Skip to main content

International practices

  • Emanuel Adler (a1) and Vincent Pouliot (a2)

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.

Corresponding author
* E-mails:,
Hide All
Adler E. (1991), ‘Cognitive evolution: a dynamic approach for the study of international relations and their progress’, in E. Adler and B. Crawford (eds), Progress in Postwar International Relations, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 4388.
Adler E. (1992), ‘The emergence of cooperation: national epistemic communities and the international evolution of nuclear arms control’, International Organization 46(1): 101145.
Adler E. (1998), ‘Seeds of peaceful change: the OSCE's security community-building model’, in E. Adler and M. Barnett (eds), Security Communities, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 119160.
Adler E. (2002), ‘Constructivism in international relations’, in W. Carlsnaes, T. Risse and B. A. Simmons (eds), Handbook of International Relations, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 95118.
Adler E. (2005), Communitarian International Relations: The Epistemic Foundations of International Relations, New York: Routledge.
Adler E. (2008), ‘The spread of security communities: communities of practice, self-restraint, and NATO's post-Cold War evolution’, European Journal of International Relations 14(2): 195230.
Adler E. (2009), ‘Complex deterrence in the asymmetric warfare era’, in T.V. Paul, P.M. Morgan and J.J. Wirtz (eds), Complex Deterrence: Strategy in the Global Age, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp. 85108.
Adler E.Bernstein S. (2005), ‘Knowledge in power: the epistemic construction of global governance’, in M. Barnett and R. Duvall (eds), Power in Global Governance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 294318.
Adler E.Crawford B. (2006), ‘Normative power: The European practice of region-building and the case of the euro-Mediterranean partnership’, in E. Adler, F. Bicchi, B. Crawford and R.A. Del Sarto (eds), The Convergence of Civilizations: Constructing a Mediterranean Region, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 347.
Adler E.Greve P. (2009), ‘When security community meets balance of power: overlapping regional mechanisms of security governance’, Review of International Studies 39(special issue): 5984.
Adler E.Pouliot V. (forthcoming), International Practices, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Adler-Nissen R. (2008), ‘The diplomacy of opting out: a Bourdieudian approach to national integration strategies’, Journal of Common Market Studies 46(3): 663684.
Ashley R. (1987), ‘The geopolitics of geopolitical space: toward a critical social theory of international politics’, Alternatives 12(4): 403434.
Barnes B. (2001), ‘Practice as collective action’, in T.R. Schatzki, K. Knorr Cetina and E. von Savigny (eds), The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, New York: Routledge, pp. 1728.
Barnett M.N. (1998), Dialogues in Arab Politics: Negotiations in Regional Order, New York: Columbia University Press.
Bigo D. (1996), Polices en réseaux. L'expérience européenne, Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.
Blumer H. (1969), Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Bourdieu P. (1990), The Logic of Practice, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Bourdieu P. (2001 [1972]), Esquisse d'une théorie de la pratique, précédé de trios études d'ethnologie kabyle, Paris: Seuil.
Brown J.S.Duguid P. (2001), ‘Knowledge and organization: a social-practice perspective’, Organization Science 12(2): 198213.
Brunnée J.Toope S.J. (2010), Legitimacy and Legality in International Law: An Interactional Account, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Büger C.Gadinger F. (2007), ‘Reassembling and dissecting: International Relations practice from a science studies perspectives’, International Studies Perspective 8(1): 90110.
Butler J. (1990), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge.
Checkel J.T. (2005), ‘International institutions and socialization in Europe: introduction and framework’, International Organization 59(4): 801826.
Cook S.D.N.Brown J.S. (1999), ‘Bridging epistemologies: the generative dance between organizational knowledge and organizational knowing’, Organization Science 10(4): 381400.
Corradi G., Gherardi S.Verzelloni L. (2010), ‘Through the practice lens: where is the bandwagon of practice-based studies heading?’, Management Learning 41(3): 265283.
De Certeau M. (1990), L'invention du quotidien 1. Arts de faire, Paris: Gallimard.
Der Derian J. (1987), On Diplomacy: A Genealogy of Western Estrangement, Oxford: Blackwell.
Der Derian J.Shapiro M.J. (eds) (1989), International/Intertextual Relations: Postmodern Readings of World Politics, Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Doty R.L. (1996), Imperial Encounters: The Politics of Representation in North-South Relations, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Doty R.L. (1997), ‘Aporia: a critical exploration of the agent-structure debate in International Relations theory’, European Journal of International Relations 3(3): 365392.
