Coming across the pond to present at our school, I had the pleasure of meeting renowned IPE scholar Benjamin Cohen. Having been in this business well before I was born, he certainly has the right to speak about its evolution as much as anyone. I've already lamented the general public unawareness of IPE at our neighbouring blog (which also makes a good summary of Cohen's thoughts on the current state of IPE). In a forthcoming contribution to International Studies Quarterly, however, he makes the broader point that contemporary IPE is simply not very memorable compared to what has been written in the past. Jerry Cohen believes that the overuse of what he calls "economistic mid-level theory" has hijacked the field--especially Stateside.
Here is the introduction; see what you make of it and the rest of the short article is well worth reading for those engaging in the discipline.
Are IPE journals becoming boring? The question is a serious one. Over the four decades or so since the modern field of International Political Economy was born, the character of what gets published in leading journals in the United States – IPE standard setters like International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and World Politics – has changed dramatically. Arguably, the change has not been for the better.Is creeping economism ruining IPE? Maybe we just need more rap videos (and Linda Ronstadt). The things I do to promote IPE to a wider audience...
To illustrate, consider a simple thought experiment. Think first of some of the memorable work published in the early years of the field – work like Keohane and Nye’s special International Organization issue on “Transnational Relations and World Politics,” published as a book in 1972; Peter Katzenstein’s 1976 IO essay on “International Relations and Domestic Structures, which in turn led to his special issue on “Between Power and Plenty,” also published as a book in 1978; or Stephen Krasner special issue on “International Regimes,” published in book form in 1983. Or think of Krasner’s 1976 World Politics study of “State Power and the Structure of International Trade”; Peter Gourevitch’s 1978 IO article on the second image reversed; John Ruggie’s 1982 IO essay on embedded liberalism; or Jeff Frieden’s 1991 IO paper on invested interests. All were seminal, foundational works – influential scholarship that is still widely read and cited.
Now compare these with anything that has appeared in mainstream journals over the last five to ten years. A great deal of quality research has been published, much of it making use of the most rigorous and up-to-date statistical methodologies. The intellectual candlepower is impressive. But how well does this work stack up against the output of earlier years? How much can be regarded as truly path breaking? How much is likely to be read or cited five to ten years from now? The answers, I think, are obvious. Our major journals are full of articles that are thoroughly peer-reviewed and edited with care. With rare exceptions, research meets the highest standards of scholarship. It’s just not very interesting.