Practice, Prudence and International Relations Theory: Bourdieu, Aristotle and the Classical Realists

Chris Brown


The “practice turn” in International Relations is a promising development which can be linked both to the Aristotelian notion of practical wisdom and the classical realist virtue of “prudence”. There are family resemblances here, here but also differences; for Aristotle and the realists, practical wisdom is associated more with the intellect, while the practice turn places great emphasis on the role of habitual behaviour. The practice turn offers an alternative to neopositivist conceptions of the conduct of social enquiry – but the classical realists could argue that they have already trodden this route in the past. Still, the implications of Aristotle’s comment that “prudent young people do not seem to be found” need to be confronted. Is “competent practice” something that can be achieved by study, or is it only achievable in the context of the kind of lived experience that some of the classical realists could claim, but which few modern students of International Relations can aspire to.

Keywords: Practice, Prudence, Realism, Bourdieu, Morgenthau

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