chapter  3
21 Pages

A folklorist approach

Looking at contemporary textbooks as a part of the canon requires an approach that takes the persistent presence and changing definitions of ‘social science’ in IR into account. This approach must also take its own role in the canon seriously and make visible the politics of textbooks, even that which has been rendered invisible in its familiarity, such as assumptions about ‘social science’. Folkloric work is uniquely placed to inform the development of my approach because critical engagements with the folklore canon demonstrate how the study of canonical texts has an effect on defining canonical boundaries. Folklorists have grappled with how to engage the canon as a negotiated space and identified how persistent features of the canon may form invisible, delimiting standards that are difficult to challenge. My approach draws on these insights to look at how IR textbooks reproduce and contest stories about IR. Grouping textbook narratives without relying on self-validating criteria is a significant challenge to developing an approach. In folklore, Warner (1994) uses family resemblances, although she gives little explanation of them. Pin-Fat’s 2009 work on universality, ethics and international relations also uses family resemblances to form loose groupings. Through these two authors’ work, I demonstrate how stories in textbooks can be grouped without self-validating criteria. This allows me to outline the folklorist approach used throughout the book. The significance of fairy tales is twofold. First, fairy tales are made up of reiterated stories that are often about rules, behaviour, what the world is made of, and how we come to know the world. Second, fairy tales have a unique relationship to authors that meets some of the challenges raised in Chapter 2 about how to study the role of textbook authors. My approach uses scene-setting and problem/ choice structures to make visible where and how reiterated stories about IR’s ‘rules’ establish the role of ‘social science’ in defining the ‘permissible’ terrain of IR. Next, I look at how a combination of ‘making strange’ and a sense of inevitability create stories in which ‘forbidden’ questions about ‘the rules’ are confronted. These two structures are how I will group Donkeyskin and Bluebeard stories.1 These stories are introduced below with reference to ‘social science’ and the ten assumptions introduced in Chapter 2.2 Reading for these structures makes up the first part of the approach and allows me to engage with particular themes within the context in which they appear.