The Function of Myths in International Relations: Discipline and Identity

Book title: The SAGE Handbook of the History, Philosophy and Sociology of International Relations

Publisert: 14. aug. 2018

Myths, understood as forms of narrative, providing meaning and significance, are an inescapable part of the life of human collectives. Thus, myths are central to any academic discipline. They tell us who we are and what we should be concerned with, and provide blueprints for arguments about policy choices. However, they also constrain our thinking and limit our choices. Although mythic thinking might be inescapable, it is nevertheless necessary to critically engage the central myths of any discipline, to denaturalise what is taken for granted. In this chapter, we tackle three central sets of myths in IR. The first two form the backbone of the discipline; the ontological myth of 1648 and the epistemological myth of 1919. Together they tell the story of a discipline which is concerned with states in an anarchical system, which grew out of the desire to end war and which is steadily progressing towards a more realistic representation of the object of study. Our final set of myths are the praxeological ones, the myths where academic commonplaces shade into policy-prescriptions. We end by cautioning against reading all historical misrepresentation as myth-making, and against the belief that we can create a myth-free discipline.