Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations

Daniel Maliniak, Susan Peterson, Ryan Powers, and Michael J. Tierney, Editors

Scholars and policy practitioners consider how international relations research influences policy in eight key issue areas.
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There is a widening divide between the data, tools, and knowledge that international relations scholars produce and what policy practitioners find relevant for their work. In this first-of-its-kind conversation, leading academics and practitioners reflect on the nature and size of the theory-practice divide. They find the gap varies by issue area and over time.

The essays in this volume use data gathered by the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project over a fifteen-year period. As a whole, the volume analyzes the structural factors that affect the academy’s ability to influence policy across issue areas and the professional incentives that affect scholars’ willingness to attempt to do so. Individual chapters explore these questions in the areas of trade, finance, human rights, development, environment, nuclear weapons and strategy, interstate war, and intrastate conflict. Each substantive chapter is followed by a response from a policy practitioner, providing their perspective on the gap and the possibility for academic work to have an impact.

Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations provides concrete answers and guidance about how and when scholarship can be policy relevant.

Table of Contents

1. Explaining the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations:
Uncertainty and Access
Daniel Maliniak, Susan Peterson, Ryan Powers, and Michael J. Tierney

2. Rights and Wrongs:
Human Rights at the Intersection of the International Relations Academy and Practice
Amanda Murdie

3. Closing the Influence Gap:
How to Get Better Alignment of Scholars and Practitioners on Human Rights
Sarah E. Mendelson

4. The Study and Practice of Global Environmental Politics:
Policy Influence through Participation
Jessica F. Green and Thomas Hale

5. The Limits of Scholarly Influence on Global Environmental Policy
Marc A. Levy

6. Mind the Gap? Links between Policy and Academic Research of Foreign Aid
Christina J. Schneider

7. Making Academic Research on Foreign Aid More Policy Relevant
Steven Radelet

8. Trade Policy and Trade Policy Research
Edward D. Mansfield and Jon C. W. Pevehouse

9. Making International Relations Research on Trade More Relevant to Policy Officials
Robert B. Zoellick

10. Is International Relations Relevant for International Money and Finance?
Thomas B. Pepinsky and David A. Steinberg

11. Is International Relations Relevant for International Monetary and Financial Policy?
Reflections of an Economist
Dimitri G. Demekas

12. Lost in Translation:
Academics, Policymakers, and Research about Interstate Conflict
Sarah Kreps and Jessica Weeks

13. Reflections from an Erstwhile Policymaker
Peter D. Feaver

14. The Weakest Link? Scholarship and Policy on Intrastate Conflict
Michael G. Findley and Joseph K. Young

15. On the Challenge of Assessing Scholarly Influence on Intrastate Conflict Policy
Scott Edwards

16. The Bumpy Road to a “Science” of Nuclear Strategy
Paul C. Avey and Michael C. Desch

17. Academia’s Influence on National Security Policy:
What Works and What Doesn’t?
John R. Harvey

18. Supply- and Demand-Side Explanations for the Theory-Practice Divide
Daniel Maliniak, Susan Peterson, Ryan Powers, and Michael J. Tierney





"Of the many ways Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations contributes to broader academic-policy world 'bridging' efforts, the scholar-practitioner author pairings, the similarities and differences across the eight foreign policy issue areas, and the empirical data drawn on and made available are especially valuable. Kudos to the editors for such a creative and insightful approach."—Bruce Jentleson, William Preston Few Professor of Public Policy, Duke University

"Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations makes a unique contribution by offering scholars of international relations insightful pathways to translate basic research into forms accessible and relevant to practitioners. It also underscores the need for practitioners to draw on scholarly work in order to make more informed, better policy decisions. The gap between the two is wide and must be narrowed. This important book provides a constructive way forward."—Robert Gates, former secretary of defense and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency

"An interesting dialogue between twenty-three academics and policy-makers explores the gap between theory and practice in eight fields of foreign policy ranging from human rights and trade to terrorism and nuclear strategy. This important book uses new data to show how different levels of uncertainty and access affect the demand for expertise, and how professional incentives and poor communication limit its supply."—Joseph S. Nye Jr. , Distinguished Service Professor, emeritus at Harvard University and author of Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump

"This marvelous book makes a unique contribution to our understanding of the divide between academia and the policy world. Through the direct engagement of leading practitioners with top scholars, the chapters provide an extraordinary window into how each community thinks about the opportunities and challenges involved in producing policy-relevant research across core issue areas in the field of international relations."—James Goldgeier, codirector, Bridging the Gap Project

"This collection deserves our gratitude. Scholars have long been aware of the gaping divide between theory and practice in international relations. But never before has the problem been so thoroughly dissected and explained. A must read for everyone with an interest in the future of the IR field of study."—Benjamin Cohen, Louis G. Lancaster Professor of International Political Economy, University of California, Santa Barbara


Paul C. Avey, Dimitri G. Demekas, Michael C. Desch, Scott Edwards, Peter D. Feaver, Michael G. Findley, Jessica F. Green, Thomas Hale, John R. Harvey, Sarah Kreps, Marc Levy, Daniel Maliniak, Edward D. Mansfield, Sarah E. Mendelson, Amanda Murdie, Thomas B. Pepinsky, Susan Peterson, Jon C. W. Pevehouse, Ryan Powers, Steve Radelet, Christina J. Schneider, David A. Steinberg, Michael J. Tierney, Jessica Weeks, Joseph K. Young, Robert B. Zoellick

Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Daniel Maliniak is an assistant professor of government at William & Mary.

Susan Peterson is the Wendy and Emery Reves Professor of Government and International Relations and codirector of the Global Research Institute, both at William & Mary.

Ryan Powers is an assistant professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Michael J. Tierney is the George and Mary Hylton Professor of International Relations and codirector of the Global Research Institute, both at William & Mary.

328 pp., 6 x 9
13 figures, 10 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-781-0
May 2020

328 pp., 6 x 9
13 figures, 10 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-782-7
May 2020

328 pp.
13 figures, 10 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-783-4
May 2020

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