Ontological Entanglements, Agency and Ethics in a Global World (Hardback) book cover

Ontological Entanglements, Agency and Ethics in a Global World

By Laura Zanotti

© 2019 – Routledge

224 pages

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Hardback: 9780415786355
pub: 2018-07-31
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While the relevance of ontological commitments for epistemology and methodology in International Relations have been the subject of growing debate for several years, the implications for ethics and political agency of embracing an ontology of entanglement have remained unexplored. This work focuses on the importance of addressing the ontological and epistemological assumptions of the discipline of International Relations.

There is increased awareness of the limits of abstract principles as ways of adjudicating real life political and ethical choices regarding International Intervention and international development for both practitioners and scholars. Zanotti highlights the easiness with which political failures are dismissed as unintended consequences and argues that the current crisis in Syria, and genocides in Srebrenica and Rwanda have shown that advocating abstract ethical principles, be they the Responsibility to Protect, impartiality, or following rules can lead to disaster and can foster violent and exclusionary practices. The work argues that non-substantialist ontological positions nurture a political ethics that privileges ‘modest’ engagements of practical solidarity and weights political choices with regard to the consequences and distributive effects they may produce in the context where they are made rather than based upon their universal normative aspirations. While the book is firmly rooted in metatheory, it will include a chapter that exemplifies how such ethics can be practiced through the example of an international NGO in Haiti.

Highlighting the need for critically re-thinking the way we conceptualize political agency and validate ethics, this work will be of interest to scholars of International Relations theory, ethics and critical security studies.

Table of Contents

Introduction: ontologies, epistemology and political agency

Section 1. Questioning substantialism

Chapter 1.1. Questioning overarching principles of the whole from Anarchy to Empire.

Chapter 1.2. Conducting inquiries as if universals did not exist: Michel Foucault, constructivism and practical knowledge. Section 2. Redefining ontology

Chapter 2.1. Re-thinking structures and causality.Section 3. Re-imagining ethics

Chapter 3.1. Performing agency.

Chapter 3.2. Living in an entangled world

Section 4. Exemplifying practical solidarity, re-thinking ethics beyond abstract normativity and structural constraints.

Chapter 4.1. Dwelling on abstractions. Rwanda, Srebrenica, Haiti, Syria and other disasters.

Chapter 4.2. Structural violence, reflexivity and practical engagement: Paul Farmer and Partners in Health (PIH) in Haiti.


About the Author

Laura Zanotti is Associate Professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, USA.

About the Series


The Series provides a forum for innovative and interdisciplinary work that engages with alternative critical, post-structural, feminist, postcolonial, psychoanalytic and cultural approaches to international relations and global politics. In our first 5 years we have published 60 volumes.

We aim to advance understanding of the key areas in which scholars working within broad critical post-structural traditions have chosen to make their interventions, and to present innovative analyses of important topics. Titles in the series engage with critical thinkers in philosophy, sociology, politics and other disciplines and provide situated historical, empirical and textual studies in international politics.


We are very happy to discuss your ideas at any stage of the project: just contact us for advice or proposal guidelines. Proposals should be submitted directly to the Series Editors:

  • Jenny Edkins (jennyedkins@hotmail.com) and
  • Nick Vaughan-Williams (N.Vaughan-Williams@Warwick.ac.uk).

‘As Michel Foucault has famously stated, "knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting" In this spirit The Edkins - Vaughan-Williams Interventions series solicits cutting edge, critical works that challenge mainstream understandings in international relations. It is the best place to contribute post disciplinary works that think rather than merely recognize and affirm the world recycled in IR's traditional geopolitical imaginary.’

Michael J. Shapiro, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, USA


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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Process / Political Parties
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Process / General