Introduction: Baring our Internal Relations

By N.A.J. Taylor on 1st September 2017 — 3 mins read

We—as editors and contributors—each variously research and write in the margins of International Relations (IR). These liminal spaces take different form for each of us but all are committed to critical approaches to IR. Some are on the margins due to the increasing reliance on part- time teaching contracts and adjunct positions; some for approaching the discipline qualitatively rather than through the more favored quantitative approaches particularly in the self-nominated ‘home’ of IR, the United States; and one studies IR from another discipline completely. For all, we have contributed to an academic discipline where the objects and approaches of disciplinary study have changed over time (anarchy, norms, institutions, feminism, Marxism, affect, the postcolonial, etc.), but one constant is that the experience—or narrative—of the individual scholar remains invisible.i We study distant and sometimes metaphorical structures and foreign agents, and the social relations that count to be studied are those that exist among other humans. Thus, the international relations of a world ‘out there’ is routinely hyper-separated from the worlds we inhabit in highly- individuated ways, within wider collectivities.

In other words, missing from this international gaze is an acknowledgement of the field’s internal relations. This discipline is itself an institution, a set of practices, and is inhabited and created by people in relation to each other. It is, as Cynthia Weber writes, a site of cultural production based on mythmaking and ideology (Weber 2004). Of course, this must also mean that the conditions in which we live and work shape and define how we teach and write. This is acknowledged in the work of scholars from the Global South, as it is by queer, feminist, and critical race approaches. It matters where we are from and what bodies we inhabit. These experiences and subjectivities shape our research and our connection to the field of IR in both recognized and silent ways.

Further, the anger, fear, anxiety, and dislocation that are increasingly lived within the contemporary neoliberal academy, and the discipline of international relations, are—along with the solidarities, friendships, and loves—the very connective tissue upon which a scholarly field is built. In this way, an academic field is not only an abstraction, or even an episteme, but also a community. As a field, however, we are not yet in the habit of asking each other:

How are we doing?
What are our personal politics and ethics?
How do they relate to our behaviour in the discipline?

Considering these introductory ruminations, we offer this collection as auto-ethnographical or auto-biographical IR, wherein the contributors explore how we, as IR thinkers, understand ourselves within the discipline we each construct through our research, teaching, and service. Not only are we engaged in our object of study—for some, ‘the international’—we are also embedded within our discipline, our institutions, our families, our bodies and from these relationships make sense of, and speak of, our worlds. Put simply, the authors are constructing and sharing stories about what it is like inside IR: not as discipline with footnotes and literature reviews, but rather as the lived experience of the seven authors in this special issue. Of course, the views and experiences canvassed cannot encompass all of IR, nor would we desire to speak for all of those who make their home here. Rather, we hope that through this collection conversations may sprout and flourish about what the internal relations of IR might look and feel like. How could this baring of our internal relations nurture and support other people—now and in the future—who have committed their personal and professional lives and passions to it?

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Stefanie Fishel and N.A.J. Taylor with Jesse Crane-Seeber, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Isaac Kamola, Nicholas J. Rowland, and Delacey Tedesco, ‘Introduction: Baring our Internal Relations’, Borderlands, Vol.16 No.2, 2017, pp.1-8. [PDF]