IR theory and area studies: A plea for displaced knowledge about international politics

Kasia Kaczmarska*, Stefanie Ortmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article critically engages with the hierarchical binary between theory and area research in the study of international politics. We ask about the processes which construct and reaffirm the theory-area distinction in IR and show that the binary creates structural pressures and reinscribes hierarchies for individual scholars. We notice that IR’s Euro/West-centrism is directly linked to and perpetuated by the divide that privileges IR theorizing over empirical research both on and from places outside of the West. We show how this divide has been institutionalised with the effect of producing separate but intertwined academic fields of ‘IR’ and ‘Area Studies’. The hitherto voiced calls to overcome the divide have largely focused on the question of how to give more weight to knowledge produced about the ‘non-West’ in IR. This, we argue, overlooks the broader significance of the theory-area divide, which lays in the socio-instructional structures maintaining it and the concrete effects they have on researchers from the ‘peripheries’. This article, therefore, aims to examine the construction of Area Studies’ peripherality and rethink possible solutions. To better illustrate the intersection of epistemic politics and political economy of knowledge production, we highlight the experience of researchers from the Global East.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)820-847
JournalJournal of International Relations and Development
Issue number4
Early online date3 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Nov 2021


  • sociology of knowledge
  • Global East
  • area studies
  • international relations
  • IR theory
  • international studies


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