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The representatives of contested states – that is, territories whose claim to sovereign statehood is not, or is not fully, recognised by the international society of states – often make significant efforts to engage in diplomacy. Two literatures have recently begun to explore these diplomatic activities, one focusing on the ‘rebel diplomacy’ of insurgents and secessionist movements, the other on ‘liminal actors’ in global politics. However, these two literatures have defined the phenomenon in very different ways, namely, as either instrumental action or cultural performance, and study it largely without regard to each other's insights. My argument in this article is that contested state diplomacy can be better understood if we appreciate the nature of modern diplomacy as a set of bureaucratic practices. As a routinised process within a bureaucratic organisation, modern diplomacy both gives rise to specific decisions and sustains the reality of the state as the locus of legitimate power. The representatives of contested states therefore have strong reasons to set up more or less rudimentary bureaucracies for their diplomacy. I use the history of Kosovo's foreign policy institutions as a paradigmatic case to demonstrate how everyday bureaucratic practices fuse instrumental action and cultural performance and further theorise the interplay of ‘political’ and ‘technical’ conduct in contested state diplomacy.
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.
The Venezuelan participation in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2015 and 2016 was expected to be a challenge for the institution, as the Maduro government adopted controversial positions at the General Assembly (UNGA). However, Venezuela contestation line did not appear clearly at the UNSC. Drawing upon an in-depth qualitative study, Erving Goffman's work, and literature on contestation in international organisations (IOs), we interpret this apparent inconsistency from the concept of interaction order. We argue that the UNGA and the UNSC each constitutes a specific interaction order that influences the way contestation practices are channelled. The contestation practices Venezuelan representatives set up at the UNGA hardly work during the UNSC official sessions, where they adapt their practices to its interaction order. Venezuelan representatives also use informal and backstage actions to express their dissent, without avoiding being called into order. Venezuela's moderation at the UNSC results from an invisibilisation of contestation by interaction practices.
The question of change has emerged as one of the main conceptual and empirical challenges for International Relations' practice turn. In the context of international law, such a challenge is brought into particularly stark relief due to the significant development of legal meaning through more informal, interpretive avenues, including through the judgments of international courts. This paper develops a framework for theorizing how interpretive legal practices generate normative content change in international law. Specifically, it uses the example of the development of international criminal law through the decisions of international criminal courts to analyze how legal interpretation can lead to normative change in practice. Drawing on interviews conducted with judges and legal officers at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), I analyze how a community of legal practice centered around these courts was able to construct and alter legal meaning in international criminal law, and how such a potential for change was curbed by understandings of the interpretive process and the role of international courts dominant among international lawyers.
Based upon the current debate on international practices with its focus on taken-for-granted everyday practices, we examine how Security Council practices may affect member state action and collective decisions on intrastate conflicts. We outline a concept that integrates the structuring effect of practices and their emergence from interaction among reflective actors. It promises to overcome the unresolved tension between understanding practices as a social regularity and as a fluid entity. We analyse the constitutive mechanisms of two Council practices that affect collective decisions on intrastate conflicts and elucidate how even reflective Council members become enmeshed with the constraining implications of evolving practices and their normative implications. (1) Previous Council decisions create precedent pressure and give rise to a virtually uncontested permissive Council practice that defines the purview for intervention into such conflicts. (2) A ratcheting practice forces opponents to choose between accepting steadily reinforced Council action, as occurred regarding Sudan/Darfur, and outright blockade, as in the case of Syria. We conclude that practices constitute a source of influence that is not captured by the traditional perspectives on Council activities as the consequence of geopolitical interests or of externally evolving international norms like the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P).
The end of the Cold War led to intense debates about how change happens in international politics. In this article, we argue that practice theory has great potential for illuminating this question. Drawing on Vincent Pouliot’s empirical analysis of NATO-Russia relations after the end of the Cold War, we elaborate how change happens in and through practice. We show that post-Cold War security practices are inherently unstable, because there is a fundamental uncertainty about whether the Cold War is really over or whether the Cold War logic of bipolar confrontation still applies. Uncertainty about the meaning of the past destabilizes present practices and thus makes sudden and drastic change possible. To date, many contributions to the literature on international practices have, however, failed to grasp the inherent instability of practice. We argue that this failure is due to a particular conception of change that can be found in the works of Pierre Bourdieu. Through a close reading of Pouliot’s Bourdieusian analysis of post-Cold War politics, we demonstrate the limitations of such a perspective, notably that it is unable to grasp how change originates in practice.
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