Recent Publication: International Practice Theory - New Perspectives

Through this innovative approach, practice theorists seek to overcome conventional IR ‘level of analysis’ dichotomies such as agency and structure, micro and macro, and the ideational and the material. This is because they are considered an unnecessary barrier to understanding how an ever-changing, fluid world is shaped through practices. Consequently, in a move to not over-intellectualize the political world, international practice theory is about engaging with others’ practices in political life. It’s about observing practice, talking about practices, participating in practices, and reflecting on practices.

In their book, Christian Bueger and Frank Gadinger, Head of Research Unit 4, introduce and elaborate on the genesis and perspectives of International Practice Theory and its possible implications for International Relations. They do so by introducing several concepts such as Pierre Bourdieu's praxeology, the community of practice approach by Etienne Wenger, narrative approaches, Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory and Luc Boltanski's pragmatic sociology in order to examine core questions of transformation, scale, normativity, contingency and materiality. Bueger and Gadinger understand International Practice Theory as a heterogeneous, trans-disciplinary ‘trading zone’; that is, an intellectual space in which different scholars ‘trade’ ideas on how to study practices, and cooperate to further develop the project.

A shared understanding of the value of studying practice has productive implications, especially under circumstances of disagreements between disciplines or theoretical schools. This is because  their research approaches and epistemic interests are compatible, thereby helping to overcome paradigmatic boundaries in International Relations through inter-paradigmatic conversations. Some shared commitments among practice oriented approaches include an emphasis on process, practical knowledge, collectivity, materiality, multiplicity and performativity. Most strikingly, theories of practice submit that knowledge of human interaction is situated in practices. Thus, analysis of the political world lies in everyday life, routines and established (re-)productive orders. The examination of situations is hence much more important than focusing on the actors themselves.

International Practice Theory emphasizes different ‘notions of practice’ rather than one unified practical approach. The tensions between practice-focused methodologies are often philosophical ones, and are seldom solvable. Instead, the differences between theory and empiricism in practice approaches are often negligible. This acts as an opportunity and possible starting point for empirical research. To bring this dynamic under one concrete umbrella, the authors conceptualize and explain ‘praxiography’ and its practical techniques as a research methodology inspired by International Practice Theory. Bueger and Gadinger furthermore propose a guideline on how to design, write and implement a praxiography in the research process. This includes, among other things, an explanation of which methodologies and techniques best correspond to the aforementioned approaches as well as their respective advantages and disadvantages in, for example, participant observation, interviews or text analysis.  The book concludes with a critical reflection on the tensions and different, potential outcomes in the future of International Practice Theory in International Relations.

Bueger, Christian / Gadinger, Frank (2014): International Practice Theory: New Perspectives, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Available online at Palgrave Macmillan as Hardcover and Ebook.

Please feel free to browse through the book online at Google Books.