Rebalancing the Encounter between Science Diplomacy and International Relations Theory

Image credit: Damian Gadal via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Whether it is in climate change negotiations, pandemic scares, security threats or sustainable development agendas, science and technology are today at the heart of international affairs. Yet there is still limited academic work that deals with the complex relationships between international diplomatic and scientific endeavours. How can we bridge this divide and possibly ‘rebalance’ the encounter between the practice of science diplomacy, its practitioner‐driven literature, and the discussions of international relations theory (IR) that underpin the study of world politics? Here we propose that this move could start from a more explicit placing of science diplomacy discussions across the IR spectrum. We pose that taking seriously science ‘diplomacy’, whilst undoing conventions around the hitherto limited ‘IR’ reading of science in its literature, would do well in establishing this reality not just as a domain of reflective practitioners, but as an effective launchpad for international theorizing as much as more academically‐driven practice.

Policy Implications

  • Recast from international relations theory, current appreciations of ‘science diplomacy’ might fall short of offering effective readings of world politics
  • Recognising the value of diplomatic studies and practice, science diplomacy can do better at appreciating the dynamics of negotiation between, and within, science and global policy
  • Within IR and diplomacy, practice theory offers a chance to go beyond conventional understandings of what scientific communities do in and for world politics
  • A more academically‐sound base where to understand science diplomacy offers an effective starting point to appreciate the dynamics of how science, innovation and technology impact the way we frame and define, and thus respond, to today's most pressing global challenges.