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Theory across time: the privileging of time-less theory in international relations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 August 2015

Christopher McIntosh*
Bard College Political Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, USA


How does the understanding of time and temporality in international relations (IR) shape the study of international politics? IR is centrally concerned with the study of issues such as armed conflict, but wars are events – a series of occurrences that only come into being through their relationship across time. The concept of time at work in the understanding of this event thus plays an inextricable role in the scholarship produced. IR shares an understanding of time that pervades (traditional) social science and is based on the Western notion of clock-time. This conception of time encourages a spatiotemporal model of the past that epistemologically privileges temporal understandings that value generalizable, time-invariant theory and discount temporal fluidity and context. These temporal commitments operate at a deep level, informing and shaping theory construction in important ways and de-emphasizing alternative approaches that may more accurately reflect the contingency of international events, discontinuities in political practice, and the radical shifts in international structures, which are often most in need of scholarly analysis. This article concludes that by treating temporality as a stand-alone issue, IR can better model and predict international political practices.

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© Cambridge University Press 2015 

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