The feasibility of a synthetic approach in foreign policy analysis

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Although it is true that in the real world a number of factors play an important role in determining foreign policy. These factors include cognitive-psychological, as well as structural phenomena.The relative importance of these factors is even more clearly identified in comparative foreign policy analyses. In other words cross country analyses on a common factor present a problem of relativity.I say this because one factor that may play a very important role for the determination of foreign policy in one country may be very insignificant in another. One possible way of solving this problemwould be the creation of a supra-theory that integrates the different approaches to foreign policy analyses.

However, a supra-theoretical perspective in foreign policy analysis is not possiblegiven the dual nature of such theories. Carlsnaes (2002) provides us with a matrix that defines mutually exclusive nature of these perspectives:

Figure 1
Holism ObjectivismInterpretativism
Structural Perspective Social-Institutional Perspective
Individualism Agency-based perspective Interpretative actor perspective
Source: Carlsnaes (2002), Four Types of Rock-BottomPerspectives in the Study of Foreign Policy.

From figure 1 we see that in regards to ontology, perspectives can be either holistic (i.e. top down analysis) versus individualistic (i.e. bottom upanalysis). According to the definitions purported by Carlsnaes (2002) individualism entails that “…social scientific explanations should be reducible to the properties of interactions of independentlyexisting individuals…”, whereas the view of holism is that “…the effects of social structure cannot be reduced to independently existing agents and their interpretations…” In terms of epistemology,analysis can be made in order to explain foreign policy objectively “… that models itself on the natural sciences” or interpretatively “…premised on the independent existence of a social realm...
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