Practical Application to International Relations Theory


Investigations into the relationship between theory and practice have gone on for a long time. This relationship influences professional training programs and how the knowledge presented in this training program is applicable in testing this relationship. In the recent past, there have been many views, which have strived to investigate ways to improve the integration of theory and practical application. The importance of theory is to improve the practice and application of science in testing their applicability (Tenkasi 2011). To this extent, there has been an attempt among researchers to investigate the extent that theory influences practice. This understanding highlights the importance of aligning theory with practice. Thus, this paper investigates this relationship and its relevance. Specifically, the treatise applies international relations theory to form an integral understanding of the findings.

Literature Review

Jones (2008) explained that undoubtedly, theories play a critical role in the development of practice, but recent concerns raised by practitioners (regarding the value of theories) pose serious questions regarding the development of these theories and their approach. The divide between theory and practice is a sensitive issue in the analysis of research competencies and the entire understanding of postmodernism. It is important to balance the aspect of theory and application as a prerequisite for reviewing sensitive issues that address competencies (Zontanos, 2004). Eikeland (2011) contended that the practice is improvisatory and within this understanding, theories refine the understanding of the practice. Similarly, critical thinking and reflective practice inform how practice shapes different disciplines. However, because of the tardiness and irrelevance of some theories, Eikeland (2011) exhibited the importance of practitioners undertaking their own research to further bridge the gap between the two concepts (Parton 2000). Adoption of this strategy may however have significant implications for the training, development and relationship between researchers and practitioners (Brennan, 2008).

Thus, the disconnect between theory and practice as best represented in research should articulate some of the main differences between theories and practice and try to devise ways to solve some of these challenges. Often, the relationship between theory and practice is inconsistent since the line separating the two is very thin. Therefore, there is a need for more improvements from the two ends (theory and practice) to improve their relationship.

At the time of his publication, Sheldon found little support for his proposal because there was a widespread negative attitude among practitioners towards scientific theories at the time (Parton, 2000). However, drawing on the comparisons between Sheldon and other researchers from other disciplines, there was a strong need to borrow some models to improve the relationship between theory and practice. This was among the first attempt to bridge theory and practice. However, based on the differences between the scientific models in various disciplines, it was difficult to borrow (seamlessly) interdisciplinary scientific models for the improvement of the relationship between theory and practice. Since then, many researchers have developed different views regarding the relationship between theory and practice. Below are discussions of some of these views.

Views on the Relationship between Theory and Practice

Brennan (2008) views the relationship between theory and practice to be cyclic. In his definition, he explains that theory informs practice and practice tests the theory. Many researchers have had different views about the relationship between theory and practice but a majority believe practitioners fail to include published theory and their associated findings in their practice (Gray & Watson, 2011). This way, practitioners fail to utilize some of the most effective theoretical models that are useful in their practice. On one hand, practitioners emphasize the weakness of theorists to provide clear and consistent information in their theories (and this is why they fail to utilize these theories in their works). On the other hand, theorists also emphasize the failure of practitioners to consider useful theoretical findings because of psychological, academic, or institutional reasons. This divide has created an inconsistency between theory and practice (Gray & Watson, 2011).

How theory Informs Practice

It is important to contextualize the findings in line with the previous research on a topic (Tenkasi 2011). Irrespective of the research design, this aspect is critical in tracing the development of theories and their application (Kasabov, 2007). One way of doing so was to use practical research in theoretical development so that it was easier for practitioners to relate to theories. This strategy traces its application alongside the goal of providing an evidence-based management structure to improve the credibility and validity of findings (Kasabov, 2007). Apart from developing theoretical developments on practical applications, researchers were also encouraged to present their findings in an interesting and captivating way for readers to relate better with their findings (this was among the earliest ways researchers tried to bridge the gap between theory and practice).

