The notion of ‘reflexivity’ has been so intimately tied to the critique of positivism and empiricism in International Relations (IR) that the emergence of post-positivism has naturally produced the anticipation of a ‘reflexive turn’ in IR theory. Three decades after the launch of the post-positivist critique, however, reflexive IR has failed to impose itself as either a clear or serious contender to mainstream scholarship. Reasons for this failure include: the proliferation of different understandings of ‘reflexivity’ in IR theory that entail significantly different projects and concerns for IR scholarship; the equation of ‘reflexive theory’ with ‘critical’ and ‘emancipatory theory’ and the consequent confusion of ethical/normative issues with strictly epistemic/theoretical ones; and the refusal to consider reflexive IR as a ‘research programme’ concerned with empirical knowledge, not just meta-explanation. The development of reflexivity in IR theory as a sustainable cognitive and praxeological effort is nonetheless possible — and still needed. This article suggests what taking the ‘reflexive turn’ would really entail for IR.
- critical theory