Research project

A Conceptual History of International Relations (CHOIR)

2019 - 2023 (Ongoing)

The purpose of CHOIR is to investigate taken-for-granted concepts of international relations.

We start from the assumption that concepts such as “international”, diplomacy”, “foreign policy”, “war” and “peace” are not neutral and natural, but that they have emerged at specific times, for specific purposes and with specific connotations. The concepts through which we approach the world are not neutral analytical ones, but fundamentally political ones. Taking them for granted leads to misguided historical analyses, where the past is read in light of the present, and to misguided analyses of contemporary affairs, where the political world around us is naturalised.

The main goal of CHOIR is thus to write the first conceptual history of international relations. CHOIR starts from the assumption that the political vocabulary changed fundamentally between 1750 and 1850. This is the period when it became possible to think systematically about what we today refer to as “the international”. Additionally, this was a period where political hierarchies were established, and through the project, we will investigate if and how hierarchies of gender and civilisation were written into the basic concepts of international relations.

Another common assumption is that the central concepts of international relations have the same meaning across languages. We believe this to be wrong. CHOIR will thus also investigate how central concepts were translated to languages beyond English and French.

CHOIR will be conducted by an international team of closely cooperating researchers, covering different concepts and languages. Our sources will primarily be published texts, analysed first, to the extent possible, through quantitative content analysis to identify central concepts and when they emerged, and qualitative methods for studying content.

Funding program

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway's FRIPRO scheme,