The Historical Turn and International Relations ‘Beyond Objectivism and Relativism’
Title: The Historical Turn and International Relations ‘Beyond Objectivism and Relativism’
Author: MCCOURT, David
Series/Report no.: EUI SPS; 2007/06
This paper assesses the recent calls for an ‘historical turn’ in International Relations (IR), and argues that they should be viewed in light of a more widespread movement in the social sciences and humanities ‘beyond objectivism and relativism’, to adopt the phrase of Richard Bernstein. Although not without features unique to IR, the clarion call to ‘re-historicise’ our theories and concepts has been sounded in response to wider concerns over the validity of knowledge claims about the ‘international’, given the impossibility of both truly objective knowledge and complete subjectivity. The ‘Cartesian anxiety’ felt in response to the continued dominance of positivist approaches in IR, then, has led to a number of ‘turns’ of which the historical is but one. But since neither complete objectivism nor true subjectivism are possible, the anxiety is a false one, and the paper thus proposes that what is at stake in the turn is the most appropriate manner in which a re-orientation toward the historical can aid IR in moving beyond objectivism and relativism. Focussing on the contributions of Vaughan-Williams, Isacoff and Kratochwil, it argues that an historical turn in mainstream IR is most likely to proceed along interpretative or pragmatist lines, with an emphasis on argument, reason and practical knowledge.
Subject: Historical turn; IR; Objectivism; Relativism; Cartesian anxiety; Bernstein
Type of Access: openAccess