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The Introduction first highlights the value added of practice approaches to international relations, and demonstrates how a practice perspective differs from other IR theoretical approaches. The chapter then offers a contextualization of practice theories in IR through a historical discussion that highlights the foundations of practice theoretical thought, its connections to, and shared assumptions with preceding IR scholarship, but also the ways in which it fundamentally differs from other theoretical approaches. With this narrative we respond to some allegations and misunderstandings within the discipline that the practice talk is plainly a reinvigoration of old ideas, that there is little new about practice approaches, or that they present us with a new version of constructivism. Third, we proceed in discussing the scope and contours of practice-driven research by discussing how the practice debate might be ordered. Arguing against pitching discrete practice approaches against each other, we draw attention to a number of fault lines that run through the practice debate, such as stability and change. We then showcase how each chapter in this volume engages with broader IR scholarship, and how it provides a new practice-driven vista on relevant IR questions.
Taking such a stance inevitably shifts the analysis towards production or some soteriological notion of knowledge. Instead, I point to the relevant issues of practical choices: situations (which are not just exhausted by known distributions or unreflected habits or routines but which require constant attention to surprises) to the temporality ofchoice in which present, past, and future interact that explode the intentional paradigm of action) and the issues of judgement (Kant’s Urteilskraft), which is a critical ability but does not coincide with algorithms or of testing theoretical propositions but which can be acquired only by acting within the social world, or as Hume had it is acquired by ‘commerce and conversation’ rather than by observation from an ideal standpoint.
This book brings together the key scholars in the international practice debate to demonstrate its strengths as an innovative research perspective. The contributions show the benefit of practice theories in the study of phenomena in international security, international political economy and international organisation, by directing attention to concrete and observable everyday practices that shape international outcomes. The chapters exemplify the cross-overs and relations to other theoretical approaches, and thereby establish practice theories as a distinct IR perspective. Each chapter investigates a key concept that plays an important role in international relations theory, such as power, norms, knowledge, change or cognition. Taken together, the authors make a strong case that practice theories allow to ask new questions, direct attention to uncommon empirical material, and reach different conclusions about international relations phenomena. The book is a must read for anyone interested in recent international relations theory and the actual practices of doing global politics.
What do we mean by theory and how is it related to practice? The question has been one of the recurrent themes for negotiating the identity of the discipline of International Relations (IR). Debates concern what kind of knowledge scholars should produce and value, what should count as ‘theory’ and ‘empirics’, but also what status is granted to those that ‘make’ theory and those that focus on ‘practice’. While these debates run through the history of the discipline, three recent developments have given them impetus.
A landmark debate in the European Journal of International Relations in 2013 explored whether the age of theory in IR had ended. Scholars asked whether they had witnessed a ‘retreat from theory’ (Dunne et al, 2013: 406), mourned the end of unifying grand theory that would order the discipline (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2013), and were worried about the proliferation of theories and naive hypothesis testing (Guzzini, 2013; Jackson and Nexon, 2013). The discovery of non-Western IR and theory from the Global South brought another source of discomfort to the discipline. The potential of postcolonial forms of knowledge cast new doubt on the extent and limitations of Western epistemology and its concepts of theory (see Acharya and Buzan, 2010; Shilliam, 2010; Seth, 2011). Yet the emergence of a movement of scholars associated with ‘international practice theory’ also called for new thinking on theory and for grounding it in practice (Adler and Pouliot, 2011; Bueger and Gadinger, 2018). In declaring ‘practice’ as the foundational unit of theoretical thought, they re-raised the tension between theory and practice in new ways.
The triple uncertainty over theory opens a new moment to rethink the making of theory in IR. Taking insights from these three debates into account, this chapter asks whether and how practice theories lead to new, innovative thoughts on ‘theory’ and the relation to practice. The mere label of ‘practice theory’ is interesting: it brings together two terms which are often seen as dichotomous or at least are keenly kept apart. How does practice theory open the space for rethinking the relation?
The question of when and how international orders change remains a pertinent issue of International Relations theory. This article develops the model of pragmatic ordering to conceptualise change. The model of pragmatic ordering synthesises recent theoretical arguments for a focus on ordering advanced in-practice theory, pragmatist philosophy, and related approaches. It also integrates evidence from recent global governance research. We propose a five-stage model. According to the model, once a new problem emerges (problematisation), informality allows for experimenting with new practices and developing new knowledge (informalisation and experimentation). Once these experimental practices become codified, and survive contestation, they increasingly settle (codification) and are spread through learning and translation processes (consolidation). We draw on the rise of the maritime security agenda as a paradigmatic case and examine developments in the Western Indian Ocean region to illustrate each of these stages. The article draws attention to the substantial reorganisation of maritime space occurring over the past decade and offers an innovative approach for the study of orders and change.
Moving away from studying actors to studying practices opens a fascinating vista of global governance. Kratochwil provokes inquiry into the practical work actual people do in international relations. He helps to move beyond binaries by offering a pragmatic approach to global governance in a fragmented institutional environment. Yet, his criticism of best practices for their problems of applicability and perverse side-effects misses the existence of different kinds of best practices. Some of them have been highly successful, such as the ‘Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Coast of Somalia’. One should not underestimate the potential of practices in both advancing scientific knowledge and ‘real-world’ change.