Why Tell Stories – Or Rather, Why I Tell Stories

This post has been slowly taking shape in my head since last year’s ISA in Toronto.  A year late, I know, but maybe now it can act as some kind of refresher as we head into this year’s festivities.  (In fact, as I write these words with a cup of tea in front of me, I’m watching the last of the sunrise over Faubourg-Marigny.)

Last year, as there has been for a few years now, there was a roundtable that consisted of people telling stories – personal stories, political stories, literary stories. The room was packed, as it always is for the storytelling roundtable. People stood leaning against the walls, cross-legged on the floor, and sometimes two to a seat. The air was warm and still. The stories were touching, wryly acerbic, and occasionally silly. One storyteller, though, both caught and divided the audience’s attention. She told a powerful story of victimisation in multiple voices, drawn from our own ranks at the ISA, and laid bare the systemic problem of sexism and sexual harassment in the academy. It was the sort of story that had half the audience stunned into silence and the other half nodding in knowing agreement.

In the wake of that story, the discussion took on a life of its own, with a number of audience members calling for solidarity, empathy, and action. Others were shocked and claimed no knowledge that such a world existed under their very noses. Still others shrugged it off, saying that the story lacked an understanding of the complicity of its own narrator (or rather, its narrators) – that it was a kind of call, but one that should not be answered. Sitting in the audience, I said nothing, watched and listened as the tension in the room crested and abated.

Two years earlier, in a similar conference room in San Diego, I had told a story of my own. I hadn’t planned to tell that particular story – in fact, I’d decided months earlier to present a piece I had written for my doctoral thesis that had gotten a warm reception in other settings, which has since appeared here in another form. That was someone else’s story, from my fieldwork in Cuba. But, about two weeks before the start of the ISA, a story of my own came to me all at once and I wrote it in less than an hour. I brought both with me to the roundtable and sat them on the table in front of me, in case I lost the nerve to tell my own story, but somehow I managed it, shaking hands and all.

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The End Of IR Theory As We Know It…

A guest post on the state of International Relations from Felix Berenskoetter. Felix is Lecturer in International Relations at SOAS, University of London. He holds a PhD from the LSE and works on theories and concepts in IR; politics of space and time; critical approaches to European Security, and dynamics of friendship and estrangement in transatlantic relations. Felix has published articles in various journals, is a former editor of Millennium and co-editor of Power in World Politics (Routledge, 2007). He is also co-founder and current chair of the ISA Theory Section.


In case you missed it, recent ISA and BISA conferences saw panels contemplating whether ‘IR Theory’ has come to an end. This question, posed by the editors of EJIR, was discussed by a range of distinguished scholars whose answers ranged from ‘yes’ to ‘no’, in the process reflecting on the meaning of ‘theory’ and ‘end’. While state of the art exercises can be tiring, the contributions will be worth reading when they appear in an EJIR special issue later this year.

Yet I could not help wondering what the answers would have been had the panels featured not established professors, but junior scholars at the start of their career. Indeed, would it not be more adequate to have the latter group engage this question? After all, they tend to be the ones teaching introductory IR courses, which are expected to give an overview of theoretical arguments and debates. And they enter the profession with a significant research project under their belt (the PhD), which informs their first wave of publications and likely influences future projects that will shape the field. So what does that generation think of ‘IR Theory’? What theories and what kind of theorizing is prevalent in their teaching and writing? Continue reading