Canon as a link between fairy tales and textbooks
Understanding how textbooks construct IR, exploring the politics of textbooks with reference to ‘social science’ and what they exclude, requires taking their role in the canon seriously. This exploration presents two main challenges. First, textbooks are part of IR’s canon, and looking at what they reiterate or exclude means engaging with the politics of how textbooks construct canonical boundaries and being reflexive about the role my engagement plays in constructing IR. Second, in the IR canon ‘social science’ is a shape-shifter. Tracing its persistent presence means understanding its varied forms and legacies which do not always declare their ‘social science’ lineage. Arriving at any definition of ‘social science’ privileges some stories about it, and risks missing the subtle ways ‘social science’ defines the IR canon because some of its forms remain invisible as ‘natural’ features of some thing called IR. Tracing ‘social science’s’ persistent presence in textbooks means recognizing it and the mechanisms by which it becomes hidden in its familiarity. To do this without arriving at a singular definition of ‘social science’, I explore some popular stories in the IR canon and assemble ‘reminders’ for how ‘social science’ has both defined and been repeatedly re-defined in these stories. Stories about the birth, history and Great Debates are frequently told to introduce or evaluate IR. These stories have proven controversial, and this controversy has also become a popular canonical story used to (re)define and critique the canon. Understanding the canon means unpacking these familiar stories in terms of their power to delimit canonical boundaries and exercise exclusions. This power often goes unnoticed because familiarity has rendered these stories’ political, defining power invisible. Engaging with ‘social science’ in textbooks as canonical sites requires looking at the political process of negotiating canonical boundaries endemic to these stories. Surprisingly, IR’s canon and the fairy tale canon distinctly resemble each other. Both canons have been shaped by stories about their histories, marked by debates about definitions and challenges on the basis of what these definitions exclude. Folklorists have grappled extensively with how to study the canon, and the marginalizing effects of looking for the features in the canon we wish to challenge as ‘natural’. I begin by exploring some popular stories in IR’s history, looking at persistent features of those stories and assembling ‘reminders’ for various legacies of ‘social science’. I then explore similar stories in folklore and
the literature surrounding the folklore canon. Similarities between the two canons allow me to draw insight into canon investigations from folklore to develop a working understanding of the IR canon and how ‘social science’ has played a role in negotiating its boundaries. In both cases, the renegotiation of reiterated (hi)stories shape canonical boundaries. The resemblances between the two canons offer insights into how to approach IR textbooks as a part of a constantly changing canon without reinforcing canonical boundaries negotiated by these stories. I end with existing studies of undergraduate textbooks, which offer insight into the need to develop a new approach to textbooks based on folkloric work.