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Fear no more: emotions and world politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 February 2008

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Abstract

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Although emotions play a significant role in world politics they have so far received surprisingly little attention by International Relations scholars. Numerous authors have emphasised this shortcoming for several years now, but strangely there are still only very few systematic inquiries into emotions and even fewer related discussions on method. The article explains this gap by the fact that much of International Relations scholarship is conducted in the social sciences. Such inquiries can assess emotions up to a certain point, as illustrated by empirical studies on psychology and foreign policy and constructivist engagements with identity and community. But conventional social science methods cannot understand all aspects of phenomena as ephemeral as those of emotions. Doing so would involve conceptualising the influence of emotions even when and where it is not immediately apparent. The ensuing challenges are daunting, but at least some of them could be met by supplementing social scientific methods with modes of inquiry emanating from the humanities. By drawing on feminist and other interpretive approaches we advance three propositions that would facilitate such cross-disciplinary inquiries. (1) The need to accept that research can be insightful and valid even if it engages unobservable phenomena, and even if the results of such inquiries can neither be measured nor validated empirically; (2) The importance of examining processes of representation, such as visual depictions of emotions and the manner in which they shape political perceptions and dynamics; (3) A willingness to consider alternative forms of insight, most notably those stemming from aesthetics sources, which, we argue, are particularly suited to capturing emotions. Taken together, these propositions highlight the need for a sustained global communication across different fields of knowledge.

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Research Article
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Copyright © British International Studies Association 2008
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