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Perception and Misperception in International Politics


Much of international relations scholarship is based on generalizations about behavior.  A certain level of abstraction is necessary to develop insight to avoid creating overly complex relationships that can never be understood.  Explaining a particular event, however, will tend to call for a wider variety of factors than are represented in any given theory (which is a simplified model of reality).  This is a point Waltz argues himself – even though he advocates abstracting at the international level to understand politics.  Jervis holds that we must understand decisions at an individual level to explain dynamics in international politics.  His abstractions are developed at this individual level, while he borrows concepts from psychology to develop insight about the factors that impact policymakers’ ability to understand and react appropriately to external pressures.

Central Argument:


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About the author: Robert Jervis (Ph.D., California at Berkeley, 1968) is the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics and has been a member of the Columbia political science department since 1980. He has also held professorial appointments at the University of California at Los Angeles (1974-1980) and Harvard University (1968-1974). His publications include Perception and Misperception in International Politics (latest edition, 2017), The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life, American Foreign Policy in a New Era, and Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Fall of the Shah and Iraqi WMD, and several edited volumes and numerous articles in scholarly journals.  His latest work is How Statesmen Think: The Psychology of International Politics, 2017, by Princeton University Press.

Original work (Perception and Misperception in International Politics, by Robert Jervis) Copyrighted © Princeton University Press, All rights reserved.