The adoption of interesting and practical presentations happened when integrating academic and professional knowledge (in academic programs such as doctorate degree programs). Here, the goal of the researcher was to empower upcoming scholars and practitioners to better integrate theory and practice. Tenkasi (2011) explained how theory informs practice by highlighting the ability of theories to inform practice (a guide for initiating action – a concept that closely resembles the instrumentalist theory, which provides a guide to action). Tenkasi’s view also manifests the potential of theories to provide a rationale for decision-making (as another model in which theory informs practice) (Tenkasi, 2011). For instance, reviewing the basis of actions in quantitative research is critical in theorizing the concepts noted and putting them into relevant practice.

Nonetheless, Tenkasi (2011) explains that even though the theory informs practice, the reverse can also be true because his research demonstrates that the practice can also inform theory. For example, in psychotherapy, a person’s actions or behaviors may inform a practitioner’s decision regarding which theory suits the patient’s treatment plan (Henderikus, 2007). From this analysis, it is apparent that theory and practice share a reciprocal relationship (and from this relationship, the practitioner becomes the researcher).

Issues Involved in Translating Theory to Practice

Ideally, there should be a seamless relationship between theory and practice (characterized by the consistency between the two concepts) but as Barclay (2005) observes in practice, theory and practice are seldom consistent. Issues surrounding theory and practice have obscured the goal of realizing a smooth transition between theory and practice. Barclay’s assertion can be contrasted with Kurt Lewin’s view, which suggests that there is nothing as practical as a good theory (however, in practice, not all theories are good theories). Many people understand the portrayal of consistency between theory and practice to be “walking the talk”.

In other words, people are often required to align their actions with what they say (congruence manifests in this regard). According to a sociology researcher (Carl Rodgers), congruence is not only important in bridging the gap between theory and practice but also crucial in demonstrating the strength of human relationships (Tenkasi, 2011). For example, people often trust honest and trustworthy people because they are the most consistent. When stated differently, reliable people are more desirable. However, the relationship between theory and practice demonstrates inconsistencies.

One way researchers have tried to narrow the gap between theory and practice is by making their research more interesting and captivating for practitioners to better relate to their findings. However, within this framework, there have been many debates regarding the effectiveness of practitioners and scholars in bridging the gap between theory and practice. Similarly, many debates have questioned the viability of merging the work of practitioners and scholars with academicians to integrate theory and practice (Tenkasi, 2011). In this regard, there have been several questions posed regarding what academicians can truly learn from traditional practitioners and scholars in today’s fast-paced world. Tenkasi (2011) has effectively captured these questions in his article titled, Integrating Theory to inform Practice.

Another issue surrounding the application of theories and practice is the failure of researchers to incorporate practical data in theoretical developments. Llewelyn (2003) explains that if people tend to follow theories without incorporating practical data (regarding the same theory) there is going to be a significant discrepancy in the conversion of theory to practice. This discrepancy arises because there is insufficient awareness created when merging theories and practice in this regard. When stated differently, Llewelyn (2003) explains the potential to perceive theories as maps for offering direction, but these maps do not define the territory in their own right. Therefore, there is a strong need to compare internal representations of theories with external motivations because both concepts differ.

Another issue involved in translating theory to practice lies in the failure to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the theories in practice. Bourne (2008) explains that it is possible to compare theories with lenses, which have their strong and weak points. The presence of weaknesses implies that there are specific areas of distortion, which may inhibit the direct application of these theories in practice. Nonetheless, the recognition of theoretical strengths and weaknesses has brought a new movement, which skews towards encouraging integrative theoretical developments. This movement has also birthed the multi-theoretical perception of practical issues facing different disciplines.

Therefore, there is no guarantee that a theoretical orientation always provides the same desired practical alignment. Indeed, Brownlie & Svensson (2008) explain the differences professionals with the same theoretical orientations have shown in practice. Similarly, Brownlie & Svensson (2008) observe the similarity of practice, which professionals with different theoretical backgrounds show. Therefore, there is no direct relationship between theoretical developments and practical applications. Instead, theoretical developments are subject to individual interpretations, which may cause significant differences in practical application.

