chapter  7
9 Pages

Conclusion

In many ways it was predictable that the textbooks would largely fall into two camps of canon and counter-canon, particularly given my decision to focus on ‘social science’. Many disciplinary stories currently reinforce this dichotomy, and attempts to widen disciplinary boundaries continue to struggle with the long-standing dominance of the so-called ‘mainstream’. However, the textbooks telling Donkeyskin stories also demonstrate that there has been a move to incorporate ‘acceptable’ voices from the margins, to include challenges to the ‘mainstream’ which can continue to function as supplements, or afterthoughts. This not only continues to keep the borders of IR intact, but it also serves to homogenize critiques. Although my focus on some of the most popular critiques of the mainstream goes some way to continuing this problem, I hope that the approach I have developed can be remade in different contexts and with different voices and stories in mind. There was far more fluidity between framing gestures and the kinds of stories textbooks tell (especially in edited volumes) than is readily apparent in the analyses I have included in this book. I have focused on examples that were easy to share, and some of the negotiation of canonical boundaries and the features that demonstrate that canon and counter-canon are co-constitutive have been lost. I chose to focus on the way textbooks continue this account of IR because I thought it was important to see how an idea of a discrete canon and countercanon persists in textbooks, even given the extensive literature that calls into question the claims of ‘mainstream’ stories to be mainstream. In this sense, I have reproduced a distinction between canon and counter-canon that still privileges some textbooks as the mainstream and others as the margins. I have also privileged those questioning assumptions relating to historic attempts to create IR as a ‘social science’ over other kinds of assumption. While this allowed me to more fully demonstrate the different kinds of stories textbooks tell with reference to ‘social science’, it also had the effect of collapsing some of the nuances and negotiations between these textbooks and ignoring many other kinds of assumption. I expect that efforts to engage with the IR canon as a negotiated space that avoids these distinctions will be incremental. Nonetheless, my engagement begins to highlight how the narratives in textbooks can invite stories that treat the canon and their place in it as a constant negotiation. My sense is that identifying how these stories both renegotiate and invite use and abuse will allow us to think more broadly about how textbooks tell stories, rather than focusing solely on the ‘mainstream’ and some of its narrowly conceived challenges. I think that this has serious implications for teaching and the production of scholars. My reading UK and North Amer ican textbooks as fairy tales also showed me how our ‘well-worn’ stories about IR reproduce particular theoretical predilections. My anecdotal teaching experience suggests these predilections hold sway with students. Sometimes, asking students to question stories in textbooks has me accused of indoctrination. Some students argue any encouragement to (re)negotiate ‘the real canon’ is a self-serving project on my part, an attempt to lure them to the margins. Perhaps it is, although as I discuss above, I think

canons, introducing and defining are more complicated than this. My students often do not conceive of IR as something that is constantly being (re)negotiated or that (re)negotiation is part of what it means to ‘do’ IR without considerable work to get them to think this way. This reinforces my belief that we must find ways to teach IR as a negotiated space and make the case to our students that renegotiation is part of ‘the real canon’. Selection of course materials is integral to this and being able to ‘see’ what kinds of stories textbooks tell and how they invite or curtail (re)negotiation is an important step. Extensive disciplinary stories about ‘social science’ reveal the persistence of the remit to define IR as a ‘social science’ and the significant ways in which this remit has curtailed how it is ‘permissible’ to define IR. These narratives have been particularly persistent in stories about the birth, history and evolution of IR and the persistence of these stories in UK and North Amer ican textbooks, even beyond that in the wider canon, may say something about the politics of introducing. The tendency to recount consistently reiterated stories may appeal because of a lingering sense that these stories are value-neutral or apolitical ‘historical’ or ‘accurate’ accounts of IR. The popularity of these stories may act as a shortcut for the messy conversations about the politics of defining and representing that seem too esoteric for an introduction. However, the folklorist work on canons I explored in Chapter 3 reveals that this approach allows selfvalidating criteria to stand at the boundaries of what counts without allowing these boundaries to be (re)negotiated. Reading textbooks alongside Donkeyskin in Chapter 4 revealed how much ‘the problem’ of interstate war dominates the criteria for ‘good’ theories – even while only pages before a text claims IR is about more than interstate war. Many of the textbooks telling Donkeyskin stories are not trying to shut down negotiation. They use terms like ‘international’, ‘global’ and ‘world’ politics in place of ‘IR’ to suggest this, and are obviously trying to offer a ‘choice’. To see how constraining this story is requires making it strange. Thinking about how focusing on a ‘choice’ may distract us from assumptions about a ‘problem’ and ‘rules’ allows us to see how these stories construct a narrowly defined IR. The relative frequency with which I identified Donkeyskin narratives suggests there should be more discussion of the politics of introducing. These textbooks foreclose possibilities for (re)negotiating the discipline, and severely limit the story of what it means to do IR, excluding even well-established conversations in the wider canon. Focusing on a narrow conception of ‘the permissible’ forbids many existing conversations and forbids the possibility of new conversations about what it means to do IR and who may contribute. Reading textbooks alongside Bluebeard in Chapter 5 reveals it is possible to confront ‘forbidden’ assumptions, and to invite renegotiation of messier stories. However, these stories were relatively exceptional. With the exception of Weber’s textbook, the texts telling Bluebeard stories do not offer grounding in the ‘mainstream’ canon, instead taking in their stride the contested and constantly changing space of the canon. This undoubtedly makes them more difficult to align with existing course descriptions that rely on well-worn ways of

