By Gary Goertz
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1994
Online Publication Date:May 2010
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511559013.001
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.Albert Einstein
Over the last twenty years the concept of context has had wide currency throughout the social sciences and the humanities. In art and literary history it has meant attempting to understand the social, political, and intellectual environments in which various masterpieces of Western culture, from Shakespeare to Renaissance art to Machiavelli, were produced. These attempts have emphasized that human action is not understandable ripped out of its sociological, cultural, and historical nexus of reference. These calls to context have been made to stress the variability – if not the capriciousness – of human behavior; they attempt to “de-universalize” knowledge and meaning.
In contrast, the social sciences in their more behavioralist and positivist modes have sought laws of behavior and generalizations independent of culture and historical accident. After years of effort one may come to the conclusion that simple context-free laws of behavior do not exist. Researchers have often found that relationships may be positive in one period and then negative in the next or changing from one country to another (e.g., Singer, Bremer, and Stuckey 1972). From the empirical literature in world politics the conclusion imposes itself: simple bivariate hypotheses have no simple answer.
Just as the meaning of words cannot be completely specified by dictionaries, so simple laws of international behavior may not exist. To understand the meanings of words we need a theory of pragmatics, so in international relations we need a theory of context.