Evangelista M. (1999), Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Fearon J.D. (1997), ‘Signaling foreign policy interests: tying hands versus sinking costs’, The Journal of Conflict Resolution 41(1): 6890.
Finnemore M.Sikkink K. (1998), ‘International norm dynamics and political change’, International Organization 52(4): 847917.
Foucault M. (1980), Power/knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, C. Gordon (ed.), New York: Pantheon.
Foucault M. (1990), The History of Sexuality: The Care of the Self, London: Penguin.
Foucault M. (1992), The History of Sexuality: The Use of Pleasure, London: Penguin.
Freedman L. (2004), Deterrence, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Friedrichs J.Kratochwil F. (2009), ‘On acting and knowing: how pragmatism can advance international relations research and methodology’, International Organization 63(4): 701731.
Gheciu A. (2005), NATO in the ‘New Europe’: The Politics of International Socialization after the Cold War, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Giddens A. (1984), The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Goffman E. (1959), The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, New York: Doubleday.
Goffman E. (1970), Strategic Interaction, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Goffman E. (1977), Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Goldstein J.Keohane R. (1993), Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions and Political Change, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Guzzini S. (2000), ‘A reconstruction of constructivism in international relations’, European Journal of International Relations 6(2): 147182.
Haas P.M.Haas E.B. (2002), ‘Pragmatic constructivism and the study of international institutions’, Millennium 31(3): 573601.
Habermas J. (1984), The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 1. (translated by T. McCarthy), Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Hansen L. (2006), Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War, New York: Rouledge.
Hellmann G. (2009), ‘Pragmatism and international relations’, International Studies Review 11(3): 638662.
Hopf T. (2010), Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Hopf T. (forthcoming), ‘The logic of Habit in International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations 16(4): 539561.
Huysmans J. (2002), ‘Shape-shifting NATO: humanitarian action and the Kosovo refugee crisis’, Review of International Studies 28(3): 599618.
Jackson P.T. (2006), Civilizing the Enemy: German Reconstruction and the Invention of the West, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Jackson P.T.Nexon D.H. (1999), ‘Relations before states: substance, process and the study of world politics’, European Journal of International Relations 5(3): 291332.
Jervis R. (1976), Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kaplan F. (1983), Wizards of Armageddon, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Katzenstein P.J. (2010), ‘A world of plural and pluralist civilizations: multiple actors, traditions, and practices’, in P.J. Katzenstein (ed.), Civilizations in World Politics: Plural and Pluralist Perspectives, New York: Routledge, pp. 140.
Katzenstein P.J.Sil R. (2008), ‘Eclectic theorizing in the study and practice of international relations’, in C. Reus-Smit and D. Snidal (eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 109130.
Keck M.E.Sikkink K. (1998), Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Koivisto M.Dunne T. (2010), ‘Crisis, what crisis? Liberal order building and world order conventions’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38(3): 615640.
Krasner S.D. (1993), ‘Westphalia and all that’, in R.O. Keohane and J. Goldstein (eds), Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 235264.
Kratochwil F.V. (1989), Rules, Norms, and Decisions: On the Conditions of Practical and Legal Reasoning in International Relations and Domestic Affairs, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kratochwil F.V. (2007), ‘Of false promises and good bets: a plea for a pragmatic approach to theory building’, Journal of International Relations and Development 10(1): 115.
Krebs R.R.Jackson P.T. (2007), ‘Twisting tongues and twisting arms: the power of political rhetoric’, European Journal of International Relations 13(1): 3566.
Krotz U. (2007), ‘Parapublic underpinnings of international relations: the Franco-German construction of Europeanization of a particular kind’, European Journal of International Relations 13(3): 385417.
Lake D.Powell R. (1999), Strategic Choice and International Relations, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Latour B. (2005), Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, New York: Oxford University Press.
Leander A. (2009), ‘Practices (re)producing order: understanding the role of business in global security governance’, in M. Ougaard and A. Leander (eds), Business and Global Governance, New York: Routledge, pp. 5777.
Legro J.W. (1996), ‘Culture and preferences in the international cooperation two-step’, American Political Science Review 90(1): 118137.
Liklider R.E. (1971), The Private Nuclear Strategists, Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
March J.G. (1981), ‘Footnotes to organizational change’, Administrative Science Quarterly 26: 563577.
Mead G.H. (1964), Selected Writings, A.J. Reck (ed.), Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Mérand F. (2008), European Defence Policy: Beyond the Nation State, New York: Oxford University Press.
