Actor-networking the ‘failed state’ — an enquiry into the life of concepts

  • Christian Bueger
  • Felix Bethke


Concepts such as the ‘failed state’ are jointly produced by academics and political actors and hence connect academia and global politics. Little attention has been spent to study such concepts and the practices that create them and sustain their relevance. We develop an innovative framework for studying concepts. Relying on actor-network theory, we suggest studying concepts as effects of relations between different actors building an actor-network. We introduce actor-network theory and demonstrate its value for international relations (IR) research. Our empirical case study of the concept of failed states combines bibliometric analysis and qualitative text analysis. We show how various actors have brought the concept of failed states to life; analyse how actors transformed because of their participation; and investigate the persistent struggles to define and homogenise the concept. In summary, this is an article about the life of the failed state, the discipline of IR and its relations to other actors, and an introduction of the actor-network theory toolbox to the sociology of IR.


actor-network theory bibliometry concept formation epistemic communities failed state practice theory 



A previous version of this article was presented at the 51st Annual Convention of the International Studies Association. For helpful comments and suggestions on previous versions, we are especially grateful to Frank Gadinger, David McCourt, Patrick Jackson, Ole Waever and the participants in a research seminar at the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF), as well as the anonymous reviewers of JIRD.

Supplementary material

41268_2014_BFjird201230_MOESM1_ESM.doc (106 kb)
Online Appendix


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Bueger
    • 1
  • Felix Bethke
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  2. 2.Institute for Politics and Communication Science, University of GreifswaldGreifswaldGermany

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