teaching IR. It will not be enough to write more Bluebeard-style textbooks without reflecting more extensively on the context in which textbooks are used, nor will this be sufficient without more attempts to treat the canon as a negotiated space. Furthermore, the trend to tell Bluebeard stories in different ways must continue. We must question different assumptions with our stories and this questioning will have to take different forms. The invisible ‘rules’ will continue to be renegotiated and Bluebeard stories must remain flexible to accommodate this. Nonetheless, understanding how Bluebeard stories invite readers to confront ‘the forbidden’ is an important step, and the Shepherd and Edkins, and Zehfuss volumes show it is possible to introduce IR without relying on reiterating and then contesting ‘mainstream’ stories, while Weber shows how ‘the forbidden’ can be confronted even while recounting these ‘mainstream’ stories. Bluebeard stories show that it is possible to introduce IR without creating a canon and a counter-canon that privileges the ‘mainstream’ or the ‘marginalized’. Framing gestures are one way to reflect on the politics of negotiating canonical boundaries and making them negotiable. The constraints on how we tell IR stories and who may tell them are more obvious when looking at framing gestures. Chapter 6 revealed another way to ‘see’ how rules about writing textbooks and doing IR are reproduced. Curation gestures were often accompanied by claims to represent the theoretical diversity of the discipline whilst simultaneously writing about that diversity in a way that distinctly privileged some theories. The troubling standards reiterated by curation gestures extend beyond textbooks. The frequency with which I found curation gestures was surprising. Often these gestures were subtle and took the guise of ‘normal’ conventions of academic writing. We need a far more robust discussion about how the conventions of ‘good’ academic writing are subtly policing canonical boundaries with little opportunity for renegotiation. Conversely, creation gestures allow us to consider how to make texts available for renegotiation. Rather than merely reflecting on the quality or diversity of sources in a bibliography, they invite reflection on the implied citations that shape our narratives and invite response and (re)negotiation of ‘the rules’. These gestures thus show us another step in treating the canon as a negotiated space as we are able to see how efforts to curate have rendered those boundaries less flexible in some texts. The folklorist approach shows how we can think through the processes of production in textbooks, and how these processes of production contribute to long-standing marginalizing practices in IR that are hard for us to see because we are so used to, even bored by them. The folklorist approach has demonstrated how narratives about ‘the permissible’ negotiate the discipline via invisible assumptions about what it means to ‘do’ IR, many of which result from the persistent aspiration to define IR as a ‘social science’. When combined with gestures that designate the textbook’s author as a curator, the task of ‘doing IR’ and thus the ability to tell stories about IR, is reserved for professionals who know the lingo, stick to accepted subject matter, use select and narrowly conceived approaches, and solve ‘the problem’ that ‘permissible’ narratives assume forms

