Perspectives on Politics

Research Article

Analytic Eclecticism in the Study of World Politics: Reconfiguring Problems and Mechanisms across Research Traditions

Rudra Sila1 and Peter J. Katzensteina2

a1 University of Pennsylvania

a2 Cornell University


This article defines, operationalizes, and illustrates the value of analytic eclecticism in the social sciences, with a focus on the fields of comparative politics and international relations. Analytic eclecticism is not an alternative model of research or a means to displace or subsume existing modes of scholarship. It is an intellectual stance that supports efforts to complement, engage, and selectively utilize theoretical constructs embedded in contending research traditions to build complex arguments that bear on substantive problems of interest to both scholars and practitioners. Eclectic scholarship is marked by three general features. First, it is consistent with an ethos of pragmatism in seeking engagement with the world of policy and practice, downplaying unresolvable metaphysical divides and presumptions of incommensurability and encouraging a conception of inquiry marked by practical engagement, inclusive dialogue, and a spirit of fallibilism. Second, it formulates problems that are wider in scope than the more narrowly delimited problems posed by adherents of research traditions; as such, eclectic inquiry takes on problems that more closely approximate the messiness and complexity of concrete dilemmas facing “real world” actors. Third, in exploring these problems, eclectic approaches offer complex causal stories that extricate, translate, and selectively recombine analytic components—most notably, causal mechanisms—from explanatory theories, models, and narratives embedded in competing research traditions. The article includes a brief sampling of studies that illustrate the combinatorial potential of analytic eclecticism as an intellectual exercise as well as its value in enhancing the possibilities of fruitful dialogue and pragmatic engagement within and beyond the academe.

Rudra Sil ( is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is author of Managing “Modernity”: Work, Community and Authority in Late-Industrializing Japan and Russia (University of Michigan Press, 2002) and co-editor (with Dennis Galvan) of Reconfiguring Institutions Across Time and Space: Syncretic Responses to Challenges of Political and Economic Transformation (Palgrave 2007).

Peter J. Katzenstein ( is the Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor of International Studies at Cornell University. He has served as the President of the American Political Science Association (2008–2009). His most recent single-authored books include Rethinking Japanese Security: Internal and External Dimensions (Routledge, 2008) and A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium (Cornell University Press, 2005).


Numerous individuals and institutions have provided valuable feedback and support at various stages in the writing of this article. With apologies to those whom they may have failed to mention here, the authors would like to acknowledge Amel Ahmed, Jeffrey Checkel, Stephen Crowley, Michael Doherty, Charlotte Epstein, Emiliano Grossman, Peter Haas, Gunther Hellman, Adam Humphreys, Jeffrey Isaac, Nicolas Jabko, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Robert Keohane, David Laitin, James Mahoney, Bruce Mazlish, James Moskowitz, Ido Oren, Christian Reus-Smit, Srirupa Roy, Benjamin Schiff, Vivien Schmidt, Ian Shapiro, Kathleen Thelen, Veljko Vujacic, Stephen Watts, Pan Wei, Alexander Wendt, Cornelia Woll, Wang Yizhou, Brigitte Young, and Ruizhuang Zhang, as well as three anonymous reviewers. The authors are also grateful for suggestions provided by participants at colloquia and workshops at various institutions worldwide, including Beijing University, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Oberlin College, Oxford University, Sciences-Po, Tianjin University, University of Frankfurt, and University of Massachusetts. In addition, Emma Clarke, Stefan Heumann, and William Petti provided invaluable research assistance.