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International practices

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2011

Emanuel Adler*
Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Vincent Pouliot*
Department of Political Science, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada


In this article, we approach world politics through the lens of its manifold practices, which we define as competent performances. Studying International Relations (IR) from the perspective of international practices promises three key advances. First, by focusing on practices in IR, we can understand both IR theory and international politics better or differently. World politics can be conceived as structured by practices, which give meaning to international action, make possible strategic interaction, and are reproduced, changed, and reinforced by international action and interaction. This focus helps broaden the ontology of world politics, serves as a focal point around which debates in IR theory can be structured, and can be used as a unit of analysis that transcends traditional understandings of ‘levels of analysis’. We illustrate what an international practice is by revisiting Thomas Schelling's seminal works on bargaining. Second, with the help of illustrations of deterrence and arms control during the Cold War and of post-Cold War practices such as cooperative security, we show how practices constitute strategic interaction and bargaining more generally. Finally, a practice perspective opens an exciting and innovative research agenda, which suggests new research questions and puzzles, and revisits central concepts of our discipline, including power, history, and strategy.

Original Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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