Situating Practice in Social Theory and International Relations

  • Christian Bueger
  • Frank Gadinger


This chapter provides an overview of what practice theory is and what we can do with it. Practice theory has been introduced across the social sciences and is quite heterogeneous; rather than being a theory in the conventional sense, it is an intellectual space (a trading zone) in which different scholars ‘trade’ ideas on how to study practices. We situate practice-theoretical thinking in the wider landscape of social theory and philosophy, and introduce a map that contrasts it with other social theories, such as rational choice, or discourse theory. Practice theory differs from cultural theories that foreground either the mind and beliefs or discourses and structures of meaning. This also provides us with a map for understanding how IPT relates to other theoretical developments in IR, such as constructivism. Finally, we argue that practice theory entails a number of commitments of how to think about and perform social science, and about the core characteristics of international politics. We summarise these commitments under the concepts of process, knowledge, learning, materiality, multiplicity, performativity and empiricity.


Trading zone Social theory Practice theory Cultural theory Constructivism 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Bueger
    • 1
  • Frank Gadinger
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Politics and International RelationsCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  2. 2.Centre for Global Cooperation ResearchUniversity of Duisburg-EssenDuisburgGermany

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