Description and a Current view of the International Relations Theory

To understand the relationship between theory and practice, this section of the paper explores the application of international relations theory. The international relations theory is one theory, which has been widely used in political science. Its use has been widely accepted by many scholars because the theory provides a conceptual framework for analyzing how different countries relate. Some people have used the international relations theory poetically, to refer to a pair of colored glasses, which only allow the wearer to consider important features in international relations (which are crucial to the theory) (Ghosh, 1995). The international relations theory comprises three main branches: realism, liberalism and constructivism (but realism and liberalism are the most prevalent).

The realist view is the most dominant international relations view among all other views (liberalist and constructivist). The realist view differentiates itself from the liberalist and constructivist views by acknowledging the role of state actors as the most important determinants of world politics (Chen, 2011). This view is based on a philosophy of a state-centric system, which few nations as billiard balls that control world politics. The realist view bases its ideologies on a few assumptions that perceive nation-states as unitary actors with tremendous geographic dominance (giving them the power to control world politics). The realist view also assumes that nation-states are always competing against one another (Osuagwu, 2008).

As opposed to the realist view, the liberal view considers the view of non-state actors in international politics. Non-state actors may include non-governmental organizations, corporations (and the likes). The liberalist view also emphasizes those preferential views among state actors are the single most influential tools for changing world politics (as opposed to the power or capability of nation-states in realizing the same results). According to the liberal view, dominant cultural, economic, and political factors (which may vary state preferences when interacting on the world stage) affect the preferences of nation-states.

Finally, the constructivist view bases its ideas on a systematic structure, which finds its footing in ideas that affect interests and identities (Huang, 2012). The constructivist view also explores how these interests are later, advocated to produce political structures that support the initial ideas that created them (Huang, 2012). The main tenet of the constructivist view describes, “collective values, culture, social identities and persuasive ideas” (Duvall & Varadarajan, 2003, p. 75), which creates a social construction of influence in world politics.

The application of the constructivist view traces its support from the past failure of the existing branches of the international relations theory to describe the outcome of the cold war.

Comprehensively, the current view of the international relations theory hinges on explaining today’s power structures (Duvall & Varadarajan, 2003, p. 75). This theory also bases its understanding in the comprehension of various perspectives that affect how nations relate. The understanding of the world order and the challenges of existing administrative frameworks (such as authoritarian rule, democratic governance and the likes) also describe the international relations theory.

The international relations theory, therefore, explains the effect of power structures on people (Duvall & Varadarajan, 2003, p. 75). Its importance does not only remain confined within the theoretical understanding of power structures because its application stretches to its ability to motivate people and initiative political actions to confront existing power relations. Rather, the basis for measuring importance should be the motivation aspects of confronting relations that exist in action planning and execution when faced with a dilemma. However, people who practice foreign policies sometimes dismiss the international relations theory because they see a big difference or lack of understanding between the way the international relations theory is developed and the real-world application of foreign policies (Duvall & Varadarajan, 2003). This divide highlights the wide difference between theory and practice but it also expresses the frustration practitioners experience when they implement theoretical contributions.

Duvall & Varadarajan (2003) explain that despite the continual ignorance of international theory application, foreign policy practitioners still have to rely on some theoretical models to inform their decision-making processes. Concerning this observation, Duvall & Varadarajan (2003) explain that “everyone uses theories-whether they know it or not-and disagreements about policy usually rest on more fundamental disagreements about the basic forces that shape international outcomes” (p. 198). Nonetheless, from the objection of international theories (by some researchers), the divide between the abstract world of theory and the real-world applications of these theories persist.

