Towards an International Political Ergonomics

This article introduces International Political Ergonomics (iPER). iPER is a novel research programme focused on achieving political change through the ergonomic (re)design of world politics.

This is an unusual article for me. It combines critical theory, behaviouralism, practice theory, deterrence theory, and more to suggest a radical transformation in the vocation of IR.


The article begins with the old Marxist cliche: our goal is not only to interpret, but to change the world. And that’s what the piece is about: how, today, IR can/cannot make its knowledge production ‘matter’ on/in the world. I get there by noting, first, that a consensus has emerged, across IR and social science of all kinds: knowledge production (ideas, epistemics) *alone* almost never produces social change in and of itself. A simple example: only *telling* a smoker that their habit will kill them. A complicated example: only *telling* governments that torture does not produce good intelligence and damages their standing. People keep smoking, governments keep torturing: whatever you tell them.

So, what to do?

Comparing IR to applied fields (design theory, ergonomics) and applied sciences (economics), I note how these fields materialise – make concrete – their knowledge. They design things. Build them. Distribute them. And quite literally re-construct society. IR doesn’t do that, yet. I suggest it starts doing so. Drawing on design theory, ergonomics, cognitive philosophy, post-structuralist thought, micro sociology, and more, I argue that material intervention is the most powerful mode of societal intervention. iPER provides a theory of disruptive material-political interventions that can *increase* human deliberative and/or rational capacities in situations of social controversey. It shows how we can do much more than seek the ear of the prince: transforming IR’s vocation.

The piece applies its theory to violence prevention, detailing some of my collaborations with engineers, design theorists, and others. And concludes by exploring some of the (many) ethical and political dilemmas iPER brings up, some of which even imply it’s, yes, a bad idea.

The article is now available online first at European Journal of International Relations here. A full version can also be downloaded directly here.

Post-Critical IR in Rio | Call for Papers

Post-Critical IR moves its discussions to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August (29-31) 2019.

A number of places at the Rio workshop are available for new participants. Our goal is to use these places to extend our discussions beyond their current boundaries. We are particularly keen to hear from interested participants with a focus on feminist, postcolonial, activist, anti-capitalist, speculative philosophical, ethnographic, and other perspectives on the critical study of world politics. However, we remain open to any perspective. Participants at any academic level are welcome.

This is a great opportunity to explore the future of critical approaches to IR outside Europe and North America with a leading group of scholars including Joao Nogueira, Vincent Pouliot, Michael C. Williams, Ole Waever, Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Anna Leander, Marieke de Goede, Isabel Bramsen, Isabel Rocha de Siqueira, Iver B. Neumann, and more.

Selected participants will have their return flights to Rio de Janeiro, along with hotel accommodation and lunch/dinner, covered for the duration of the workshop. Participants will need to arrange their own visas, if necessary, as well as insurance and other formalities.

To apply to participate please visit the post-critical IR website.

Workshop | Security Dialogue Horizon Scan

On March 25th I will take part in the Security Dialogue ‘Horizon Scan’ workshop at the University of Toronto, as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations.

During the workshop, I will present on the changing state of critique within Critical Security Studies and International Relations.

Other contributors will include Antoine Bousquet, Carol Cohn, Marieke de Goede, Jarius Grove, Anna Leander, Michael C. Williams, Kristoffer Liden, Doerthe Rosenow, Bruno Martins, Andrew Neal, Anna Stavrianakis, Maria Stern, Annick Wibben, Rocco Bellanova, Peter Burgess, Lene Hansen, Claudia Aradau, Charlotte Epstein, Emily Gillbert, Ole Waever, and Rob Walker.

Doing and Mediating Critique

My latest article (with Rocco Bellanova and Mareile Kaufmann) is now available at Security Dialogue (50, 1). The article forms a part of the jubilee special issue of Security Dialogue entitled ‘Doing and Mediating Critique,’ curated by myself, Rocco Bellanova, and Mareile Kaufmann, and including articles from Claudia Aradau and Jef Huysmans, Peter Burgess, Laura Sjoberg, Debbie Lisle and Heather Johnson, Matthias Leese, Kristoffer Lidén, and Blagovesta Nikolova.

