This week I am attending the conference of the EISA which is the main association in International Relations (IR) in Europe. After the cancellation of last year’s edition, this year is taking place in a virtual format. The conference program documents the rich variety of current research in IR and particular the various strands of sociology driven forms of analysis. At the conference I am part of five panels.
The first panel is a discussion of the insights from our recently published book titled Concepts at Work, edited by Piki Ish-Shalom. The book makes a case for the importance of concepts as core material of international relations, and raises the need to focus academic inquiries on the entity of concepts. In my contribution to the panel, I revisit the core take away points from my chapter in the book which analyses the concept of ‘blue economy’.
In the chapter, I argue that we should investigate concepts in practice and pay particular attention to the situations in which concepts are used as tools for particular purposes. Blue economy is a remarkable concept since it has restructured the politics of ocean governance substantially and offers an opportunity to think the economic potential and the sustainability of ocean resources conjointly. Yet, there is quite some variety in how the concept is used. I explore how the EU, the small island state of Seychelles and the African Union develops the concept.
The second panel is a roundtable on ‘folk theory’. This follows up on an earlier discussion at the 2021 International Studies Association conference. Folk theory is a notion that invites us to reflect on the concept of theory and in how far the knowledge production of non-academic actors matters in world politics.
In my own commentary I stress that folk theory is an important concept that invites us to open up conventional understandings of ‘theory’ in IR. It is important not to restrict ‘theory’ to a sort of academic upper class of theorizers or to maintain a hierarchy between those doing theory, and those doing empirics. The notion of folk theory brings back agency: who actually theorizes? Addressing this question leads us to consider a broader set of actors that do theorizing. Yet, we shouldn’t extend the groups of theorizers without limitations, as otherwise we risk conflating the concept of ‘theory’ with ‘knowledge’. ‘Theory’ needs to be understood as a particular form of knowledge that has particular characteristics, such as the capacity to travel beyond contexts.
In addition, I am the chair of a panel on knowledge production, expertise, and epistemic practices, and discussant on a panel on spokespersons and on theorizing practice.