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Discipline Admonished: On fragmentation in International Relations and the disciplinary politics of stocktaking

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The International Relations discipline has recently witnessed a wave of stocktakings and they surprisingly often follow the narrative that the discipline once revolved around all-encompassing great debates, which, either neatly or claustrophobically depending on the stocktaker, organized the discipline. Today, most stocktakers argue, International Relations has moved beyond great debate — the very symbol of the discipline — and is undergoing fragmentation. For some scholars, fragmentation is caused by the lack of any great structuring debate and a proliferation of less-than-great theories. To others, fragmentation is a result of the divisive great debates themselves. When stocktakers portray fragmentation as novelty, however, they neglect the prominent historical record of this fragmentation narrative. By rereading stocktaking exercises from the 1940s to today, this article argues that the stocktaking genre — past and present — is conducive to seeing the past as more simple, coherent and ordered while the present is marked by fragmentation and cacophony. Neat summaries of the academic scene in one’s own time are quite rare. Few stocktakers ever identified one conversation/debate driving the discipline, not during the first, second, third or fourth debates — and those who did disagreed on what the main trenches and its warriors were. The article concludes by arguing that International Relations’ recurrent anxieties about its fragmentation beg questions, not about whether it is real this time, but about the disciplinary politics of this stocktaking narrative. Stocktaking exercises are never only objective descriptions of a current state of disarray; they are political moves in the discipline. Dissatisfied scholars employ this narrative to lead the discipline in certain directions, often quite idiosyncratic ones that reflect and serve their own position in International Relations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Volume22
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)243-267
Number of pages25
ISSN1354-0661
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - End of International Relations, fragmentation narrative, great debates, International Relations discipline, sociology og International relations, stocktaking

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