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A SOCIOLOGY OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS SCHOLARS AND SCHOLARSHIP IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

Final Report Summary - SOCIOLOGY OF UK IR (A SOCIOLOGY OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS SCHOLARS AND SCHOLARSHIP IN THE UNITED KINGDOM)

SOCIOLOGY OF UK IR is an in-depth sociological investigation of the production of knowledge in the field of International Relations (IR) in the United Kingdom. Its main objective is to understand how social, institutional and individual factors affect the production of IR scholarship and IR teaching in the country, as well as the dispositions, perceptions, and practices of IR scholars and their students. The project draws on the sociology of knowledge and science and constitutes a direct contribution to the growing subfield of the sociology of IR, and to science studies more generally. It also has wider implications for the development of the theory of knowledge and reflexive epistemology.

Research has been conducted along three complementary axes:

1. The compilation and analysis of empirical data about the institutional and pedagogical characteristics of the field of IR in the UK, and the profile and academic practices of its community. This included the collection and organisation of existing primary material available in public databases or through secondary sources, as well as the generation of new primary material through survey questionnaires.

The community of IR scholars in the UK was identified and a detailed directory was compiled. Two survey questionnaires were created and circulated to IR scholars, the first one including IR scholars in the USA for comparative purposes. The second survey was aimed at all scholars of Politics and International Relations in the UK, and targeted a range of sociological variables and social practices, focusing especially on scholars’ perceptions of the field, of the management of academic issues in the UK, their ideological and political preferences and involvement in public affairs, and their conceptions and practices of public and political engagement.

2. A historical survey of the development of the field of IR in the UK in relation to the development of UK higher education and the broader domain of the social sciences and humanities, in other to identify structural factors pertaining to the broader institutional and intellectual culture.

The history of British academic engagement with the public sphere was reviewed, pointing to the existence of a specifically British context and understanding of public intellectualism that differs significantly from the American and French models. The political context in which the research was carried out also provided unexpected opportunities to explore this particular point further. While the survey questionnaires had been carried out before the British referendum on membership in the EU, the post-referendum debates (after June 2016), as well as related conversations about ‘globalism’, the UK’s place in the world, and British colonial history, offered a wide array of public interventions by IR scholars that reflected a rich spectrum of public engagement practices, and provided further insights into these practices and their underlying values and conceptions of the ‘scholarly vocation’ in the case of IR. This aspect will require further analysis, especially in terms of its implications for modes of knowledge-production and -validation in the field.

3. A dual epistemological reflection on the social determinants of the constitution of knowledge about world politics, and on the extent to which such determinants are registered in the field’s self-representations and pedagogically oriented discourses and practices. This has led to a more in-depth inquiry into empirically grounded alternatives to the philosophy of science approach adopted in IR scholarship, and specifically into praxis-based and hermeneutically informed alternatives to epistemology as a theory of knowledge. The full meta-theoretical argument is currently being pursued beyond the contours of this project, as it has general implications beyond the field of IR.