Abstract This article explores the recent expansion of narrative approaches in international relations (IR) and the conceptual and political possibilities it brings about. Instead of suggesting a set of criteria through which we should evaluate narrative texts, we investigate what they are already doing in IR scholarship. We show that the space which narrative writing delineates through the encounter between text and reader/reading potentiates critique and engages complexity in ways that are often not available in other forms of IR scholarship. Concretely, we examine themes around openness, contradiction, ambiguity, fracture, surprise, and the ungovernable aspects of social and scholarly life. The discipline of IR has experienced significant diversification in recent years. Scholarship in postcolonial and feminist theory, LGBTQ studies, intersectionality, performance theory and aesthetics, visual culture, critical war studies, and methods has resulted in considerable intellectual pluralism, creating what Christine Sylvester (2013, 609) has called “a field of differences.” Since roughly 2010, the field has also witnessed the expansion of scholarship that is either narrative in form (including what is varyingly termed “autobiography” or “autoethnography”),1 or that engages in debate around the usefulness of narrative approaches.2 Our purpose in this article is to suggest some ways we might think about engaging and critiquing narrative from within its own logics. We proceed from the assumption that narrative IR is already a legitimate field of scholarly inquiry. For this reason, we do not defend the approach here but rather seek to highlight some of the ways we might undertake critical analysis of narrative texts. What do narrative approaches offer to the discipline? What can happen intellectually when we subject these texts to internal examination and critique rather than merely dismissing or idealizing them? We wish to examine the possibilities that narrative methods introduce in IR and the political sciences more generally. In so doing, we theorize the act of reading as an integral part of the intellectual space that narrative engages and enables. We show how this form of writing invites the author to exit what we call the academic fortress and to inhabit scholarship in a more vulnerable fashion. It also invites the reader to enter the text in a dialogic way. We show that narrative writing deploys the interconnectedness of experience and puts the multilayeredness of life back into science, demonstrating that this view does not require the reification of narrative as a more “authentic” expression of “real” life. Additionally, through the analysis of specific examples, we show that narrative scholarship can acknowledge contradiction and ambiguity—key features of our sociopolitical lives—in a particularly powerful manner, including illuminating some of the brokenness of academia as well its embeddedness within power and social relations. Finally, we will show that some narratives proceed in ways that demonstrate the writer's loss of control over her script about reality, highlighting the ungovernable and the uncodifiable and welcoming surprise and “failure” as theoretically and analytically valuable. In short, rather than arguing that narrative texts offer a more inherently transparent form of scholarship, we suggest that these texts facilitate an encounter between writing and reading that enhances de-reification by demonstrating the partiality of knowledge and the fractures that are inherent in our societies, in our subjectivities, and, by extension, in our scholarship. Walls Down: Unmaking the Academic Fortress The development of narrative in IR owes much to the loosening of what could be considered “proper” scholarship in the field toward the end of the 1980s and the move toward reflexivism that followed. Broadly conceived, reflexive approaches were characterized by a shared suspicion of the “taken for granted” features of international politics (Lake 2013, 570). Importantly, they did not claim to have “complete” knowledge of their subject matter (Jackson 2011, 159). These reflexivist approaches broached two central sets of questions—the first around what constituted appropriate empirical analysis and the second around the proper use of method. Here, the challenges to the hegemonic “stories” that the discipline was busy telling about itself offered a different set of frameworks through which to consider both methods and subject matter (see, for example, Campbell 1992; Peterson 1992; Walker 1992; Doty 1996). Poststructuralists in particular were concerned with how academic and political subjectivities were constructed and with what consequences.3 Today, we see a proliferation of approaches and schools of thought, as well as scholarly and semischolarly outlets, including samizdat online journals and weblogs.4 The “fortress IR” of the 1980s has perhaps given way to what Sylvester (2013, 610) calls “camp” IR—a discipline dotted with subfields and debates that are often self-referential and that can “push out or sideline topics, writings, scholars, and journals that do not fit particularistic codas.” Lake (2012, 570–71) similarly notes that the great debates of IR (if there ever were any) have given way to “the fracturing of the field into multiple, overlapping identity groups, each seeking to bolster and affirm its own theoretical ‘turf’ against not only the mainstream of the discipline but against each other as well.” Of course, not all camps are created equal. There is still considerable advantage for young scholars working in traditionally positivist and quantitative approaches with respect to competition for scarce jobs, while journal rankings and impact factors are major considerations for all but the most senior and/or secure academics.5 This leads us to the observation that, despite the loosening of the boundaries around acceptable intellectual content over the last decades, the form of scholarly writing in IR still favors “fortress writing,” which we understand as a form of writing that portrays the researcher and the research as invulnerable, inoculating the inquiry against anticipated challenges and preempting critique.6 This form of writing, itself a product of power relations, hides how power and hierarchies within academia work to shape our scholarship. Naumes (2015) argues that this fortress or, as she puts it, “sterile” scholarship, erases the political conditions of knowledge production. It also conceals the inescapable partiality of the social scientist's point of view, making a plain