Many regional academic communities in International Relations find themselves as passive recipients of ideas and theories developed elsewhere. Shedding off the role of simple ‘ideas-taker’ and becoming an autonomous voice in International Relations, academic communities need to develop the conditions for independent theorising. This paper deals with the potential intellectual and institutional obstacles to autonomous theory formation. A first section argues that the primary obstacle lies within Western IR itself, namely the particularly damaging tradition which denies the very need for more theoretical reflection, at best some day-to-day adaptation of a truth we already know. This position comes in two often combined forms, stating either that IR knowledge is all in historical experience, not fancy theory, or that such theory has been developed long time ago and cannot be superseded (for the unchanging character of world politics). Only if the unfoundedness of this position is shown, can we really tackle the issue of proper IR theorising: ‘which theory?’ My second claim is that the peculiar confusion of IR theory with foreign policy paradigms (often wrapped into the infamous realism-idealism divide), and a topical approach to IR theorising are further obstacles to the understanding of the role and significance of IR theory. I argue that it neglects the constitutive function of theories and hence the value of a theoretical enterprise that assesses assumptions at the theoretical and meta-theoretical level, as well as a conceptual analysis which is self-reflective to the context, regional and historical, within which such concepts have been evolving. Finally, I address the institutional obstacles IR theorising can encounter. Those, or so I will argue, are at least of three kinds. Some obstacles have to do with the intellectual legitimacy of theoretical research in IR within the national academic division of labour, where IR is often relegated to an inferior position, its theory being handled by the ‘real’ subject-matters. Then, IR theorising, as all research, needs a certain material autonomy. Yet, since the type of theorising I stress in this paper is usually connected to basic research, a claim with little legitimacy in the social sciences, the obstacles are far higher. Finally, the way the field of expertise is organised in a country can contribute to undermine the social legitimacy of the theoretical expert which is looking long-term and might not come to sound-bite ready conclusions. And yet, as I will show in the conclusion, for moving out of the periphery, independent theorising is crucial.
Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies , 2007. , 37 p.