Pessimism in International Relations

A one-day interdisciplinary workshop funded by the BISA Poststructural Politics Working Group, exploring the politics and philosophy of pessimism and its implications for the study of international politics.

When: Friday 22nd September 2017

Where: Council Room (K2.29), Strand Campus, King’s College London

Hosted by: Dr Tim Stevens and Dr Nick Michelsen, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

Workshop rationale:
Pessimism abounds in international politics. From visions of cyber insecurity and economic dystopias to narratives of ecological decay; from the abandonment of migrants to the sea to the complexities of the Syrian civil war; from the return of East-West geopolitical tensions to the empowerment and rise of demagogic forces within democracies worldwide. Commentators lament a sense of rising and apparently unassailable global crisis. In response, we are recurrently bidden to the promise and potential of optimism in the face of such dynamics and events. In contrast, to be pessimistic about these phenomena is to cleave to an anti-social and regressive perspective on international politics. Pessimists are derided as reactionaries, irrational or emotional, yet there is no a priori reason why pessimism should be any less respectable or defensible than its more acceptable counterpart, optimism. Moreover, pessimism has a long philosophical heritage, from Rousseau, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to Adorno, Camus and Foucault, that can illuminate contemporary problems in international politics. In International Relations, pessimism is often implicit in narratives of terminal decline and, indeed, in the critical project also: IR is viewed as an academic discipline constrained by its own formative concepts and intellectual history to an empty fatalism. This workshop invites IR scholars to look again at the philosophy and politics of pessimism, and draw out its implications for the discipline of IR and the theory and practice of international politics.
We invite paper submissions that address the following topics, or any other issues related to the exploration of pessimism in International Relations:

x normative assumptions about pessimism in IR
x historiographies of pessimism in IR
x pessimism in political philosophy
x pessimism and poststructuralism
x pessimism and cynicism
x epistemologies of pessimism
x pessimism and environmentalism
x pessimism and progress
x pessimism and democracy
x pessimism and populism
x pessimism and revolution
x pessimism and the critical project
x pessimism and neo/liberalism
x productive pessimism
x pessimism and technology

Our aim is to select several papers for development and submission to a leading IR journal for publication as a special forum.

We have some limited funds available for PhD students to facilitate their participation. If you would like to receive this support, please indicate how much you would need, and provide a short case for support with your abstract.
Deadline for abstracts (300 words max.) June 30th 2017.

Please submit to and

Provisional Event Programme (tbc)
8:15 – 9:15 Registration and Refreshments
9:15 – 9:30 Welcome by Event Organisers
9:30 – 11:00 Panel I: Intellectual Histories of Pessimism in IR (provisional)
11:00 – 11:15 Break
11:15 – 12:45 Panel II: The Powers of Pessimism in International Politics (provisional)
12:45 – 1:45 Workshop Lunch
1:45 – 3:15 Panel III: Pessimism and Hope: Can the Future Exist? (provisional)
3:15 – 3:30 Break
3:30 – 5:30 Roundtable: Can Pessimism be Rehabilitated?