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Scientific article


Reflex to turn: the rise of turn-talk in International Relations



The field of International Relations (IR) is being spun around by a seemingly endless number of ‘turns’. Existing analyses of turning are few in number and predominantly concerned with the most prominent recent turns. By excavating the forgotten history of IR’s earliest turns from the 1980s and tracing the evolution of turn-talk over time, this article reveals a crucial yet overlooked internalist driver behind the phenomenon: the rise of reflexivity. Rather than emerging in the 21st century, turn-talk began at the end of the 1980s as a series of turns away from positivism and towards reflexivity. Cumulatively, this first wave of turns would denaturalise IR’s state-centric ontology while enshrining reflexivity as a canonical good among critical scholars. By the mid-1990s, however, these metatheoretical critiques of positivism had produced a substantial backlash. Charged with fostering an esoteric deconstructivism, a new generation of reflexivists set out to demonstrate the feasibility of post-positivist empirical research. As a result, IR’s turning also took on a different form from the 2000s: whereas the first wave of turns had mounted an epistemological and methodological attack against the positivist mainstream, the second wave set about bringing new ontological objects under the scrutiny of reflexivist scholars. This shift from anti-positivist to mostly intra-reflexivist turning was facilitated by the institutionalisation of critical IR as a major subfield of the discipline. It is the privileged position of reflexivity among critical IR scholars that is the condition of possibility for endless turning, accentuated by mounting pressures to demonstrate novelty in an increasingly competitive environment.


  • Historical IR