The Play of International Practice

The practice turn has, after many fits and starts, arrived in International Relations (IR) theory. (Pouliot 2008; Adler and Pouliot 2011b; Acuto and Curtis 2013; Adler-Nissen 2013b; Bueger and Gadinger 2014). But current work fails to adequately elaborate on the promise of the practice turn. It supplies partial—and sometimes unclear—answers to what distinguishes international practice theories from alternative frameworks, such as rationalism and mainstream constructivism. For example, Adler and Pouliot (2011a:28) suggest not only that practice approaches constitute a new paradigm for the study of IR, but that practice theory provides a “big tent” capable of accommodating all of the wide range of ontological and epistemological stances found in the field.

We argue, in contrast, that the practice turn entails a distinctive way of studying the world. Since they take practices as the core unit of analysis, practice approaches provide a different understanding of the international. Thereby, they move away from models of action that focus on the calculation of interests or the evaluation of norms. At the same time, practice theories adopt many of the same assumptions and sensibilities that IR scholars elsewhere describe as “cultural” (Lapid and Kratochwil 1996), “critical” (Ashley 1987), “cognitive” (Adler 1991), or “constructivist” (Guzzini 2000). In seeing “practices” as the stuff that drives the world and makes it “hang together,” the everyday practices of diplomats, terrorists, environmentalists, or financial analysts become the object of investigation. Focusing on them allows us to better understand dynamics of order and change. ...

This article is the subject of an ISQ Online's symposium.

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