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Towards a political concept of reversibility in international relations: Bridging political philosophy and policy studies

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Hartmut Behr



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Sage, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


While contingency and negation are relatively well-established notions in the theoretical analysis of international relations, their practical implications remain under-conceptualised. In order to discuss the question of how to act under conditions of contingency and negation, this paper, in a first step, triangulates both with Aristotelian noesis. Such triangulation suggests that consequences of political action cannot be predicted and have always inadvertent consequences due to the contingent and historically and intellectually negated and refutable (even self-refutable) character of politics. It therefore appears as irresponsible to enact policies with interminable consequences. Rather, responsible political action – which is responsible precisely as, and only if, it accounts for contingency and negation – must hence act only in such a way that its consequences are reversible. In a second step, policy theory is critically reviewed in light of reversibility and its underlying philosophical principles, trying to bridge political philosophy and policy studies for a mutually enriched analysis of politics. Such a bridging exercise can not only bring enhanced normative reflection into policy studies, but in reverse hints at the crucial aspect of the non-linear unfolding of action consequences which is, next to questions for a future research agenda, discussed in the concluding section. These discussions are understood as a twofold, yet interlinked contribution: first, to develop a concept of reversibility as practical response to the philosophical notions of contingency and negation; and second, to bridge two different paradigms, encouraging the synergy of scholarly expertise for the management of contemporary international and global problems.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Behr H

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: European Journal of International Relations

Year: 2019

Volume: 25

Issue: 4

Pages: 1212-1235

Print publication date: 01/12/2019

Online publication date: 28/03/2019

Acceptance date: 05/02/2019

Date deposited: 15/02/2019

ISSN (print): 1354-0661

ISSN (electronic): 1460-3713

Publisher: Sage


DOI: 10.1177/1354066119836469


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