The history of international thought and international relations theory: From context to interpretation
Over the past two decades, historians of international thought have markedly improved our understanding of the disciplinary history of International Relations (IR) and its wider intellectual history. During that period, ‘contextualism’ has become a leading approach in the field, as it has been for half a century in the history of political thought. This article argues that while the application of contextualism in IR has improved our understanding of its disciplinary history, its assumptions about the proper relationship between historians and theorists threaten to marginalise the history of international thought within IR. It argues that unless the inherent weaknesses in contextualism are recognised, the progress made in the field will go unrecognised by a discipline that sees little reason to engage with its history. It suggests that historians of international thought adopt an extensively modified version of contextualism that would allow them to rebuild bridges back into IR, especially IR theory.