Theorizing the political relevance of international relations theory

Jahn, Beate (2017) Theorizing the political relevance of international relations theory. International Studies Quarterly, 61 (1). pp. 64-77. ISSN 0020-8833

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Two broad positions—the “gap-bridgers” and the “gap-minders”—dominate the current debate on the (lack of) political relevance of International Relations (IR) theory. Missing from this debate, however, is a broader theoretical framework for contextualizing—and moving beyond—their disagreements. Hence, this article provides a theoretical account of the relationship between politics and knowledge. It shows that, in the modern context, scientific knowledge achieves political relevance by distancing itself—through theorizing—from the particularities of politics. This paradoxical relationship gives rise to three different dimensions of political relevance, which operate at different levels of abstraction. Metatheory plays a crucial role in constituting the modern conception of politics; theories establish concrete political spaces; and empirical studies can influence specific policies. Taking this context into account, moreover, calls for a reassessment of core features of the discipline: its supposed poverty, fragmentation, and immaturity are common features of all modern sciences; they function as a driver of scientific progress; and metatheoretical debates address the political dimension of the modern sciences. Hence, the source of IR’s political relevance lies in its theoretical foundations. Abandoning theory in favor of policy-oriented studies would simultaneously undermine the discipline’s policy relevance and its standing as a modern science.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Relations
Depositing User: Sharon Krummel
Date Deposited: 20 May 2016 06:41
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2019 10:45

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