What’s the point of being a discipline? Four disciplinary strategies and the future of International Relations

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While disciplinary identities are among the most fraught subjects in academia, much less attention has been given to what disciplinarity actually entails and what risks different disciplinary strategies involve. This article sets out a theory of disciplinarity that recognises not only their coercive but also their redeeming features, particularly in view of the coexistince of multiple competing disciplines and powerful transdisciplinary movements (such as rationalism). On this basis it identifies four disciplinary strategies and each is assessed in relation to the future of IR: (1) remaining a subdiscipline of Political Science (‘stay put’), (2) becoming an interdisciplinary field (‘reach out’), (3) dissolving into transdisciplinarity or abolishing IR (‘burn down’), or (4) establishing IR as a discipline in its own right (‘break out’). Rejecting the false choice of disciplinary constraint versus epistemic freedom, this framework allows IR and other subfields to more consciously consider a range of disciplinary strategies and to entertain the risks and affordances they each offer. The article concludes that a future independent discipline focused on the implications of ‘the international’ not just for politics but all fields – including disciplinarity – would make for a broader, more diverse IR, ultimately also better able to engage other disciplines.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCooperation and Conflict
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)290-310
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.

    Research areas

  • disciplines, epistemes, International Relations, multiplicity, politics, theory

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