A Relational View of Ontological Security in International Relations

Simon Frankel Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
357 Downloads (Pure)


I propose a relational understanding of ontological security, based on a synthesis of pragmatist philosophy and relational sociology. This relocates the referent of ontological security from the self to the social arrangements where action takes place. It implies that actors seek not to secure the coherence and stability of self in particular, but rather of their broader social context. By taking this relational approach, international relations scholars may avoid methodological difficulties in accessing or defining the cognitive or affective processes shaping certain actors, while honing in on the social embeddedness of action. I outline three causal mechanisms for theorizing ontological security in particular cases: refereeing, performative deference, and obstructive resistance. I do so with reference to prominent methodological frameworks in relational sociology—namely, those based on fields and on figurations, respectively. Finally, I connect this new approach to theorizing ontological security to existing trends in relational international relations research. I argue that it provides a theoretical architecture more sensitive to action and agency than is offered by many existing relational approaches, and is especially well suited to the study of precarious forms of transnational life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-85
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number1
Early online date26 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


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