the boundaries of IR. Confronting ‘the forbidden’ has a powerful impact on questioning some of these assumptions and reflecting on the assumptions endemic to stories in general. Bluebeard stories make it incumbent on readers to consider the politics of defining, of deciding and of doing IR. When combined with framing gestures that suggest reflecting on our storytelling practices, embracing multiple narratives and reflecting on the politics of doing IR, narratives that confront ‘the forbidden’ provide much-needed avenues for (re)negotiating the discipline’s stories and boundaries. It was only via the folklorist approach that I was able to ‘see’ any of these things. Several of the textbooks I expected to break ‘the rules’ because of their claims in titles and prefaces to be ‘critical’ actually told stories that resembled Donkeyskin and used extensive curation gestures. I do not think these authors and editors were making false claims. Instead, I think it is incredibly difficult to see these ‘rules’ and how they constrain which stories are accepted in ‘the canon’. The persistence of a nebulous set of rules and assumptions about ‘social science’ has had an incredible impact on IR – to the extent that many of our attempts to question the assumption that the discipline should aspire to be a ‘social science’ have been frustrated by the response that the only way to identify a quality research programme is to play by the very rules and their incumbent assumptions which we would like to contest. This tendency has manifested strongly in North Amer ican and UK textbooks. The development of my folklorist approach was spurred by my hunch that it is not enough to merely ask questions about what is in textbooks, or who writes them, but that we must also ask questions about what it means to write a textbook and how they are written. The task of introducing the discipline is not one of apolitical representation, but a task that involves deciding which stories to tell and what those stories will represent, producing the rules of legitimate scholarship and identifying the most important questions. That only a few of these textbooks openly reflect on these topics contributes to the continued invisibility of this political process. The power to (re)negotiate canonical rules through the subjunctivizing feature of fairy tales translates well to textbooks, particularly if we want to begin to consider textbooks part of the political construction of the discipline and the producers of the next generation of scholars. However, there is another set of stories to investigate. To presume that UK and North Amer ican textbooks could or should tell the story of IR is problematic. This book is not about determining the state of textbooks or reviewing textbooks, nor should it be taken as an indicator of the state of the discipline. For one thing, the scope of textbooks engaged is too narrow for such a claim. Instead, this book is about showing how some North Amer ican and UK textbooks tell stories about IR which perpetuate assumptions about the discipline, narrowly defining what it means to do IR. However, this thing I call ‘the discipline’, the ideas and practices I have attempted to trouble as defining IR, and the genre of ‘textbooks’, all require us to suspend our interest in more diverse possibilities. I have carefully defined the ‘permissible’ in terms of a narrow set of textbooks because it enabled me to address ‘the problem’ of how invisible

some of their marginalizing practices had become in their familiarity. I have also concentrated on a narrow idea of ‘the discipline’. However, this should enable us to look more widely at what these textbooks ‘forbid’ – in terms of theories, approaches, questions, and what constitutes a textbook, the discipline, a learning material or an academic contribution. At a recent conference I was asked about the ‘best’ textbooks, sparking a conversation about how the few I might recommend are often reserved for second year courses because they do not adhere to (someone’s?) idea of an introductory survey textbook. Although outside the purview of this book, the use of textbooks is part of this negotiation and some instructors are clearly aware of this. I have heard from instructors experimenting with abandoning textbooks, drawing on fiction, art, popular culture artefacts and their students’ own experiences to teach IR.1 Some instructors ask introductory level students to read journal articles and policy documents and the global prevalence of UK and North Amer ican textbooks is significant. At the heart of this is a politics of determining what counts as the ‘real’ canon, and I think that folkloric work on canons has much to offer these conversations. I see this book as laying a foundation for another way of making other voices hearable. Alongside engaging with voices from the margins (which is important), the discipline must actively reproduce narratives that make ‘hearing’ and negotiating part of what it means to do IR. This means taking framing gestures in textbooks and other texts seriously and being reflexive about how claims about what it means to tell a story about IR foreclose the possibility of hearing other kinds of stories. This means making space for stories that raise different problems, propose different choices and follow different rules about story structures, what constitutes legitimate scholarship and how we make ‘the rules’. At its core, this project has been about identifying how epistemic violence is (re)produced in UK and North Amer ican textbooks, but the approach I have taken can be more broadly applied. Specifically, the framing in academic articles is often at odds with invitations for (re)writing and debate. The discipline must reflect more widely on the stories which have become almost invisible and yet have such power to curtail other voices, and forbid other narratives.