Kenneth Waltz is not a neorealist (and why that matters)

Christopher David LaRoche*, Simon Frankel Pratt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Faced with scepticism about the status of grand theory in International Relations, scholars are re-evaluating Kenneth Waltz’s contribution to theoretical debates in the field. Readers of Waltz have variously recast his work as structural functionalist, scientific realist and classical realist in liberal clothing. We contribute to this re-evaluation by systematically assembling misreadings of Waltz that continue to occur across all of International Relations’ schools — that his theory is positivist, rationalist and materialist — and offering a coherent synthesis of his main contributions to International Relations theory. By linking Theory of International Politics to both Man, the State, and War and Waltz’s post-1979 clarifications, we show that Waltz offers International Relations scholars a coherent vision of the worth and method of grand theory construction that is uniquely ‘international’. In particular, we focus on Waltz’s methodology of theory building and use of images, demonstrating these to be underappreciated but crucially important aspects of Waltz’s work. We finish by proposing methodological, practical and pedagogical ‘takeaways’ for International Relations scholars that emerge from our analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-176
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number1
Early online date28 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Provisional acceptance date added, based on publication dates


  • international relations
  • meta-thoery
  • methodoloy
  • neorealism
  • normative theory
  • theory and practice


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