International Practice Approach: New Book to Shape the Contours of the Debate

Drieschova, Alena, Bueger, Christian and Hopf, Ted (eds.) (2022). Conceptualizing International Practices: Directions for the Practice Turn in International Relations, Cambridge University Press.

This book brings together key scholars in international practice discourse to demonstrate its strengths as an innovative research perspective. The contributions show the benefit of practice theories in the study of phenomena in international security, international political economy, and international organisation by directing attention to concrete and observable everyday practices that shape international outcomes. The chapters exemplify the crossovers and relations to other theoretical approaches and thereby establish practice theories as a distinct IR perspective. Each chapter investigates a key concept that plays an important role in international relations theory, such as power, norms, knowledge, change, or cognition. Taken together, the authors make a strong case that practice theories permit asking new questions, direct attention to uncommon empirical material, and reach different conclusions about international relations phenomena. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in recent international relations theory and the actual practices of doing global politics.

In their introduction, the editors offer a contextualization of practice theories in IR through a historical discussion that highlights the foundations of practice theoretical thought, its connections to, and shared assumptions with preceding IR scholarship, as well as the ways in which it fundamentally differs. Through this narrative, they aim at responding to some allegations and misunderstandings within the discipline that the practice talk is plainly a reinvigoration of old ideas, that there is little new about practice approaches, or that they present us with a new version of constructivism. The editors make an effort to shape the contours of the debate. Arguing against pitching discrete practice approaches against each other, they draw attention to a number of fault lines that run through the practice debate.

In his contribution to the volume, Frank Gadinger, Research Group Leader at the Centre and one of the proponents of the practice theory approach in IR, deals with the normativity of practice, which in his view 'remains a major research challenge in practice turn scholarship'. It is promising in his view to apply a practice turn perspective to 'processes, practices, and actions in world politics through which norms are negotiated, contested, and embedded'. While conversation has already produced fruitful results and practice theory's spectrum of concepts and methodological tools are an asset for future research, a major gap persists in that 'practice-oriented scholars (following Wittgenstein) do not ontologically distinguish practices from norms and attribute theoretical and methodological primacy to practice'.

This volume marks the latest contribution to a discussion which figures prominently in the Centre's research, not least because practice theory research values an interdisciplinary toolbox of methods, thereby opening up new perspectives at the intersection of disciplines such as IR, social science, economics, or literature studies, to name only a few.

To get an understanding of 'the temporality of choices' but also of ubiquitous 'judgements' in public and private spaces, engagement with the real world is required; in their concluding remarks the editors seem to say that this critical ability should not be delegated (outsourced) to algorithms or merely testing theoretical propositions. Insight can be 'acquired only by acting within the social world’, or, as Hume put it, is acquired by ‘commerce and conversation’ rather than by observation from an ideal standpoint'.

Further reading:

Christian Bueger, Frank Gadinger (2018). International Practice Theory, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd edition,

Conceptualizing International Practices is edited by Alena Drieschova, University of Cambridge, an Alumni Fellow of the Centre, Christian Bueger, University of Copenhagen, and Ted Hopf, National University of Singapore.