Ghosts in the machine: Is IR eternally haunted by the spectre of old concepts?

Yee Kuang Heng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Where ideas such as the ‘End of History’, ‘Globalisation’ or a ‘New World Order’ once animated the academy, recent debates within International Relations (IR) seem indicative of an emerging sea-change in intellectual trends. Scholars are now mooting instead a ‘Return of History’, the ‘Return of Authoritarian Great Powers’, the ‘Return of Realism’, the ‘Resurgence of geopolitical competition’ and even a ‘Replay of the Great Game’. The resurrection of these so-called ‘traditional’ concepts raises an intriguing question: is the study of IR continually plagued by concepts that refuse to go away? This article begins by reviewing the intellectual historiography of IR, demonstrating that heralds of a ‘new dawn’ have repeatedly encountered the stubborn lingering presence of ‘old’ assumptions. The article then proceeds to analyse how the philosophical metaphor of a ‘ghost in the machine’ can help elucidate these peculiar intellectual quirks of IR, before concluding by contemplating the possibility of eventual ‘exorcism’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-556
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Politics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


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