The Ideas Debate in International Studies: Towards a Cartography and Critical Assessment
After a period of neglect, if not hostility, toward ideational explanations, it is now considered a truism that the study of ideas should be incorporated into political analysis. Indeed, contemporary international studies scholarship is awash with talk of “ideas”. However, and despite the fact that this rise in interest indicates a state of good theoretical health, so far studies of ideational variables add up to less than the sum of their parts. In effect, the burgeoning literature on the role of ideas lacks a solid, coherent theoretical underpinning and there is still an open discussion about just what sort of an approach an ideational approach is, which are its central assumptions, what kind of problems remain unresolved by scholars advocating this approach, and, whether it constitutes a distinct approach with a fully-fledged developed research programme. The present paper is located within the above questions and dilemmas, but its main purpose is to sketch out a cartography of ideational approaches and submit them to critical assessment. It does so out of a desire to make sense of the ideational movement and infer which of its many strands might prove more useful to political analysis (broadly conceived). In doing so my aim is threefold. First, I wish to challenge the overhasty and unfortunate tendency of lumping together the various actually ideational approaches as one alternative to the mainstream. The second aim is to go beyond the canonical rejection of the rationalist inspired reading of ideas on ontological grounds only. Third, my purpose is to raise a silence in the study of ideas by addressing the promise of the morphogenetic approach for the study of ideational variables.