Experimental Research in IR – Essay Example

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For example, a political research guided by neo liberal institutionalism as a theoretical tool in finding out the role of multinational oil companies in climate change could be complimented by micro level experiments of the actual emission of green house gases in a laboratory setting (natural experiment) with many variables in place. To sum up this argument, experiments could compliment as strong evidence to the research results in the issue of international relations. In addition, analyzing the usefulness of a research methodology in the pursuit of a social scientific investigation, it is important to analyze the discussion that follows from the questions raised in the philosophy of science (ontological, epistemological and methodological).

In determining the ways in which experiments could fulfill the aims of a social scientific investigation, it is noteworthy to first identify the shifts that took place from behavioral approaches of constructing knowledge towards post behavioral revolution and trace the role that experiment as a research methodology could play or has played in the process of studying the social world (Halperin & Heath 2012: 26). In doing so, an evaluation of the ontological and epistemological positions of the positivist and anti-positivist approaches will be instrumental in describing how experiment will fulfil the aims of a social scientific investigation. A social inquiry from a positivist position explains how the social world that social scientists aim to study on is not different from the natural world.

According to the positivists, the social world is systematic, law governed and predictable as the natural world. Therefore, ontologically what exists as part of the component of the social world is similar to that of the natural world.

Then, the kind of knowledge that is possible to obtain (epistemology) and the ways to derive that knowledge in line with the positivist approach is empirical, i.e. , what we can know about the world is limited to what can be observed (Halperin & Heath 2012: 30). Experiments in social sciences are regular and systematic than other qualitative methodologies which increase the control of the researcher in the process of investigation. Because experiments can test a certain phenomena using numerous variables, it is one among the few methodologies in social science which can uncover the social laws that govern the social world as the positivists argue (Halperin & Heath 2012: 198).

Then, with this argument if we can only obtain knowledge from what is observable in the social world and if the social world is governed by social laws, social experiments can play a vital part in fulfilling the imperative of a positivist research.


Halperin, S., & Heath, O.(2012). Political Research: Methods and Practical Skills. OUP Oxford.

Hudson, N. F., & Butler, M. J. (2010). The state of experimental research in IR: An analytical survey. International Studies Review, 12(2), 165-192.

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