Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 July 2019
Normativity matters in international politics, but IR scholarship will benefit from de-reifying ‘norms’ as units into a relational, configurational alternative. The alternative I propose here is the ‘normative configuration’: an arrangement of ongoing, interacting practices establishing action-specific regulation, value-orientation, and avenues of contestation. This responds to recent constructivist scholarship, particularly from relational sociology and practice theory, that implies the need for ontological and analytical alternatives to ‘norms’ as central concepts responsible for establishing rules, institutions, and values in social life. I offer a way of conceptualizing and analyzing normativity consistent with these alternative approaches. Namely, I have brought together a pragmatist theory of action with the social theories of a number of key relational social theorists and philosophers, oriented around a reading of what norms-talk actually does for social enquiry. I then outline a three stage process – de-reification, attributing agency, and tracing transactions – that allows scholars to study transformations in normative configurations. Finally, I discuss what this contributes to the recent turns toward practices and relations, as the latest direction in constructivist scholarship within the discipline.