International Theory (2020)
In the past two decades, calls for International Relations (IR) to ‘turn’ have multiplied. Having reflected on Philosophy's own linguistic turn in the 1980s and 1990s, IR appears today in the midst of taking – almost simultaneously – a range of different turns, from the aesthetic to the affective, from the historical to the practice, from the new material to the queer. This paper seeks to make sense of this puzzling development. Building on Bourdieu's sociology of science, we argue that although the turns ostensibly bring about (or resuscitate) ambitious philosophical, ontological, and epistemological questions to challenge what is deemed to constitute the ‘mainstream’ of IR, their impact is more likely to be felt at the ‘margins’ of the discipline. From this perspective, claiming a turn constitutes a position-enhancing move for scholars seeking to accumulate social capital, understood as scientific authority, and become ‘established heretics’ within the intellectual subfield of critical IR. We therefore expect the proliferation of turns to reshape more substantively what it means to do critical IR, rather than turning the whole discipline on its head.