notion of objectivity or veracity seem plausible. This is not a fortress that prohibits or circumscribes the specific terms of inquiry—indeed, fortresses may be erected by critical thinkers of all stripes—rather, it is a fortress because its goal is to authorize the writing scholar as the receptacle or medium of all meaningful knowledge. Insofar as anxiety, fear of judgment, and hierarchy remain essential features of our professional lives, fortress writing (regardless of which “camps” it proceeds from) presents and defends the “right” way to understand events through the elimination or minimization of chaos and confusion; it anticipates and guards against critique or “failure” and hides the risks and mistakes that Richa Nagar (2016) identifies as the key features of our scholarly journeys. That our scholarship takes on the defensive voice of authority is not a particularly new observation in IR (see Der Derian 1995), but it is particularly important when considering what different kinds of writing can offer the field. We propose that the fortress voice with its objectivity, detachment, obsession with efficiency and productivity, and fear of failure is full of anxiety. The hierarchies of knowledge may privilege in their containers one or the other approach for a time, but the existence of privileged containers has not left us, despite the proliferation of plural forms of scholarship and the sometimes heroic attempts within the academy to decolonize or democratize “knowledge.” Although there are notable exceptions, we generally find the same structures replicated in our scholarly outlets ad infinitum: the presentation of a defined problem, the development of linear argumentation for the exegesis of claims, and the anticipation and preemption of potential critique. Add to this what Daniel Nexon (2012) calls the professionalization of graduate school—the “template” strategy for getting a job, the “publishing and hiring environment in which methodological deviance is a liability,” and the pressure from senior administrators to shorten time-to-completion—and there is, perhaps ironically given its intellectual expansion, a significant risk of “intellectual closure” in IR. It is with this landscape in mind that we turn to consider what narrative approaches to IR can offer the field. Specifically, we are interested in the extent to which narrative forms invite a kind of response that is different from the traditional form of “debate.” We understand narratives as invitations to engage in scholarship, where the aim is not to prove us right and debunk other positions but to open the scholarly terrain to different sorts of questions that are not dependent on solidifying and defending a “position.” This does not dispense with the need for debate, but it can transform debate by showing the inherent partiality of all scholarly claims. To be sure, there is a risk in much of this work, and we do not advocate the resurrection of a kind of unassailable standpoint epistemology. Indeed, in her critique of poststructuralism and “postfeminism,” Mohanty (2013, 971) warns that “[i]f all experience is merely individual, and the social is always collapsed into the personal, feminist critique and radical theory appear irrelevant.” The same risk applies to narrative IR—that the subject appears divorced from the social relations that inform experience.7 But this risk is not unique to narrative writing in IR. For example, it appears over and over again in critiques of poststructural “navel gazing.” It is precisely because narrative texts articulate partiality and incompleteness that we suggest narrative asks for a reply of a different kind—one that is relational and dialogic rather than oppositional. Véronique Pin-Fat (2016, 33), writing about the autobiographical narrative, makes this request explicitly: Perhaps, that is what autobiography is; stories of selves that have been and gone in relationship to loved ones, in relationship to a landscape, in relationship to national borders, in relationship to people who want to interrogate your belongingness and so on? …When I walk and my self has dissolved into relations with the landscape, it serves to remind me of the extent to which force is required to hold in place other selves as though they had more solidity and presence than the breeze on the hills. I know full well that walking in the [UK's] Peak District is not the same as standing at a national border being refused entry to claim asylum. The relational practices of encounter are altogether different and with it the selves that are generated and called forth to reply. Pin-Fat draws attention to relationality, to the fragmentation of the self through our relations with others—with our scholarship, with our research subjects, and with one another. Critically, we are constituted through these connections or, as Adriana Cavarero (2000, 57) puts it, in relation.8 For Cavarero, the narrative relation is one that seeks a communion around “who”—rather than “what”—one is. This is a move that anticipates and relies on reciprocity and on the generosity of interlocutors to interpret our lives. A measure of trust is necessary here—the dissolution, as Pin-Fat puts it—of our “selves.” To be sure, our research practices produce a “self” (Shepherd 2016) that can take the form of a reactionary “we” formation9 or that can attempt to go beyond the fortresses we normally inhabit. As Annick Wibben (2011, 2) reminds us, “[n]arratives, as such, are sites of the exercise of power; through narratives, we not only investigate but also invent an order for the world.” We therefore do not equate subjectivity or embodiment with unmediated truth, but we do understand the expression of subjectivity and embodiment in narrative forms to be invitations to respond from different and plural perspectives. The threads of a story do not require a particular interpretation in order to circulate with meaning or, critically, to invite other meanings. Narratives show (rather than merely argue for) the intersubjective nature of experience and interpretation, what Richa Nagar (2016) calls “power sharing.” The author cannot control the meaning of a narrative once the reader encounters it. This leaves a breathing space for the response Pin-Fat is requesting. She demonstrates that “I” writing is never fully about the “I.” Others are lurking throughout our texts and it is attention to those others that is of the deepest analytical significance for us. Through her exploration of her relationships with others, Pin-Fat shows that knowledge is relational and “attached” to the world (insofar as it is part of the world). But, Pin-Fat also sheds light on how we relate in different ways to the political economy of knowledge and its power structures. Some people hike in the Peak District. Others are stranded at border crossings. While this is a facile observation, it reminds us of the ways in which human lives are captured, mobilized, and immobilized in the global political architectures of power that govern our movement. We are all “relations” but very unequal ones. In our view, Pin-Fat's text does not invite the displacement or replacement of academic knowledge with narrative but only shows how the development of “who we are” is shaped in specifically social and political ways—experiences which construct our subjectivities and impact our scholarship, as well as our orientation toward others. Rather than making an “argument,” Pin-Fat shows precisely how this works for her. For Cavarero (2000, 59), what emerges in the narrative is the shared, contextual, and relational (59). To be sure, these terms, along with “otherness” and “contingency,” can be fetishized through ritualistic and automatic referencing—the doxa of particular critical approaches. This tendency can be challenged by the concrete demands of an encounter. The reification of both self and other (and their points of connection and divergence) can be challenged by “showing” how power relations work, rather than by simply identifying their mechanisms. Of course, a narrative may essentialize or reduce the other, but the writing “I” subject opens herself to this very critique. By decentering the self as an objective crafter of knowledge, the narrative “I” already always invites critique, because the narrative “I” cannot claim to express scholarly truth. Furthermore, the reification of the other in objective forms of scholarship also functions as an operation of self-erasure. That is, the author avoids responsibility for reification, which remains hidden behind established forms of writing. In other words, it is the structure of scholarship that produces reification, not the scholar. This hides a different kind of violence; that is to say, self-erasure is never really erasure, it is just concealment. The critical traditions of IR are not immune to this pitfall—a rubric (in this case, “critical”) does not guarantee anything in terms of how emancipatory or oppressive our interventions are.10 We submit that concealment is the antithesis of self-critique and responsibility. Therefore, one question that we can pose to a narrative is: how does the author enact responsibility for the subjectivity she inhabits? There are various strategies through which individual narratives might accomplish this because there are different forms and logics within narrative structures and forms. Even when this other-seeking appears to be absent from a text, there remains the reader to ask, to challenge, to look for the cracks and entry points that are inevitably produced by the acknowledgement of subjectivity. Thus, the questions we might ask continue: how do negotiations around the vulnerability of the author, the imperatives of fortresses, and the logics of concealment interplay in a particular narrative? In “Tomorrow the War Starts,” Dan Öberg's (2016, 169) narrative opens on a subway approaching Shinjuku station. Gazing into the window of the subway car, he sees in himself a person who is inscrutable, opaque: “I search for myself in the reflection [of the window],” he writes. “But all I see is tired pink flesh that stubbornly looks back.” Despite his attempt, “as a scientist”—he writes elsewhere (2015, 151)—to isolate elements of the “turbulent sea” of Shinjuku so that he might make some sense of himself and his surroundings, he finds instead that he is fractured in the interstices between his perception of himself, his perception of others, his own memory, the memories of others, and the people and events he attempts to touch in the narrative. Compelled by the self-immolation of a man who sets himself alight on a bridge in protest of the 2015 constitutional amendment that would pave the way for the remilitarization of Japan, Öberg moves through a landscape in which his attempt to see others, as well as himself, is stubbornly resisted by the refusal of Shinjuku to stay still—to be analyzed. Öberg shows how the experience of fracture presents a self that cannot be recognized. For Öberg, as for Pin-Fat, that self dissolves and is reconstituted through its relations. He thus avoids the essentialization, reification, and authorization of the self while expressing a politics of fracture, ambiguity, and uncertainty.11 Öberg enacts Arendt's observation that “who” someone is “remains inexpressible within the language of philosophy” (quoted in Cavarero 2000, viii.). What is at stake here is not “truth,” nor is it wholeness. Narration exceeds the binary oppositions and categorizations that characterize contemporary forms of scholarly inquiry (Cavarero 2000, viii). To recognize that “each of us is narratable by the other” (Cavarero 2000, ix) is to introduce the matrix of power relations. What makes narration political is this relationality (Cavarero 2000, x). It is well-accepted by critical theorists in IR that identity is constituted through difference (see, for example, Campbell 1992, 1998; Walker 1992; Connolly 2002). As with Pin-Fat, narratives such as Öberg's illustrate how this is so, rather than simply stating or “arguing” it. They also experientially show that, as mind-world monists (Jackson 2011) argue, in IR and in the social sciences more broadly, the sharp distinction between “known object” and “knowing subject” does not stand. Here, we can see how a text is able to unmake a pillar of the fortress: not only objectivity (a regular target of critical theorizing) but also objectification as the way of apprehending the world. Öberg does not place his own “being” in a sociological set of categories or boxes in order to sort out his “true” “identity.” Rather, he opens it up, exploring the ungovernable aspects of his own experience. As Cavarero (2000, 140) puts it, “the story results from uncontrollable events that cannot be explained, or brought back to an interior nucleus that would be their cause.” In this way, we see narrative approaches as potentially offering a different form of reflexivity to that critiqued by Knafo (2016). In his examination of Pierre Bourdieu's approach to reflexivity, Knafo (2016, 39) argues that “if reflexivity may constitute a nice invitation to reflect on one's biases, it simply cannot make good on its promises to objectify