Embracing plurality, learning through practice: How to do realism in political theory today?

Realism in political theory has come some way towards clarifying what is distinctive about its perspective on politics, setting it apart from discussions about non-ideal theory and fact-sensitivity. However, even more than five years into the resurgence of interest in political realism, anyone seeking to embark on a first-order realist project in political theory will have little orientation for how to go about it, especially in comparison to anyone engaged in furthering liberal theories of justice. Increasing this orientation is equally important for assessing the value of realist perspectives for political theory and for spelling out its relevance for political analysis today.

One reason for this lack of orientation might be a cause for celebration, not regret: this is the plurality and heterogeneity of methods and techniques, normative commitments, and research programmes which could be included under the label of ‘realism’. This workshop seeks to embrace this heterogeneity and hopes to bring together scholars from a variety of perspectives – including but not limited to normative and empirical political and social theory– who understand their work as taking a realist view of politics.

Another reason for the current lack of orientation about how to practice realism is that, thus far, it has taken a predominantly negative, critical or meta-theoretical approach, albeit a few substantive contributions from/in a realist outlook have now emerged (Mantena 2012, Sleat 2013, Hall 2015). Hence rather than focusing on meta-theoretical discussions about the nature of realism the workshop will seek to build a clearer orientation for scholars interested in realism through exploring the variety of methods and programmes which could flesh out realism. It strikes us that learning from concrete practices and judgments is more in line with realist commitments to context and practice than abstract meta-theoretical reflections.

We invite contributions which may particularly address but are not limited to the following themes:

  • First-order realist political theorizing – e.g. realist accounts of legitimacy, political economy, international and global political theory, feminism etc.
  • Realist techniques, methods and methodologies
  • How can realist theory develop a relationship to actual politics which goes deeper than application?
  • How can realist political theory generate critical purchase?
  • How, if at all, can realism help bridge between the analytical and continental traditions?
  • Realism and democratic theory
  • Extensions of realism beyond “liberal” realism
  • How does realism relate to social sciences?
  • How, if at all, can realism bring together normative and empirical perspective in democratic theory?


Please submit an abstract of up to 300 words until the 20 May 2016 to:

Dr. Janosch Prinz (Queen’s University Belfast): j.prinz@qub.ac.uk

Irene Vanini (University of Milan): irene.vanini1@unimi.it

Upon acceptance, we will ask all speakers to pre-circulate their papers amongst participants. We will allocate at least 50 minutes to each paper, with presentations of 20-30 minutes and 20-30 minutes of Q&A.