The article can be downloaded here open access, or seen below. The full special issue is available here:



What does it mean to study security from a critical perspective? This question continues to haunt critical security studies. Conversations about normative stances, political engagement, and the role of critique are mainstays of the discipline. This article argues that these conversations tend to revolve around a too disembodied image of research, where the everyday practice of researchers is sidelined. But researchers do do research: they work materially, socially, and cognitively. They mediate between various feedback loops or fields of critique. In doing so, they actively build and exercise critique. Recognizing that fact, this article resists growing suggestions to abandon critique by, first, returning to the practice of critique through the notion of companionship. This permits us to reinvigorate our attention to the objects, persons, and phenomena through which critique gains inspiration and purpose, and that literally accompany our relationship to critique. Second, we explore what happens when our companions disagree, when critique faces controversies and (a) symmetries. Here, we support research designs of tracing credibility and establishing symmetries in order to move away from critique as denouncing positions we disagree with. Third, we discuss the relation between companionship, critique, reflexivity, and style. Here, the rhetorical practices of critical inquiry are laid out, and possibilities for its articulation in different and less silencing voices are proposed.


Austin, Jonathan Luke., Bellanova, Rocco. & Kaufmann, Mareile. (2019). ‘Doing and Mediating Critique: An Invitation to Practice Companionship,” Security Dialogue 50 (1).

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Article | Towards an International Political Ergonomics

Towards an International Political Ergonomics

My latest article, entitled Towards an International Political Ergonomics, is now forthcoming at the European Journal of International Relations. The article proposes the establishment of an ‘applied’ IR through the integration of ergonomic, design-centric, and new materialist theories of how change occurs in the world. A pre-print version of Towards an International Political Ergonomics can be read and/or downloaded below or directly via this link.


This article introduces International Political Ergonomics (iPER). iPER is a novel research programme focused on achieving positive-political change through the ergonomic (re)design of world politics. The approach is grounded on a shift across IR that recognizes its epistemic (i.e. knowledge- producing) core is often inadequate to achieve change. Insights from the practice turn and behaviouralist IR, as well as from philosophy, sociology, and neuroscience, demonstrate that much international behaviour is driven by the ‘unconscious’ or ‘non-reflexive’ re-articulation of repertoires of actions even where the pathologies of this process are known. This implies that knowledge production and dissemination (i.e. to policy-makers, global publics) is often unable to effect influence over social practices. What is thus required is a non-epistemic means of effecting world political change. iPER is a research programme that takes up this task. It does so by describing how small material interventions into world politics can radically shift individual behaviours by encouraging greater rationality, reflexivity, and deliberation. After laying out the theoretical basis for this claim, the article demonstrates it by detailing the application of iPER to violence prevention efforts. The article concludes by reflecting on the radical implications that iPER has for the vocation of IR.


Austin, Jonathan Luke. (Forthcoming). ‘Towards an International Political Ergonomics,’ European Journal of International Relations.


For their outstanding stewardship of this article I would like to thank the editors and reviewers of EJIR who helped improve the piece hugely. Likewise, the article benefited immeasurably from the kind comments, encouragements, and suggestions made by Anna Leander, Stephanie Perazzone, Ole Waever, Miguel Iglesias Lopez, Vincent Pouliot, Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Stefano Guzzini, Claudia Aradau, Victor Santos Rodriguez, Thomas Biersteker, Michael C. Williams, Mark Salter, Daniel Nexon, and Isabel Bramsen. Finally, for research assistance underlying several aspects of this article and the research project it forms a part of, I would like to thank Alice Baroni. This research was supported by Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) grant number CRSII5_170986.



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Talk | Ergonomics, Critique and Politics

On Thursday 6th December I gave a talk at the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies entitled ‘Towards an International Political Ergonomics’ based on my current work exploring the interconnections between social theory, technology, and political change. A video version of the talk will be available shortly.

Workshop | Sensing Collectives

In a week or so, I will present some of my latest work (co-authored with Anna Leander) at the Hybrid Lab, Berlin. We will present a paper entitled “(De)Composing the Californian Aesthetic.” The programme for the event can be found below.