the objectifying subject because subjectivity cannot be translated in objectified terms (for example, as an identity or a habitus). Subjects and objects are not the same kind of ‘things.’” But this argument does not challenge the kind of reflexivity offered by narrative approaches. Narrative reflexivity, in our interpretation, does not pretend to objectify the objectifying subject but to navigate the impossibility of objectifying subjects in the first place (and objects which, in the social sciences, are subjects as well). Is it an inherent function of I-writing that it regards others from a revealed position and that power can be subsequently assessed and accounted for in the text? We think that this is so, but we do not propose that this revealed position can be actually fully revealed (and, even less, codified or fixed in categories). Given that our “selves” are constructed by our social relations, we cannot have complete or transparent access to ourselves. The risk for politics is not that the self is unknowable. It is precisely in our incompleteness that our authorship and our claims are situated. We begin to see that claims to carve out and “know” pieces of the world are not “wrong” but merely fraught, and we contend that narrative approaches also demonstrate the relationship between subjectivity and power in this regard. Manuela Picq (2016, 448) writes that “[t]he problem emerges when the aura of objectivity attributed to science is unconsciously or deliberately distorted to maintain power structures.” We do not claim that narrative is unique in its challenge to the rationality of domination concealed by sanitized academic detachment (Horowitz 1977; Inayatullah 2016).12 Objectivity has long been identified as the epistemological platform of structures of domination by critical theorists of different stripes (Horkheimer 1978; Marcuse 1991). Furthermore, narratives are polyvalent and, as other texts, they are accountable for the kind of work they do in unpacking or reproducing the official scripts attached to power structures. However, the invitation to open up the meanings of the text has significant implications for the intellectual dimensions of narrative IR. The reader has the opportunity to signify the story that is being told in an exercise that does not seem to be available in the same way in traditional scholarship because it does not make argumentative truth claims in the same manner (see Nagar 2016, below). In other words, by offering the possibility of reading the story in other terms, narratives show how partial the “truths” that we encounter actually are. In this way, the narrative itself becomes the subject of political dialogue, rather than a commentary on an external world. A Different Way of Doing Critique Hayden White's (1987),Content of the Form examines the ways in which different texts mediate and reflect historical reality. For White, narrative is a universal human code for the conveyance of a shared reality (1987, 1); accordingly, his concern is with the identification of a “true story” in conditions that are inherently problematic because narrative does not lend itself to the smooth articulation of historical events (1987, 4). White distinguishes between texts on the basis of their form. For example, he claims that chronologically arrayed medieval annals cannot be “history” because they lack the systemic architecture of “narration,” which binds otherwise disconnected events. Cavarero (2000, 140) makes a similar distinction between “novels,” which seek to “explain” or to “excavate appearances in order to discover the interiority of the subject,” and stories, which, she claims, “are faithful to a contingency of events that cannot be explained by the logic of cause and effect.” Instead of establishing a set of criteria or metrics through which to subject and assess narrative scholarship as a method writ large, we want to explore the more radical possibilities that narrative announces—namely, those that privilege or illuminate the complexity of relationality. It is this commitment that underpins the 2014 founding of the Journal of Narrative Politics.13 It is important to restate at this point that narrative texts are not inherently reflexive. It is possible for some narrative texts—perhaps many of them—to be violently unreflexive (Hamati-Ataya 2014; Naumes 2015). 14 In order to unfold the possibilities they offer, in our view, it is crucial to maintain the gesture of open-ended critique that lies in actively interpreting a text. To read narratively is an opportunity to be confronted with the undoing that accompanies what cannot be anticipated or guarded against.15 To codify or systematize the critique of these texts is to potentially miss these possibilities. Even those texts which “fail” may teach us something (see Nagar 2016). They often provide openings through which the reader can respond and critique; for the unexpected complexity of how we see and think; and for the ways we might be challenged by a text. Many of the published narratives in IR highlight our contradictions and the precarity of our knowledge without providing definitive solutions (Inayatullah 2011; Dauphinee 2013a; Löwenheim 2014; Inayatullah and Dauphinee 2016; Ravecca 2018). This sort of suspension of judgment is not the suspension of critique. More than an invitation to relativism, we read these texts as interventions that make of complexity more than a mere category; it becomes through them an intellectual and an embodied experience.16 Our lives and their contradictions come back to scholarship (see Inayatullah 2011). To systematize or establish a metric for critique would obliterate these possibilities. Formalization in this case would be a loss for knowledge. The question of how we can offer critique is, of course, intimately related to what we can hear. Brigg and Bleiker's (2010, 792) criteria for evaluating narrative illustrates that we cannot use traditional evaluative tools in order to assess this form of writing. We agree. They also write that “suggestions for advancing and evaluating autoethnographic knowledge are based on the proposition that insights developed through an exploration of the author's position should be evaluated not by some a priori standard of reference, but by their ability to generate new and valuable insights for particular knowledge communities.” In light of this, they also conclude that “[autoethnographic] [r]esearch should thus be guided by concrete political problems rather than by disciplinary conventions or a scholar's personal interests” (Brigg and Bleiker 2010, 