Torbjørn L. Knutsen
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The turn
The coming of the neo-liberal world
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At the end of the 1970s the West reasserted its liberal ideals of rational individuals and free, self-interested interaction. Britain, the USA and other nations along the north-Atlantic rim initiated structural reforms to deal with problems that plagued their modern, industrial societies – economic stagnation, uncertain energy supplies and environmental pollution were foremost among them. Liberal reforms soon swept other regions of the world as well. Even some communist nations embraced market-economic principles. This rise of a liberal sentiment also impacted IR, whose theorists toned down the simple structural approaches of the past and were deeply affected by actor-focused assumptions of individual rationality and models of free-market interaction. This chapter focuses on one theoretical debate that dominated IR throughout the 1980s: that of the merits of Neorealism – an approach which relied on structural as well as on rational-actor based assumptions.

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