Mitzen J. (2006), ‘Anchoring Europe's civilizing identity: habits, capabilities and ontological security’, Journal of European Public Policy 13(2): 270285.
Moravcsik A. (2003), ‘Theory synthesis in international relations: real not metaphysical’, International Studies Review 5(1): 131136.
Morgan P.M. (2003), Deterrence Now, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Neumann I.B. (2002), ‘Returning practice to the linguistic turn: the case of diplomacy’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies 31(3): 627651.
Neumann I.B., Pouliot V. (2011), ‘Untimely Russia: Hysteresis in Russian-Western relations over the past millennium’, Security Studies 20(1).
Onuf N.G. (1989), World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relations, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
Polanyi M. (1983), The Tacit Dimension, Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith.
Pouliot V. (2007), ‘ ‘Sobjectivism’: toward a constructivist methodology’, International Studies Quarterly 51(2): 359384.
Pouliot V. (2008), ‘The logic of practicality: a theory of practice of security communities’, International Organization 62(2): 257288.
Pouliot V. (2010a), International Security in Practice: The Politics of NATO–Russia Diplomacy, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Pouliot V. (2010b), ‘The materials of practice: nuclear warheads, rhetorical commonplaces and committee meetings in Russian-Atlantic relations’, Cooperation and Conflict 45(3): 294311.
Rasche A.Chia R. (2009), ‘Researching strategy practices: a genealogical social theory perspective’, Organization Studies 30(7): 713734.
Reckwitz A. (2002), ‘Toward a theory of social practices: a development in culturalist theorizing’, European Journal of Social Theory 5(2): 243263.
Reus-Smit C. (1999), The Moral Purpose of the State: Culture, Social Identity, and Institutional Rationality in International Relations, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Risse T. (2000), ‘ “Let's Argue!”: communicative action in world politics’, International Organization 54(1): 139.
Rorty R. (1982), Consequences of Pragmatism, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Ryle G. (1984), The Concept of Mind, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Schatzki T.R., Knorr Cetina K.von Savigny E. (eds) (2001), The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, New York: Routledge.
Schelling T.C. (1966), Arms and Influence, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Schelling T.C. (1978), Micromotives and Macrobehavior, New York: Norton.
Schelling T.C. (1980 [1960]), The Strategy of Conflict, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Seabrooke L.Tsingou E. (2009), ‘Power elites and everyday politics in international financial reform’, International Political Sociology 3(4): 457461.
Searle J.R. (1969), Speech Acts, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Searle J.R. (1995), The Construction of Social Reality, New York: Free Press.
Sewell W.H. (1992), ‘A theory of structure: duality, agency, and transformation’, American Journal of Sociology 98(1): 129.
Snidal D. (1985), ‘The game theory of international politics’, World Politics 38(1): 2557.
Snyder G.H.Diesing P. (1977), Conflict among Nations: Bargaining, Decision Making, and System Structure in International Crises, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Swidler A. (1986), ‘Culture in action: symbols and strategies’, American Sociological Review 51(2): 273286.
Swidler A. (2001), ‘What anchors cultural practices’, in T.R. Schatzki, K. Knorr Cetina and E. von Savigny (eds), The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, New York: Routledge, pp. 7492.
Taylor C. (1985), Human Agency and Language: Philosophical Papers 1, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tilly C. (2006), Why? What Happens When People Give Reasons… and Why, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Turner S. (1994), The Social Theory of Practices: Tradition, Tacit Knowledge, and Presuppositions, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Villumsen T. (forthcoming), The International Political Sociology of Security: Rethinking Theory and Practice, New York: Routledge.
Walker R.B.J. (1993), Inside/Outside: International Relations as Political Theory, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wendt A. (1999), Social Theory of International Politics, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger E. (1998), Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger E., McDermott R.Snyder W.M. (2002), A Guide to Making Knowledge: Cultivating Communities of Practice, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Wiener A. (2008), The Invisible Constitution of Politics: Contested Norms and International Encounters, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Williams M.C. (1991), ‘The future of strategy’, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CISS) Working Paper No. 3, York University.
Williams M.C. (2007), Culture and Security: Symbolic Power and the Politics of International Security, New York: Routledge.
Wittgenstein L. (1958), Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell.
Zürn M.Checkel J.T. (2005), ‘Getting socialized to build bridges: constructivism and rationalism, Europe and the Nation-State’, International Organization 59(4): 10451079.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Theory
  • ISSN: 1752-9719
  • EISSN: 1752-9727
  • URL: /core/journals/international-theory
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 27
Total number of PDF views: 1217 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 2874 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 14th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.