Beyond the gap: relevance, fields of practice and the securitizing consequences of (democratic peace) research

  • Christian Büger
  • Trine Villumsen


International Relations (IR) has cultivated the idea of a gap between the theory and the practice/praxis of IR. This division into two different spheres of knowledge is related to the predominant objectivist conception of science in IR, where the scientist is said to be observing reality from a distance without affecting it. Poststructuralists have denied that this distinction is meaningful and have even argued that it is dangerous to be oblivious to the structuring effects science may have on the social world. This article sets out to avoid further cultivation of the so-called gap between theory and practice, and instead addresses the question of how the theories of IR relate empirically to the practices of world politics. We suggest a theoretical and empirical alternative based on practice theoretical thought. We argue that researchers' theories and policymakers practice ‘hang together’ and require analytical attention. In order to give empirical flesh to the theoretical discussions and to demonstrate the difference a practice theory approach makes, we discuss the example of the democratic peace thesis. We lay out how US peace researchers, the Clinton government and NATO participated in weaving a ‘web of democratic peace practice’ and stabilizing the thesis as a ‘fact’. We argue that ‘ivory tower scientists’, US foreign policymakers, and NATO politicians and bureaucrats hang together in this web and use each other as a resource. As a consequence, the academically certified version of the democratic peace led to a securitization of democracy. We conclude that one way to cope with the complexity of science–politics interactions is to foster reflexive empirical work on researchers' own practices.


democratic peace NATO policy relevance practice theory theory and practice US Foreign Policy 



For helpful comments and critiques, we thank Jens Bartelson, Anna Geis, Friedrich Kratochwil, Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, Pascal Vennesson, Laura Zanotti, and the editors and anonymous reviewers at JIRD.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Büger
    • 1
  • Trine Villumsen
    • 2
  1. 1.European University Institute, Badia FiesolanaSan Domenico di FiesoleItaly
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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