Turning’ and ‘moving’ in fractal circles: how IR set out to tame reflexivity and ended up entrapped in meta-theory


Serval ID
Unpublished: a document having an author and title, but not formally published.
Turning’ and ‘moving’ in fractal circles: how IR set out to tame reflexivity and ended up entrapped in meta-theory
Walter Timo, Grzybowski Janis
in preparation for: Review of International Studies
For years, a series of ‘moves’ and ‘turns’ have proposed to help provide IR with a common ground on which a pluralist IR can be built. While they differ in the solutions they propose, they all converge on the problem they seek to resolve: they promise to help IR overcome its fragmentation into methodological, theoretical, and philosophical ‘camps’ or ‘silos’, by articulating a ‘common ground’ that can guide IR out of the quagmire of meta-theoretical arguments. And yet, each turn and move inevitably seems to rely on the same meta-theoretical building blocks for constructing the foundations of its new middle ground, thus inviting further contestation and perpetuating the cycle of meta-theoretical debate they set out to resolve.
We use this paradox as a starting point for a ‘diagnostics of the present’, using Abbott’s account of disciplines as passing through ‘fractal’ debate cycles to account for why IR continuously replicates the very meta-theoretical dichotomies it seeks to overcome. We argue that the turns and moves the discipline has undergone have normalized an initially highly contingent meta-theoretical language game and inscribed its grammar and vocabulary into disciplinary struggles and positionality. We substantiate the argument through a concise genealogy of the ontology/epistemology distinction back to early constructivists’ attempts to defuse the “reflexivity problem”, showing how subsequent moves have unfolded and become entrapped in this problematization. We discuss how calls for more pluralism and relevance in IR scholarship reproduce the very meta-theoretical distinctions that obstruct them, and how recent debates about critical inquiry in IR reveal the contradictory impulses built into IR’s meta-theory language game.
Create date
27/08/2023 14:18
Last modification date
28/08/2023 5:57
Usage data