The road (not) taken? : How the indexicality of practice could make or break the ‘New Constructivism’

Walter, Timo GND

The ‘turn to practice’ has become a methodological keystone for the project of a ‘New’ Constructivism within IR. This project aims to use the observable level of everyday, practical activities as a prism for making empirically tractable the processes of world-making which constitute international order. In making the logic of practice the starting point for substantive theorizing, this New Constructivism seeks to provide a methodological platform for more empirically grounded, analytically open conceptions of international order. More ‘experience-near’ modes of inquiry would thus allow us to come to terms with the increasingly heterogeneous and unruly nature of the International, and help avert further fissuring of an already divided discipline. While sharing the view that more experience-near modes of inquiry promise much in this regard, this paper argues that the New Constructivism is in danger of going down a methodological blind alley that severely undermines its ability to achieve its objectives. It shows that the one-sided, meta-theoretically motivated emphasis on the (alleged) direct observability of practice orders in their natural contexts severely stunts our ability to make their logic explicit in concrete empirical analyses. To highlight these dangers, the paper provides a close analysis of the methodological implications of the indexicality of meaning (its dependence on ‘socially organized occasions of its use’). It closely examines how recent applied practice-theoretical work in IR is handicapped by a deeply engrained misconception of indexicality. This shows that we need to accept reflexivity as a necessary ingredient for interpretation, and thus for making explicit the practical logics that constitute the International.



Walter, Timo: The road (not) taken?. How the indexicality of practice could make or break the ‘New Constructivism’. 2018.


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