At Work with Practice Theory, ‘Failed’ Fieldwork, or How to See International Politics in An Empty Chair

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IR practice theorists advocate studying international relations through its manifold practices. On the question of methodology, they thus promote a simple slogan: start with practices! But how do we first capture an international practice? Surprisingly, this crucial question often remains abstract or hidden in methodological metaphors like ‘leaving the armchair’. Reflecting on a supposedly failed fieldwork experiment, I introduce two heuristics in this article on how to make this hidden work transparent. In particular, I argue that capturing practice happens through abductive movements between site, scrap, screen, and seminar work that is similarly enabled and constrained by practical, epistemic, professional, and political positionalities. Using this vocabulary will advance IR practice research in three ways: first, pedagogically, in transferring a more accurate impression of what the approach entails; second, normatively, in accounting for where our arguments come from; and third, epistemically, to avoid only seeing what we were looking for.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMillennium: Journal of International Studies
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)149-173
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2021

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