792). We are not confident that these strands can be separated. Rather than attempting to understand the author's motivations or the factors involved in the production of a narrative, we prefer to understand the text not as an artifact that must proceed from a specific intention, which is then evaluated for its utility, but as a provocation for a reader's response. It is the space that is opened for the reader's engagement that begins the dialogue. When we set criteria for what sorts of texts are valid, we are already dismissing some as irrelevant to the discipline. We wonder whether the anxiety around puzzle-driven research17 in the discipline more generally conceals a fear of the ungovernable, of the disruption or surprise that narrative may introduce to established norms around knowledge production. Interpretation as Critique: Vulnerability, Contradiction, and Surprise In a recent interview, Richa Nagar (2016, 79–80) recounts the story of a boatman and an academic: [A]n arrogant pundit climbs on a boat to cross the river and tries to strike up a conversation with the boatman; but each time the pundit makes an attempt to do so, he demeans the boatman by boasting about his own authoritative knowledge of all kinds of “isms”—capitalism, marxism, feminism. At the end of the story, things suddenly turn around and the boat starts sinking in mid-stream. This time, the boatperson—who has been very humbly accepting the pundit's pronouncements about the latter's own greatness, turns to him and says, “You know everything pundit ji, so go ahead and swim.” But alas, the pundit only knows his books and preaching, he hasn't learned the practical skills of life; so the story ends with the boatman jumping out of the boat and swimming across the river to save his own life and the pundit drowning in the river owing to his conceited claims to wisdom. Nagar (2016, 79–80) analyzes the story thus: The pundit's misplaced assumptions about the superiority of his own knowledge and his mistaken belief that the boatman has nothing to teach him leads to his death. If the pundit had shown some humility about his knowledge, chances are that the boatperson would have extended his hand to the pundit and the lives and knowledges of both could have been saved. I find this story powerful—not only because it uses a simple storyline to communicate an ugly truth about how certified intellectuals refuse to learn from the uncertified bearers and makers of knowledge in our everyday world—but also because it articulates a violent end to the story in its desire to be fair to the boatperson (even if that is not the common way in which politics of knowledge production unfold in our everyday world). This ending underscores the question of epistemic violence as one of life and death. We recognize the epistemic violence of the pundit who, interestingly enough, and given the isms he refers to─feminism, Marxism, capitalism─appears to be a “critical” scholar. We also read the boatman's decision to leave the pundit in the river as a critique of the idealization of the “subaltern” and working classes in whom we tend to place our hopes for political change. For us, both the pundit's arrogance and the boatman's decision reveals the ubiquity of violence, their structural inequality notwithstanding. It underscores that oppression and privilege and the violences that flow from these relations are not stable or fixed. We therefore also read the boatman's actions as warnings against the romanticization of social locations. The “oppressed” are also capable of, and enact, violence. This alerts us to the complexities and contradictions of relationships of domination, which complicate emancipatory politics. The story invites us into a dialogue on power, ethics, and responsibility—the pundit's for the boatman and also the boatman's for the pundit. After all, there is no guarantee that, had the pundit been humbler, the boatman would have saved him. Who controls the meaning of the story? Is there only one way to understand it? Can we understand it in different ways at the same time? As Lisle (2016, 428) asks, “What if we understand vulnerability as constantly folding itself into a variety of ambivalent states of feeling . . . ? What research practices do such entanglements demand, and what political possibilities do they produce?” We suggest here that Nagar's compelling interpretation of this story is not displaced by other interpretations. We do not offer the right way to interpret it. What we offer is awareness of the many layers of understanding that narratives leave open, with their attendant political consequences. Nietzsche taught us that oppression can come from unexpected places.18 This realization is politically humbling in that it shows that anyone can be privileged and oppressed in different contexts and, sometimes, simultaneously. We therefore submit that there is no “wrong” or “right” way to fix or read a story, which for us is also its value. Indeed, the story of the pundit and the boatman can also be read as a parable—that the failure to see the knowledge of others as knowledge leads to the impoverishment of the “self” and the loss of his world. Furthermore, the notion that the pundit holds the “theory” and the boatman the “practical skills of life” reifies the binary and the underestimation of the subaltern subjects that we might want to deconstruct. Is it just because of his “practical” knowledges that the boatman counts as a knowing subject? Here, we can see how a range of possible interpretations makes the text analytically and politically meaningful and productive. The complexity around power relations emerges in narrative texts without the imperative to resolve the problems that it inevitably poses for analysis. In this regard, they are an opportunity for radical self-reflection and to develop the critique there, where it hurts. Persaud (2016, 16), for example, narrates the complexity of racism as a colonial subject: In my entire life in the Caribbean, that is up to when I was 18, I had only seen about 10 white people, although I must say that was more than the number of indigenous people of Guyana with whom I came in contact. One of them was the daughter of the Leonora Estate manager. Conversation with her was off limits. I cannot recall a single student speaking to her. There was a boundary there and everyone knew how far to keep away. Persaud's narrator recounts how, when watching American cowboy films, he was nervous for the safety of the white woman and wanted to kill “the Indians.” These few sentences of Persaud's narrative deploy several