Reflexivity and the Construction of the International Object: The Case of Human Rights


  • The author would like to thank the contributors to this special issue, as well as Gert Verschraegen and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on this paper.


Recent years have seen a surge of interest in applying the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu in international studies as part of a more general sociological turn observable in both international and European studies. However, different from earlier attempts at deploying Bourdieusian sociology in the context of international law, economics, and politics, most of this new Bourdieu-inspired constructivist political science research only marginally addresses what in many ways was the cardinal point of Bourdieu’s work: his attempt at devising a reflexive sociology. This article’s basic claim is that the most significant contribution Bourdieusian sociology can make to international (and European) studies is not achieved by adaptation or transplantation of key concepts (field, habitus, and so on) to a set of research objects that remain by and large predefined by other disciplines. Instead, I contend that it is by deploying the underlying sociological practice of Bourdieusian sociology to international objects in terms of conducting a reflexive sociology of the international. To substantiate my claim, I make three more specific arguments. In the first section, I argue for the need for “objectivizing” the research object in terms of “double reflexivity” with respect to both object and researcher. In the second part, I suggest that key Bourdieusian notions are precisely tools for this scientific operation by providing a relational and integrative approach. In the third part, I compare this approach with a cross section of research on international human rights and thereby suggest how it provides a different reading of the international.