The eternal divide? History and International Relations

George Lawson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


On one level, history is used by all parts of the International Relations (IR) discipline. But lurking beneath the surface of IR's approach to history lies a well-entrenched binary. Whereas mainstream positions use history as a means to fill in their theoretical frames (seeing history as a kind of 'scripture' of abstract lessons), many post-positivists reduce history to a pick-and-mix of contingent hiccups (a 'butterfly' of what-ifs and maybes). Interestingly enough, this binary is one reproduced throughout the social sciences. As such, there is a bigger story to the apparently 'eternal divide' between history and social science than first meets the eye. This article uses the various ways in which history is used - and abused - in IR to probe more deeply into the relationship between history and social science as a whole. This exploration reveals four frameworks, two drawn from history (context and narrative) and two drawn from social science (eventfulness and ideal-typification) which illustrate the necessary co-implication of the two enterprises. The article employs these tools as a means of re-imagining the relationship between history and social science (including IR), conceiving this as a single intellectual journey in which both are permanently in view.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-226
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


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