interlocking dimensions of colonialism and the complex (and emotional) circulation of power: affect, popular culture, race, geography, and gender. In this text, the narrative bridges the workings of power at the level of emotions and embodiment and shows how the desire of the “subaltern” is mobilized into the cultural materiality of oppression. We find this kind of critique compelling because, instead of facile critiques of the oppressors which celebrate the author as a critical scholar garnering applause, it displays how the desire to oppress never belongs only to others. Moving through her different identities and experiences as both “French” and “Brazilian” (while professionally located in Ecuador), Manuela Picq (2016, 43) shows the mobile condition of the core/periphery divide: whereas in Quito people would despise the interior, “in the highlands, people looked down on what they depicted as margins, in this case all things Indigenous.” She notes that academia is not very different from the society it analyzes: “in IR, scholars defined what they studied as ‘real politics’ by undermining what they identified as irrelevant.” What possibilities emerge when we are broken apart and see our scripts dashed by the plurality that the experience of these encounters brings about? Is this precarity to be understood as a failure? We want to suggest that much of what we normally code as failures are actually surprises. For example, we offer another layer of meaning to the boatman story that does not oppose Nagar's interpretation; Picq (2016) is surprised and surprises the reader by showing how both in society and in IR we are core and periphery for others; and Persaud surprises the comfortable scripts on racism and the self-congratulatory narratives around virtuous “non-Western” identities. They all surprise. There is no knowledge production without surprise. But, to be surprised is also to be intellectually humbled, to lose one's authority, to loosen one's posture of control over meaning. Surprise, then, may be an opportunity for change. Precisely in this vein, Jenny Edkins (2016, 103), writing about the 9/11 memorial site in lower Manhattan, allows this vulnerability to be seen and felt: I used to think that some memorial practices [refused] closure, [refused] a re-writing of authority and authorization, [refused] a new beginning along the same lines as the old. But I think I may have given up on memory, or rather on practices of memory, now. I'm not sure I know why . . . My dream of no ending was not that, perhaps, but a dream that holding on to trauma, encircling it, can save us. Nothing can save us. I say that, but I refuse to believe it. How else might we read Jenny Edkins’ admission that perhaps the very scholarship on which she has built her career is inherently open to reevaluation? Her text confronts us with the possibility that our intellectual commitments, our training and publications, our degrees and our accolades are always erected on unstable ground. Conclusion We propose that the space that narrative delineates is less authoritarian not because narrative authors and texts themselves are invulnerable to authoritarian or reifying tendencies but because of the kind of engagements they allow in the context of their method and way of saying that call for the reader's active intervention. Theory is the tissue that connects experiences and makes this engagement possible.19 We do not understand narrative writing as a mechanism of mere exposure—as confession. To expose for exposure's sake—that is, to reveal one's “secrets” for the sake of revelation alone, as though one's experience can speak for itself—is an a-theoretical move with little analytical value. Mere exposure leaves both writer and reader lonely. What is important for us here is to examine how the reader might see theory working through narratives, as well as to recognize what a text offers (or does not offer): Does it solidify a position? How does it deal with other accounts of the world? How does the narrative then enable different possibilities around translation between the text, the reader, and the author? To be sure, there is a tension between our attempt to theorize narrative in terms of the encounter between the reader and the text, and the expectation that narrative texts in and of themselves perform theory. To concede that theory emerges from the encounter or that the text is a carrier of theory are two different perspectives. Brigg and Bleiker request the text to do something independent of the reader's interpretation. At some level, we agree: we cannot just leave aside that a text needs to perform some purposeful theoretical or analytical operation to warrant discussion as scholarship. In the case of narratives written by scholars with training in the social sciences, this tension may be easily “resolved”: they interject theory and knowledge about an object of inquiry to personal experience. This makes them hospitable to scholarly analysis. However, one of the pressing questions raised by this tension is how to welcome texts that offer translations of a world with which we are not familiar in our academic spaces, even when we seek to expand them. We cannot infinitely expand, even though we may want to. Nor can (or should) the reader do the work that a text refuses. We do not have a resolution for this. The tension between evaluating texts and theorizing narratives persists. The violence of judgment remains, despite our recognition that this judgment is problematic vis-à-vis the attempt to keep the intellectual space open. It is easier in a traditional academic text to say what satisfies certain scholarly standards. This is harder to do with narratives because they proceed along lines that are not econometric, linear, or conclusive. They may carry multiple messages and even seem contradictory at times. As scholars who work with narrative forms, one of our conclusions is that even the process of writing this essay needs to actively resist the impulse to characterize, compartmentalize, universalize, and generalize in the way that our scholarly training has naturalized these processes for us (see also Jackson 2011). This is a difficult task that stretches the limits of the scholarly imagination and needs to somehow find a way to hold these tensions without attempting to resolve them, living with the distress of perpetual uncertainty, seeing in these tensions not the fear of intellectual relativism but the preservation of the polyvalence of knowledge. These are the continual challenges of journeys that cannot be completed. For Inayatullah (2013), this is a pedagogical process—a process through which we not only “instruct” others but through which we instruct ourselves—we are also the objects of our research and writing. If narrative writing translates the self to the self and to others, pedagogy asks us to peel back still more. For us, the ability to embrace this risk—to change our relationship with and investments in “truth”—is precisely what offers the possibility of innovation and critique—and of dialogue. The meanings and political import of our encounters emerge in discussion, in the interstices, in silence, in the seemingly illogical, in the friction between perspectives and in the perpetual effort of (sometimes agonistic) translation.20 We do not claim that everything can be known through narrative, nor that all IR scholars should now turn to narrative methods as a more authentic expression of experience. On the contrary, we believe that narrative forms challenge both authenticity and authority through their complex negotiations of theory and experience. For us, any attempt to totalize narrative as the only viable approach to social reality would betray the very task that in our view the space of narrative may help us to perform—to resist simplification and to pluralize knowledge and experience by acknowledging multilayeredness. In other words, narrative does not derive its value from any claim to depose or displace conventional forms of writing and scholarship. It does not and cannot do these things, nor would we want it to. We want something different: to enrich our academic practices with the analysis that narrative offers. We want a method that is able to hold the analytical tensions we are trained to resolve and are rewarded by resolving. We want a method that resists the disciplinary space of the academic fortress, not for the purpose of resistance as its own end, not to displace science and objectivity, but to trouble it and to show its limitations, which may perhaps help us to know better. Narratives disrupt the enclosures of science in human political life and resist its engulfment with a different kind of situatedness. In narrative, we see a form of social science that can embrace not only plurality but also contradiction; a form that can privilege the value of the pedagogical encounter beyond the established debates that already presume the structures and rules of engagement. We also want to question the intellectual and emotional investments we make in being “right,” which is an important feature of the academic fortress. In “The Achievements of Post-structuralism,” Richard Ashley (1996, 240) recounts a colleague chiding him that the “boys” of IR are always on the move, planting flags, conquering territory, rushing “across the surfaces of historical experience, a stranger to every place, seldom pausing to . . . explore any locale, eschewing all commitments, always moving as if chasing some fast-retreating end or fleeing just ahead of the grasp of some relentless pursuer.” But there are those of us—perhaps many of us—scholars of IR and Political Science, who rather wish to cultivate a space in a deep and committed way, or perhaps look for a kind of movement which does not involve planting flags or conquering territory. That may be the point: to offer to scholarship the opportunity to think about itself beyond flags and conquest. Footnotes 1 See, for example, the forum on autoethnography in Review of International Studies (36:3, July 2010); Naeem Inayatullah, Autobiographical International Relations, (London: Routledge, 2011); Oded Löwenheim, Politics of the Trail, (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2012); Elizabeth Dauphinee, Politics of Exile (London: Routledge, 2013); Himadeep Muppidi, The Colonial Signs of International Relations (London: Routledge, 2013) and Politics in Emotion: The Song of Telangana (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Sarah Naumes, ‘Is All ‘I’ IR?’, Millennium 43.3, 820-832, 2015; Security Dialogue 44:3, 2013 (special issue on Politics of Exile); Roland Bleiker, Aesthetics and World Politics, (New York: Palgrave, 2009. Other notable pieces in the feminist tradition that either utilize or endorse narrative approaches include Christine Sylvester, War as Experience: Contributions from International Relations and Feminist Analysis, (London: Routledge, 2013); Marysia Zalewski, Feminist International Relations: Exquisite Corpse (London: Routledge, 2013); Annick TR Wibben, Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach, (London: Routledge, 2011); Maria Stern and Maria Eriksson Baaz (2015) ‘Telling Perpetrators’ Stories: A Reflection on Effects and Ethics,’ in Teaching About Rape in War and Genocide. London: Palgrave. 2 See, for example, Hamati-Ataya 2014 and Knafo 2016. 3 Carol Cohn's (1987) “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals” and, later, Roxanne Doty's (2004) “Maladies of Our Souls” are among the earliest landmark narrative-form interventions in IR. 4 Independent scholarly journals, such as Borderlands and Journal of Narrative Politics, and weblogs, such as The Duck of Minerva and The Disorder of Things, are examples. 5 Laura Shepherd (2016, 8) reflects on this point when she writes, “I can choose to spend my time writing this [narrative] account, to invest effort and energy in these reflections and revelations, and not fear reprisal or reprimand for having expended my resources in this way, for I have reached a stage in my career at which, especially when combined with the luxury of employment security, I am driven not by institutional imperatives but by my own.” The “value” hierarchy associated with journal and academic press rankings and impact factors also works to secure a particular, argumentative academic form. In addition, the “CV pollution” associated with publishing in “marginal” places remains a serious concern for junior scholars. 6 The situation is more extreme in political science—comparative politics, in particular—where positivism and a conventional conception of politics (Menéndez-Carrión 2015) still dominate, and, therefore, narrative seems to be perceived as foreign to the field. The debates around the Perestroika Movement notwithstanding (Monroe 2005), political science remains more fortified than IR, and this is an important topic for future analysis (Ravecca 2016a, 2016b, 2018). 7 While standpoint epistemologies have moved beyond the interiority and isolation of the early feminist thinkers, they remain committed to the identification of groups and group positions prior to their analytical appearance in discourse. For example, Patrick Jackson (2011, 179) writes that standpoints allow “for the group's perspective to contribute to a potentially broader grasp of things.” 