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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.

The first, desk-based phase of the project is now nearing completion and preparations are underway for the forthcoming fieldwork:

1. The community of IR scholars in the UK has been identified and a detailed directory was compiled. The directory identifies a range of institutional, sociological, and academic variables that are necessary to take into account for different aspects of the research and that are being mobilized as primary data for quantitative and statistical analysis as well as used to select appropriate samples for ethnographic analysis.

2. The history of British academic engagement with the public sphere was reviewed and important case-studies were identified that point to the existence of a specifically British context of public intellectualism that differs significantly from the American and French models. These cases provide insights into the way that public practices are perceived and performed by UK scholars, as well as how IR scholars of different socio-cultural backgrounds in the UK mobilize different models of public engagement either consciously or implicitly. These differences will be further analysed in the coming stages of the research.

3. A first survey of IR scholars in the UK was conducted and the target population included American IR scholars as well for comparative purposes. This survey focused on research and teaching practices and aimed to identify patterns and lines of fracture in theoretical orientations and scholarly practices based on a range of sociological and professional variables, such as background training. The preliminary analysis of the survey results indicates clear patterns that are specific to the British scene, but also points to intellectual and generational differences affecting epistemologies and teaching practices. The survey has also highlighted a profound disjunction between the textbook representation of the field in terms of theories and paradigms, and the way scholars actually conceive and embody theoretical traditions in their scholarly practices. These facts have confirmed the project's assumptions that a practice-based understanding of knowledge-production provides a more accurate picture of how general categories of academic thought become constituted and operate in practice.

4. A second survey was conducted that targeted all scholars of Politics and International Relations in the UK in order to determine patterns of thought and practice that were specific to IR scholars. This second survey targeted a broader range of sociological variables and social practices, and focused on scholars’ perceptions of the field, of the management of academic issues in the UK (such as the Research Excellence Framework), their ideological and political preferences and involvement in public affairs, and their conceptions and practices of public and political engagement. Analysis of this data is still on-going.

5. A literature review was conducted that focused on the major trends in British IR, complemented by a mapping of current teaching and research compiled through the aforementioned directory.

6. The conceptual and theoretical framework for the ethnographic analysis of knowledge-production has also been fully developed in preparation for the start of the fieldwork, which will include observation of research and teaching practices and interviews with scholars and students.

The research was interrupted from November 2013 to January 2015, due to the transfer of the grant from the University of Sheffield to Aberystwyth University. Due to teaching and administrative responsibilities at Aberystwyth University from January 2015 to August 2015, research during this period focused on data collection and preliminary analysis, knowledge-transfer to the host institution through the creation of two undergraduate courses and seminar presentations, and dissemination activities at a national and international level. The project has progressed significantly since August 2015, with significant outputs being delivered. The PI’s employment at Aberystwyth University has now also been confirmed as permanent, following a one-year probation period.

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United Kingdom


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