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I have a severe confusion about the notions of "expanding the theory around a classical vacuum" and "considering small fluctuations around a classical vacuum" which I find in QFT textbooks.

My problem is: in the path integral [tex]\int D\phi e^{i S[\phi]}[/tex] one doesn't integrate only over field configurations close to the vacuum, but over all field configurations. And when one is considering a perturbative expansion, this expansion is in the coupling constant (like [tex]\lambda[/tex] in [tex]\phi^4 [/tex] theory), but one doesn't assume [tex]\phi[/tex] to be small, or am I wrong?

So the questions would be: Why does one require the field configurations to be small fluctuations around a classical vacuum? And what would happen if I was expanding the theory about a field configuration that is not a classical vacuum (except that the mass could be possibly negative)? The first question is more important for me.

I would be very grateful for any clarification.