The Eternal Divide? History and International Relations

European Journal of International Relations

Author/s (editor/s):

George Lawson

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:

George Lawson, ‘The Eternal Divide? History and International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 18(2) 2012: 203-26.

On one level, history is used by all parts of the International Relations (IR) discipline. But lurking beneath the surface of IR’s approach to history lies a well-entrenched binary. Whereas mainstream positions use history as a means to fill in their theoretical frames (seeing history as a kind of ‘scripture’ of abstract lessons), many post-positivists reduce history to a pick-and-mix of contingent hiccups (a ‘butterfly’ of what-ifs and maybes). Interestingly enough, this binary is one reproduced throughout the social sciences. As such, there is a bigger story to the apparently ‘eternal divide’ between history and social science than first meets the eye. This article uses the various ways in which history is used — and abused — in IR to probe more deeply into the relationship between history and social science as a whole. This exploration reveals four frameworks, two drawn from history (context and narrative) and two drawn from social science (eventfulness and ideal-typification) which illustrate the necessary co-implication of the two enterprises. The article employs these tools as a means of re-imagining the relationship between history and social science (including IR), conceiving this as a single intellectual journey in which both are permanently in view.

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