8 Marxism is also focused on (hidden) relations (Ollman 1971). Inayatullah (2016) explores the significant connections between what he calls the Hegel/Marx matrix and autobiography, looking at how both assemble different “levels” of experience and reality. 9 Here, we borrow some words from Wendy Brown's intervention at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrbnbmA3n5o&feature=related. 10 Spivak's (1988) “Can the Subaltern Speak?” showcases how this self-erasure can also be practiced by perspectives that attempt to critique established powers and knowledges. She notes that Foucault and Deleuze's “radical” gesture of letting the other speak by herself and of renouncing the intellectual and political work of representing the oppressed, assumes the self-transparency of the French intellectual who erases himself and the global division of labor that allows the privileged position from which he can be generous enough to “let the other speak.” 11 Paradoxically, it is also possible to read Öberg's dissolution of the self from other theoretical and methodological perspectives as a form of concealment. This undecidability—the possibility of reading these texts in different ways—illustrates precisely the value of maintaining analytical tension in narrative forms. 12 For Marcuse (1991, 125), “epistemology is in itself ethics, and ethics is epistemology.” 13 The Journal of Narrative Politics was funded by a 2012 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Connection Grant. Its impact in the field remains to be seen, but the goal of the journal is to publish narrative forms as scholarship. The journal “commits to diverse ways of storytelling as knowledge appropriate to the academy, rather than as merely the objects of scholarly inquiry.” See www.journalofnarrativepolitics.com. 14 In a 2015 article in Millennium, Sarah Naumes (2015, 821) posits that the evaluation of narratives is fruitfully expressed in the question of whether they “[promote] a rethinking of the foundational epistemologies of IR scholarship.” She offers two questions for orienting our thinking about what narrative can do in IR. The first is the extent to which narratives can disrupt congruity in political thought—the neatly bounded categories of subject matter and analysis that forms the bulk of our scholarship. The second is the question of the extent to which marginalized positions and relations of power are illuminated by a particular text (Naumes 2015, 822). She adds that boundaries are blurry, that pieces of the “puzzle” do not always fit together, and that we “jam” them into place at the expense of reality, which is complex and contradictory. The concern with expanding epistemological foundations is especially important for us here. Naumes invites us to explore how narratives enact epistemological plurality and the attendant plurality of meanings that a narrative text produces. 15 “To be surprised,” writes Cynthia Enloe (2004, 13), “is to have one's current explanatory notions, and thus one's predictive assumptions, thrown into confusion.” In this regard, what we are trying to articulate here is similar and yet quite different from Enloe's notion of “fruitful embarrassment” (contained in the expression “I should have thought of that, and I didn't!”) (Enloe 2004, 249). We appreciate Enloe's scholarly praise of vulnerability and defenselessness, which allow us to find unacknowledged facts and experiences. At the same time, in our view, narratives also complicate the very notion of “I should have thought of that.” The surprise that narrative brings about is not about identifying a better explanation but a challenge to the very terms of our knowledge. 16 We are not sure if that is so politically. There is a tension between narrative as a moralizing enterprise in a framework of social justice and what we are doing here. Our approach to narrative is indeed in tension with any form of activism. Of course, we are not trying to displace social justice endeavors. We do think, however, that political activity falls into essentialism and that maintaining the space of critique is crucial. The immanent resistance to both violent abstraction (liberalism) and the romanticization brought about by social justice idioms seems to be the difficult task of the critical scholar—the resistance to any form of simplification. 17 We do not discount that some narrative texts might do this and do it well. What we want to avoid is the establishment of a set of criteria that may automatically disqualify some texts as irrelevant or unsuccessful if the aims of the author cannot be immediately identified or if the scholarly ground is not conducive to their reception. 18 It seems to us that the only way to challenge injustice is to face our investments in it. For the Uruguayan intellectual Carlos Real de Azúa, thinking is a tool for human liberation but also a tool for liberation from the “partial liberations” (Real de Azúa 1973). He recognizes here that “liberations” change historically. They may be called democracy, communism, feminism, antiracism, postcolonialism, social justice, and so on. Every theory and position has its own economy of violence: theories are emancipatory and oppressive at the same time, and thus critique is always needed. This is why we are particularly interested in narratives that surprise us or which make us uncomfortable or unsafe and which make our heroes fall. 19 We appreciate how some texts can go beyond the established terms of communicability. For Marcuse (1991, 71) for instance, “the truly avant-garde works of literature communicate the break with communication,” but they still communicate; they are never a solipsistic endeavor. 20 Here we see meaningful connections between our way of theorizing narrative and the elaborations on democratic socialism of Laclau Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe (2004), which include the notion of the incompleteness of the social, as well as some efforts by Gayatri Spivak to move forward in the engagement with subalternity by learning from the subaltern, which is a political task of reading and translation. Some of her reflections on the issue can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZHH4ALRFHw. 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International Political Sociology – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 22, 2018
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