2010-10-06 Charlotte Epstein, Two talks on IR, discourse and communication

Discourse, the subject and identity in International Relations

Dr. Charlotte Epstein, University of Sydney

FW101, Founder’s Building, Royal Holloway University of London, 1.30pm

Following the Strategic Narratives programme of research initiated since 2009 to explore how states project their values, interests and identities in the international system, this Wednesday Dr. Epstein will address a series of our concerns:

Abstract: ’The concept of identity has attracted increasing attention in International Relations (IR). Yet what does it mean to study the ‘selves’ of international actors?’ The two pieces explored in today’s reading group propose that the discourse approach offers a more theoretically parsimonious and empirically grounded way of studying identity in IR than approaches developed in the wake of both constructivism and the broader ‘psychological turn’. In the second piece for instance, Dr. Epstein starts with a critique of the discipline’s understanding of the ‘self’ uncritically borrowed from psychology. Jacques Lacan’s ‘speaking subject’ offers instead a non-essentialist basis for theorizing about identity that has been largely overlooked. This insight allows us to steer clear of the field’s fallacy of composition, which has been perpetuated by the assumption that what applies to individuals applies to states as well. This is illustrated empirically with regards to the international politics of whaling.

Dr. Charlotte Epstein is a senior lecturer in International Relations in the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney. Homepage:


Participants must have read the following two pieces and be ready to discuss them:

1. The introduction to Charlotte’s book, The Power of Words in International Relations : Epstein Ch1 sample chapter

2. Charlotte’s latest piece in European Journal of International Relations, entitled ‘Who speaks? Discourse, the subject and identity in international relations’ : Who Speaks?

Please note that Dr. Epstein will also deliver a presentation to the staff-student research seminar at 5pm in FW101.