Explaining current affairs from a theoretical framework is probably the biggest challenge students of Political Science face. Often they struggle to put international happenings in theoretical framework and take answer from a descriptive to analytical level. As a result, even with lots of study and multiple revisions, they fail to get good marks in PSIR. In this article, we will try to address the issue. We will try to learn – how to explain current events, using political theories.
But first, let us try to understand why theoretical thinking is so important. Why so many theories exist and why there is so much emphasis on it. Why just we cannot analyse the events with common sense rather than strenuously trying to fit them in some ‘theory box’.
Theories have been developed over a period of time and contain wisdom of ages. It consists of group of ideas which are linked together and compliment each other. Together they justify the entire theoretical paradigm and never contradict themselves. One idea of theory justify the second, the second the third and so on till it comes back to the first. In addition, there are multiple theories and at least one of them (or sometimes more) explains the reality.
So, when we choose to think theoretically (apply some theory to explain reality), we are both clever and safe. Just one connection with theory opens up explanations at multiple levels. Our understanding becomes deeper and perspective becomes holistic. And now we are more consistent in our propositions.
While common sense approach gives suggestions which are obvious and intuitive, using theories sometimes brings out perspectives which are not easily visible. Theories also simplify things and reduces complex phenomenon to a few KEY principles and actors. Theories help even predict the future (or at least suggest it) and put us in a better position to suggest a solution.
Thinking theoretically is not as difficult as it seems. It only demands two things 1] Right technique and 2] Practice with patience.
Right Technique – part 1
To explain current events from theoretical perspective, the only question we should ask is, “WHAT THIS INSTANCE IS AN EXAMPLE OF?” This is a powerful question. We should try to see which theory fits best in the given instance. Which theory explains the motivations of actors and the stands taken by them. Taking clue from there, we should see if an entire theory can be pulled to explain the given instance. And can we also predict the outcome and suggest solutions based on same theory.
Example of Nepal
Let us try to understand Nepal’s stand in recent Indo-China tussle. This is an example where weak power is siding with a stronger one, to ensure its own security. It clearly suggest a realist perspective. We will try to understand motivations of Nepal, the consequences it may have, and solution to the problem(for India).
Realism suggests – statism, self help & security. In the absence of world government, weak powers have to make arrangements for their own security. And the best way to achieve this objective is to side with the stronger powers. Given the huge power gap (military & economic) between India & China, Nepal has preferred China over India. That way it feels more secure and its national interest protected.
[You can also expand on motivations for China – how nations go for power maximization, no amount of power is enough etc.]
Nepal should know better to stay away from great power conflicts. It’s geographical dependence on India cannot be ignored and China can never be trusted completely. For its own benefit, Kathmandu should learn from China’s policies in Sri Lanka, Maldives & Pakistan.
For the solution part, the option for India (because our analysis is India centric) is to acquire power (both soft and hard) for itself. It should earn respect and trust of its neighbours. It should become source of economic prosperity and military security to its neighbours.
Given the huge geographical advantage w.r.t. Nepal, India also needs to leverage it. India needs to demonstrate that ‘as much as it reciprocate gestures of cooperation, threats of conflict are not entertained‘. India cannot allow things to go out of control. Instead, the situation is an opportunity for India to send a clear message to its other neighbours.[Alternatively, we can apply liberalist approach to the situation. In that case, our answer will be more solution oriented than explaining conflict (since liberalism struggles to explain conflict.)]
Usually realism best explains conflict, liberalism (idealism) explains cooperation and marxism explains exploitation.
Technique – part 2
Analysis can also be done at multiple levels.
1) System level (international level),
2) State level and
3) Individual level.
At International level, we discuss how decision making happens, what are motivations and considerations of international actors (states, world bodies etc.) And what will be the consequences at this level.
On the parallel lines, we can analyse at state level. Actors involved, motivations, considerations, determinants etc. For example Government, civil society, bureaucracy, pressure groups, media etc. are some actors.
Individual level analysis deals how decision making happens at individual level. This becomes important especially in a situation where leader of a nation wields more power. For example, attributing America First approach to Donald Trump or NAM to Nehru.
This brings us to the next important thing in thinking theoretically. And that is – practice. More than science, answer writing is an art. Understand it well & you’ll save lot of time. Try to be regular in writing and eventually you’ll get the secret.
Additionally, I would also suggest to read political scholars. Sometimes this gives an entire new perspective. So, go ahead, take some example and apply yourselves based on these technique.
If you’ve any further questions, let us know in comments. we would be glad to answer them.
We also request you to try answering the following question in comments section for practice. We will evaluate first few questions.
UPSC Mains 2014/15m/200w/8c
In the history of foreign policy, seldom have relations between any two nations blossomed as fast as they have in the case of India and Israel. Discuss.