The Multiplicity Project

IR is often seen as a discipline that imports ideas from other fields while having little to say to other subjects in return. Apparently lacking a clear common ground of its own, it has repeatedly seemed in danger of fragmenting too. ‘The end of IR’ has been proclaimed many times and is in the air again today. How should we respond? The goal of this project – including the section at EISAPEC19 – is to rediscover the neglected potential of IR among the human disciplines by refocusing in new ways on its unique object: the fundamental fact of human multiplicity. 

Human existence is multiple – societally, politically, culturally, developmentally and ecologically. And the consequences of this multiplicity – co-existence, difference, interaction, combination and dialectical change – are general features of the human world. IR is the only discipline fundamentally premised on this condition, which therefore provides both a distinctive common ground for IR theory and the basis for IR’s contribution to the social sciences and humanities.

We seek to explore this potential more thoroughly, widening our gaze to bring in new perspectives on and from multiplicity, and helping IR to see – and be seen – differently. We invite contributions from all corners of International Studies, of all persuasions and in all registers: theoretical, philosophical, empirical, historical, contemporary, policy-focused, ‘mainstream’ or ‘critical’.

The Genesis of the Multiplicity Project

In 2015 Justin Rosenberg delivered the EH Carr Memorial Lecture at Aberystwyth University. As his theme, he chose:

‘International Relations in the Prison of Political Science’

In the lecture, Rosenberg outlined a new way of thinking, seeing and doing International Relations scholarship based on the fundamental social fact of societal multiplicity. He elaborated the consequences of this multiplicity and showed how they provide a new basis for IR Theory – one that could help IR break out of the Prison of Political Science.

Rosenberg’s lecture, which was subsequently published in the leading journal International Relations, demonstrated how IR’s development as a discipline obscured and led it away from its own unique contribution to the study of the social world. This development prevented IR scholars from taking possession and realising the potential of their unique perspective, distorting IR scholarship and limiting its uptake among other disciplines.

Multiplicity provides a way of addressing these problems, of revealing IR’s hidden common ground and realising the discipline’s latent potential. Crucially, it provides a way of situating the international as the subject which does the explaining and interpreting, rather than the object to be explained or interpreted.

Multiplicity generated immediate interest and provoked a variety of responses in a high-profile Roundtable at the 2017 ISA Annual Convention in Baltimore (TC32) and two separate forums in International Relations the first in 2017 and the second in 2018.

To more deeply explore the potential of this new approach, Rosenberg and Milja Kurki convened an EISA EWIS2018 workshop at the University of Groningen. This led to a special issue of Globalizations on Multiplicity as Common Ground for IR (and IR Theory) which was published in 2020.

To broaden engagement with and use of Multiplicity, Rosenberg and Benjamin Tallis convened a section of the EISA 2019 Pan-European Conference in Sofia. This attracted considerable interest and with 8 full panels and roundtables (as well as lively social event), it was the second largest section at the conference.

The growing engagement with Multiplicity led to forums in the Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen (In German) and in New Perspectives, which helped suggest new directions for the research programme as well as exposing it to new forms of critique.

Building on the success of the PEC19 section, and the journal forums, Rosenberg and Tallis convened another EISA EWIS workshop (in 2020), including participants who had first heard about Multiplicity in Sofia as well as others who had been involved for longer. This greatly advanced the conversation on Multiplicity and generated a special issue of a leading journal (now in final review) on Multiplicity and the Disciplinary Potential of International Relations.

Several of the participants in this workshop, along with some new faces made up two Multiplicity panels, convened by Brieg Powel and Aleksandra Spalińska at the 2021 Millennium Conference, which further deepened and widened the debate.

Going forward we have two panels confirmed at ISA2022 and are putting together proposals for EWIS2022, PEC2022 and WISC2022 as well as considering new special issues and an edited volume.