Knowledge Practice

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One key way of understanding knowledge practice, that is, the relationship between knowledge and practice, within International Relations has been to emphasise the idea of accumulating knowledge – about ourselves and about the world – through increasingly nuanced forms of practice: from measurement to observation and reflection. Here the world itself and our place in the world are understood as knowable (if somewhat incompletely) through key concepts such as state, nation, citizen, individual, humanity, sovereignty. What is explored and focused upon is on how ‘we’ – as individuals and groups of individuals – can live more harmoniously, more peacefully, more democratically in ‘the world’, which is made up of sub, national and supra-national communities.

However the idea of knowledge practice has also been linked to the way in which knowledge (of ourselves and the world) is a result of different practices of knowing the world and of being subjects in the world. In contrast to the former understanding, here the emphasis is no longer on how we – as pre-existing individuals, citizens, humans or states – act in the world and come to know the world. Instead knowledge practice from this latter perspective is understood as a process of acting politically: of developing different interpretations of the social order (the world) and our role (as subjects) in this through ideas such as ‘individuality’, ‘citizenship’, ‘statehood’, ‘humanity’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘Western’ and so on. This approach is subversive of state centricity because it eschews the idea that we must start from a centralised source of power in key concepts in order to inquire into politics but instead links ‘politics’ to debate, discussion, and rethinking itself (Edkins 1999). Such an approach emphasises the importance of recognising the value in disruption and what this brings to what we ‘know’ and where we presume ‘politics’ lies, as Shapiro discusses above. This approach has hugely influenced IR through broader feminist, post-modern and post-colonial studies, which have developed around interrogating dominant practices of ‘knowledge’. It is reinvigorated by the changing nature of the world as we ‘know’ it due to processes of globalisation and shifting practices of technology, governance, mobility, community and control (see Agnew, Brace, Muller, Peterson and Vaughan-Williams, this volume).

This chapter will explore what is involved in this latter understanding of knowledge practice. It will first discuss the nature of this understanding – which is based on refusing to start with key political concepts to explain the world and which instead seeks to unpack and investigate key political concepts themselves. The chapter then moves on to focus on three core approaches of this critical knowledge practice: the way it involves problematising, disorientating the ground on which we stand, and questioning a necessary way forward. As indicated by Foucault in the quote above, this critical approach involves a shift away from asking ‘how do we know that what we know is true? (the epistemological question of truth) and thus away from focusing on general ideas of truth. Instead it asks ‘how is our understanding of ourselves and of the world implicated in what is taken to be knowledge?’ This, as I will demonstrate, is to focus on the ongoing processes of how we come to know ‘the world’ and ‘ourselves’ through knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Imaginations in International Relations
EditorsAoileann Ní Mhurchú , Reiko Shindo
Place of PublicationAbingdon
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781315742168
ISBN (Print)978113882320
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2016

Publication series

NameInterventions Series


  • problematise
  • disorientate
  • social relations
  • process
  • political possibility


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