The Problem of Harm in International Relations

Alexander Hoseason

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


Harm as a concept lies at the core of the discipline of International Relations (IR), providing a touchstone for scholars that both motivates and frames scholarly practice. However, its pervasive and varied nature means that it is rarely discussed in explicit terms. Attempts to understand the significance of harm for IR, as a pluralist discipline, can be divided into three key perspectives. First, the problem of harm describes a distinct research program centered on the way that social actors have understood, negotiated, and responded to changing forms of harm. Second, different understandings of harm provide a driver of, and a key point of contestation between, IR’s research programs and subdisciplines in ways that reflect the changing dynamics of scholarly interest and normative concern. Third, harm serves to define IR’s objects of inquiry, pointing toward the need for new theoretical tools and innovation in response to global challenges. Taken together, these perspectives suggest that harm serves as an important normative common ground in a discipline that is often understood as pluralist or divided. This common ground serves as a starting point for understanding how harm may change in response to developments or transformations in the international system.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies
EditorsNukhet Sandal, Renée Marlin-Bennett
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2021


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