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date: 21 October 2017

Summary and Keywords

Role theory as an empirical theory of international relations has an underlying logical structure with the ability to generate different models of cooperation and conflict in world politics at multiple levels of analysis: system-oriented models of incentives and role constraints; actor-centered models of role conceptions and expectations; action-focused models of cues and role enactment. The emphasis at each of these levels of analysis is on strategic interaction, which makes role theory a theory of international relations between ego and alter as well as a theory of their respective foreign policy decisions.

The logical and empirical applications of role theory’s models to world politics have morphed from metaphor and analogy into formal models of prediction and explanation that meet the criteria of testability associated with an empirical theory of international relations. These criteria include the logical rules of deductive inference and the correspondence rules of empirical falsifiability associated with the systematic comparison of empirical cases.

The pattern of migration and evolution of role resembles the earlier pattern of importing game as a metaphor and introducing the logical structure of game theory into the field of international relations. Binary role theory employs the concepts of role theory and a set of game theory models to analyze conflict and cooperation in world politics. The role metaphor and the concepts of binary role theory provide a substantive “theory of payoffs” for game theory. The latter’s formal models help transform the logical structure of role theory from a metaphor or analogy to a logically coherent and empirically testable theory of international relations.

Keywords: binary role theory, national role conceptions, international roles, role transition, empirical international relations theory

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