some way or the other suspected to have used eclecticism in their approach to understand the complexity of the IR of the Middle East. If this is the trend, why do some experts draw their attention on applying eclecticism in theoretically conceptualizing the IR of the Middle East? What are the strengths and weaknesses of being eclectic to the study of IR of the Middle East? These are the primal questions that the paper aims to present, and later would provide answers for. The proponent will argue that in trying to understand and conceptualize the IR of the Middle East, we need several sets of paradigms (patterns of explanations), assumptions and propositions that draw upon the multiplicity of theories, styles and ideas, which will help us gain a wider scope of insights into the telescopic array of issues and/or case for the study of the Middle East.

Paper Presenter: Simon Mabon (PhD Student, University of Leeds, UK), “Identity Incongruence in the Gulf: An analytical approach to Middle Eastern International Relations”
Many scholars currently writing on Middle Eastern International Relations utilise theories of realism (both neo and classical), or constructivism. Despite the initial appeal of both realist and constructivist positions, given the weight ascribed to power and identity respectively, these approaches appear problematic when applied to the region. The realist must contend with those who reject the value of an a historic international system, whilst the state centric nature of the realist position fails to account for the importance of identity and ideology. The constructivist must respond to those who reject that there can be a singular coherent identity, failing to appreciate the complexities of collective identities. This paper proposes a new analytical approach to Middle Eastern International Relations building upon the philosophical structure-agency debate, with particular focus upon Iran and Saudi Arabia. The exposition is concerned with how pressure from sub and trans state identities impacts upon the legitimacy and foreign policy of ruling elites. The argument of this paper suggests that given the nascent essence of the Middle Eastern regional system and the development of Middle Eastern states, certain states are left vulnerable to pressures from these sub and trans state identities. The analytical approach is built through a three stage framework, firstly an examination of the political environment, examining both regional and international structure. This examination of structure is achieved through understanding the process of state formation, relations between the core and periphery, and analysis of normative structure. The second stage examines the impact of agency, in the form of social interaction, with regards to foreign policy. Given the location of norms within structure, the behaviour of actors in defining situations helps explain the emergence of certain identities as dominant within a state and regional system. The third stage examines the consequences of interaction between first and second stages of the framework, or between structure and agency.

Paper Presenter: Ellinor Zeino-Mahmalat (PhD Candidate, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Germany), “Saudi Arabia's and Iran's Regional Policies in the Gulf at the Intersection of Power, Interests, and Identity”
The aim of the presentation is to search for IR-theory grounded explanations for variations in Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s regional policies both between and within the two countries. In the last three decades, Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s regional policies have been antipode in terms of a revisionist/status-quo dichotomy. At present, the Gulf region lacks more than ever a generally accepted status quo and a balance of power, interests and identities that both Saudi Arabia and Iran would agree upon. Following the Iraq War of 2003, Iran’s regional policy comprises stronger revolutionary and anti-status quo components. Iran uses its strategic upgrading in the region and its new opportunities in post-Saddam Iraq for a stronger regional posture and to escape regional exclusion in a Sunni-Arab dominated and US-penetrated region. Saudi regional policy appears rather reactive and lacks a coherent strategy vis-à-vis Iran and ‘New’ Iraq. Yet, an increasingly assertive regional policy reveals Saudi Arabia’s growing discontent with the new political status quo in the region. The presentation suggests that historically grown foreign-policy role conceptions and state identities pre-configure the broad and general outline of foreign policy. In contrast, short-term foreign policy strategies strongly reveal considerations of power, interests and threats in the logic of ''raison d’état''. Both (neo)realist and constructivist approaches have offered promising explanations of regional policies in the Gulf. Systemic (neo)realist approaches explain foreign policy strategies through the states’ position in the (regional) system and their constellations of threat. However, the ‘dual’ nature of threats to both external and domestic state security in the Gulf requires a moderation of the neorealist strictly systemic level of analysis through the inclusion of state-society relations. As concerns constructivist foreign policy analysis, the presentation follows a top-down approach to identity and foreign-policy role conceptions. Identity is understood as ‘state’ identity constructed by state elites as opposed to the broader societal-based notion of ‘national’ identity. Iran’s anti-imperialist stance and defiance of extra-regional powers in the Gulf on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia’s conservative and pro-Western status-quo policy on the other hand, are best conceived of as a function of ‘statized’ identity. The addition of complexity and conditionality to conventional (neo)realist and constructivist approaches and the inclusion of widely neglected distributional questions about the actors’ pursued balance of power, interests and identities may offer more valuable and accurate explanations of Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s regional policies than previous foreign policy analyses.