Jonathan Luke Austin is Lead Researcher for the Violence Prevention (VIPRE) Initiative, Geneva and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) of the Graduate Institute, Geneva. Austin’s research is situated at the intersections of international political sociology, social theory, security studies, and political theory. In particular, his research has involved the ethnographic interviewing of Syrian perpetrators of torture, as well as members of islamist ‘terrorist’ organisations, and focuses broadly on political violence (prevention), social theory, and the role of aesthetics, literature and art in world politics. Austin is also on the executive committee of the Science, Technology, and Art in International Relations (STAIR) of the International Studies Association and on the editorial team of Contexto Internacional: Journal of Global Connections at PUC-Rio. His research has been published in European Journal of International Relations, International Political Sociology, Security Dialogue, and elsewhere.

The Poverty of Style in IR

As one of the new Ducks, I will from now on be posting diversely on a range of topics including political violence, the status of critique in IR, and professional issues that will be of particular interest to early career scholars and PhD students. For my first post, however, I want to write about the style of writing IR and/or Political Science. This is something that has troubled me for some time now and on which – I think – I depart slightly from the mainstream view of things.

To begin, let me quote the author’s ‘style’ guidelines for the ISA journal International Studies Quarterly:

  • Favor short, declarative sentences. If it is possible to break up a sentence into constituent clauses, then you most likely should do so.
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon. Define, either explicitly or contextually, necessary jargon.
  • Favor active voice, the simple past and present, and action verbs.

Favoring ‘clarity’ and ‘accessibility,’ the guidelines go onto state that “it is unreasonable to require readers and reviewers to read many pages into a manuscript before encountering its basic claims. It is unrealistic to expect that readers and reviewers are skilled in Kabbalah and therefore able to decode esoteric writing.”

These basic words of guidance are common across journals in IR and in the advice we give to our students, the reviews we write of articles, and the words we ourselves attempt to write. We seek to be clear. To the point. To report what we want to say and nothing more. This is the dominant ‘style’ of IR today.

I want to argue that the too-rigid enforcement of this Anglo-Saxon writing style creates problems for IR and – in fact – impoverishes its diversity, enjoyment, and ultimately its relevance to the world in several ways.

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