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Epistemological Approaches to Order, Power and Governance


9-10 février 2018

  • Dr. Benjamin de Carvalho, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Oslo
  • Dr. Romain Felli, IEPHI/CRHIM, Université de Lausanne
  • Prof. Jean-Christophe Graz, IEPHI/CRHIM, Université de Lausanne
  • Prof. Oliver Kessler, University of Erfurt
  • Prof. Luis Lobo-Guerrero, University of Groningen
  • Dr. Elisa Lopez Lucia, Université Libre de Bruxelles


Studies in international relations have evolved through a limited number of paradigmatic debates questioning the knowledge likely to make them a recognised field of social sciences. Arguably, the last great paradigmatic debate opposing positivists to post-positivists more explicitly concerned the epistemological underpinnings of IR scholarship. It directly questioned how we claim to know what we know. This epistemological stance opened the space for a wide strand of non-positivist scholarship in international relations. While approaches sharing a non-positivist posture may vary on a number of significant issues, they are all driven by a view that as knowledge is not independent from the reality examined, a better understanding of the mechanisms on which social and political order are based supposes some reflexivity on the conditions of knowledge production, a critique of the contradictory forces likely to shape future changes and a view towards change geared by emancipatory prospects. All this, however, was instigated by debates that started more than 30 years ago. While the field of IR has not gone through such a large-scale paradigmatic debate since then, where are we now? Will IR scholars be stuck forever in a neopositivist/critical divide?

This thematic module on epistemological approaches to order, power and governance sets out to take stock of the various strands of epistemological advances that have taken place in non-positivist scholarship. Moreover, by providing a venue for training and dialogue with speakers coming from different non-positivist backgrounds, the module aims at clarifying what different perspectives might still hold in common in a field that gives the impression to be increasingly fragmented. Finally, the module is an opportunity to discuss how those different strands of non-positivist epistemologies can concretely respond to debates on methods and methodologies that have recently taken place in the field of IR, as well as higher standards set for methodological rigor in PhD training, research, and academic career development.


The programme of the workshop will alternate between interactive roundtables and PhD presentations in a series of break out sessions. Roundtables are conceived in a highly interactive instructional style to facilitate a real understanding of abstract epistemological issues. They will use introductory readings provided in advance, with all participants expected to have read them before the beginning of the module. Guest speakers/instructors will introduce the roundtables and the supporting readings for around 15 minutes, before opening the discussion to the floor to let students engaging in an open discussion. PhD break out sessions are designed to assist doctoral students to reflect in concrete terms on epistemological considerations during the course of their research. Doctoral students will be required to circulate to all participants the document to be discussed in advance of the module. Each session will begin with a short introduction by the PhD student (12 minutes). The instructor will then comment and introduce the discussion with the small group of other participants about how they engage particular modes of knowledge-production in their research design and the concrete problems encountered in the conduct of their enquiry.

The first day will provide an overview of epistemological debates addressing the production and validation of knowledge in international relations in recent years, with a distinct focus on the status of international relations as a social science and its ability to provide innovative knowledge on major issues such as world order, power, governance. The day will end with some time for more open-ended interactions, brainstorming and collective reading, before a wrap up discussion. The second day examines how different strands of non-positivist approaches can be used concretely with different methods of analysis in empirical research. It will alternate between interactive roundtables and PhD break out sessions, before a wrap up and concluding discussion.

This module is jointly organised with colleagues from Groningen, Lausanne, Oslo, Bruxelles, and Erfurt (GLOBE) with whom we created in 2017 a networked Ph.D. workshop.


Hôtel de La Sage, 1985 La Sage



Délai d'inscription 03.02.2018
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