Fairy Tales and International Relations: A Folklorist Reading of IR Textbooks, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Fairy Tales and International Relations

A Folklorist Reading of IR Textbooks, 1st Edition

By Kathryn Starnes


192 pages

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Hardback: 9781138697386
pub: 2016-12-02
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This book offers a critical engagement with contemporary IR textbooks via a novel folklorist approach. Two parts of the folklorist approach are developed, addressing story structures via resemblances to two fairy tales, and engaging with the role of authors via framing gestures. The book not only looks at how the idea of ‘social science’ may persist in textbooks as many assumptions about what it means to study IR, but also at how these assumptions are written into the defining stories textbooks tell and the possibilities for (re)negotiating these stories and the boundaries of the discipline.

This book will specifically engage with how the stories in textbooks constrain how it is possible to define IR through its (re)production as a social science discipline. In the first part, story structures are explored via Donkeyskin and Bluebeard stories which the book argues resemble some structures in textbooks that define how it is permissible to tell stories about IR. In the second part the role of authors is explored via their framing gestures within a text, drawing on a number of fairy tales. By approaching the stories in textbooks alongside fairy tales, Starnes reflects back onto IR the disciplining practices in the stories textbooks tell by rendering them unfamiliar.

Aiming to spark a critical conversation about the role of textbooks in defining the boundaries of what counts as IR and by extension the boundaries of the IR canon, this book is of great interest to students and scholars of international relations.


'Why has no one done this before? Kathryn Starnes reads International Relations textbooks through a folklorist’s lens. The result is a fresh evaluation of the narratives that define our field.'

- Lucian M. Ashworth, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada

'Stories that textbooks tell are disciplinary fantasies presented as foundations. They establish ‘givens’ that (literally) circumscribe what will (and can) be studied. Starnes exposes both the power at play in these framing practices and the political stakes of failing to notice. Read this book: it is not a fairy tale!'

- V Spike Peterson, University of Arizona, USA

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Canon as a link between fairy tales and textbooks

3 A folklorist approach

4 Donkeyskin stories: the permissible

5 Bluebeard stories: the forbidden

6 Author framing and canon negotiations

7 Conclusion

About the Author


Kathryn Starnes completed a PhD in International Relations at the University of Manchester, UK. Her research interests include knowledge production in IR, practices that define and discipline IR, folklore, fairy tales and the politics of writing about and teaching IR.

About the Series

Worlding Beyond the West

Historically, the International Relations (IR) discipline has established its boundaries, issues, and theories based upon Western experience and traditions of thought. This series explores the role of geocultural factors, institutions, and academic practices in creating the concepts, epistemologies, and methodologies through which IR knowledge is produced. This entails identifying alternatives for thinking about the "international" that are more in tune with local concerns and traditions outside the West. But it also implies provincializing Western IR and empirically studying the practice of producing IR knowledge at multiple sites within the so-called ‘West’.

We welcome book proposals in areas such as:

  • Critiques of Western-centric scholarship and policy-making.
  • The emergence of new theories and approaches from ‘the periphery’.
  • The challenges for the discipline at large in accommodating its post-Western phase, and the political and ethical dilemmas involved in this.
  • Concrete studies of the results of approaching issues and agendas in ‘the periphery’ with the tools offered by core thinking.
  • Work by scholars from the non-West about local, national, regional or global issues, reflecting on the importance of different perspectives and of geocultural epistemologies.
  • Studies of ‘travelling theory’ – how approaches, concepts and theories get modified, re-casted and translated in different contexts.
  • The meaning and evolution of major concepts in particular regions, such as security thinking, concepts of globalisation and power, understandings of ‘economy’ and ‘development’ or other key categories in particular regions.
  • The sociology of the discipline in different places – with a focus on a country, a region, on specific research communities/schools, subfields, or on specific institutions such as academic associations, journals, foundations or think tanks.
  • Empirical studies of epistemic practices and the conditions of knowledge production in different Western and non-Western locales and sites.
  • Studies of the interaction between different knowledge producers, such as processes of expertise or the dialogue between intellectuals, academics, bureaucrats and policy elites.

Series Editors: Arlene B. Tickner, Universidad del Rosario, Colombia, David Blaney, Macalester College, USA and Inanna Hamati-Ataya, University of Cambridge, UK

Founding Editor: Ole Wæver, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

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