Application of International Relations Theory in Political Science

This paper emphasizes the need for theories to build on existing literature and improve existing bodies of knowledge. The international relations theory has been able to do so effectively. Moreover, the international relations theory has been able to reinvent itself and remain relevant in solving current world problems. Its ability to do so emphasizes the importance of theories to relate to practice (as explained in part one of this paper).

Even though there has been some resistance from certain foreign policy practitioners to embrace the international relations theory, there is a significant application of the theory in explaining some of the world’s most notable political problems. In addition, the application of the international relations theory emphasizes another important function of theories, which is to predict future events. As will be explained in subsequent paragraphs of this paper, the international relations theory predicts the behavior of international world powers (viz-a-viz foreseen or unforeseen forces) which influence global dynamics of world politics.

For example, the international relations theory explains today’s global world power structures (like the new world order, which is characterized by the growing dominance of emerging world powers such as China) and how their influence affects the current power structure in world politics. For example, the international relations theory demonstrates how emerging world powers could rise to power, in a potentially dangerous way. More so, this discussion arises because emerging economies such as China or Iran do not embrace democratic governance and such uniqueness threatens the dominance of existing democracies in world politics. The international relations theory also explores if China will demand a different treatment in the world stage as it interacts with other global world powers, or if it will modify its behavior to suit the conventional world political system.

The international relations theory also explains the dominance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in world politics and its subsequent impact in influencing global policies. Indeed, the international relations theory (through the realist view) shows that NATO’s expansion in world politics is a way to increase the dominance of western influence beyond the traditional borders of the US. This theory also demonstrates that NATOs expansion was a way to increase the dominance of western influence in world politics in a period of Russian expansion.

Therefore, the international relations theory would demonstrate that the expansion of NATO’s influence would evoke protest from Russia. Such issues affect our present-day understanding of world politics and it demonstrates the usefulness of the international relations theory in political science.

Evaluating the Application of International Relations Theory

Widely, the application of the international relations theory denotes the existing relationships existing among many states today. Its application explores the underlying bonds among these relationships and gives a comprehensive insight into the outcomes of these relationships. The above application of the international relations theory to explain the existence of world bodies like NATO is premised on a factual understanding of the theory because the international relations theory defines such unions as a transnational bond that is held together by national interests (this is the true picture characterizing NATO’s existence) (Huang, 2012).

Other spheres of political science that the international relations theory applies base their philosophies on a factual representation of the theory. For example, the international relations theory explains the development of foreign policies in many nations today because the theory provides a conceptual framework for the development of these policies. Through the understanding of international relations theory, we can therefore compare and contrast the differences and similarities between the foreign policies of different world powers (and why this is so). The sheer number of sub-theories that explain the international relations theory outline the expansive scope of the theory (Ellis & Levy, 2008).

Through this expanded scope, the international relations theory explains many political issues – especially concerning international collaboration in security, finance, fighting terrorism (and similar global concerns). The application of the international relations theory (in the context of the examples made in this paper) therefore does not go beyond the scope of the paper. Instead, the examples highlighted in this paper show a precise link between theory and practice.


Based on the existing gap between theory and practice, it is crucial for researchers to understand those good theories premise on facts, which also stem from real practice (similarly, good practice bases its philosophies on sound theories). Researchers should therefore understand that theory and practice are interdependent. Therefore, when trying to merge theory and practice, the relationship between both concepts (theory and practice) should demonstrate accuracy, natural relation and easy communication.


The relationship between theory and practice has been elusive for most researchers and practitioners. Indeed, this section of the paper shows different views regarding why this disconnect exists. However, ideally, theories should be able to build on practice and practice should similarly inform these theories. Several ideas surface in this paper to show how researchers can narrow the divide between theory and practice and most of these strategies can be useful for researchers who wish to improve their practice. Some of these strategies include presenting theoretical findings in attractive ways so practitioners can find them appealing, using practical data to inform the theories and establishing congruence and consistency between theory and practice. To improve the usability of our research findings, researchers should therefore strive to use the above tools to bridge the gap between theory and practice.


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