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The general aim of problem-solving is to make these relationships and institutions work smoothly by dealing effectively with particular sources of trouble” (Cox 1981, 128-129).
I disagree with his assessment of the status of critical theory, as do many of the contributors to the special issue and to the symposium, in particular with his claim that it has failed to live up to the promise it showed in the 1980s – but that’s a conversation for another time.
What is most interesting here is how Brown takes up Cox’s analytical division of “critical theory” from “problem-solving theory”. Murray; or in Ali Diskaya, just to take a few examples appearing here in e-IR.
Indeed, reflection on International Relations as theory appears in the field as part of the necessary and practical division of the complexity of the social and political world.
Rare is the introduction to IR textbook that does not emphasize, and usually begin with, the “great (theoretical) debates” that have structured the field since it emerged as an academic discipline.
We make these divisions, Cox wrote, in order to analyse the world and thus to produce practical knowledge of that world.
It is not a stretch to suggest that the real social world of International Relations scholarship might also be approached as worthy of analysis and theory.
There's also something called design thinking, which is also, well known in the design world, and in the engineering world.
Design thinking has a lot to do with Jack's intelligent fast failure. Then you can use one of the problem solving techniques we just discussed.
Cox is often interpreted as elevating critical theory over problem solving theory – Brown takes him to do so, for example, in the symposium when he says Cox “compared ‘problem-solving’ theory unfavourably with ‘critical theory’” but I am not convinced that a careful reading of Cox’s article supports this (and Cox argues something similar).
In addition to signalling the importance of theory for knowledge, Cox explicitly notes, for example, how the analytical procedures he sees as defining problem-solving theory are the source of its strength.