Interpretivists hold that the social world is a world of meaning. They maintain that social behaviour is best explained in terms of the meanings that actions have for the people who perform them. Interpretivists try to access those meanings – and thereby explain behaviour – by examining agents’ beliefs about the world. They look to the concepts and theories agents might have learned, and to what they say, seeking evidence for what they believe that might account for what they do or have done. But once interpretivists have found that evidence, how should interpretivists explain what happened? This paper makes the case for explanation by narrative, a form both widely used and widely disdained in International Relations. It argues that, as well as being accessible, narratives can be parsimonious and rigorous. Done properly, narratives can provide accurate and efficient accounts of why actions are performed, whether in international relations or any other domain of the social world.
Ian Hall is a Professor of International Relations at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. He is also an Academic Fellow of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on India’s foreign and security policies and Indo-Pacific affairs, with a sideline in interpretivist approaches to international relations. He has published widely in various outlets, including the European Journal of International Relations, International Affairs, and Third World Quarterly. His most recent book is Modi and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy (2019). He is currently working on a project on the Quad.
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