In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Emotions

  • Introduction
  • Genealogies of Emotion in IR Theory
  • Methodology
  • Emotions and International Political Economy
  • Nonstate Actors and Social Movements

International Relations Emotions
Andrew A. G. Ross
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0173


Over the past fifteen years, scholars in international relations (IR) have set out to understand the vexing role of emotions in international and global politics. Research on this topic runs the full gamut from studies of individual leaders to the emotions associated with states and other collectivities. The nationalist conflicts of the post–Cold War period, coupled with the dramatic terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, provide the historical context for this affective turn, but its intellectual roots extend into longer-standing scholarly interest in emotion and affect within adjacent disciplines such as psychology, social psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and cultural theory. In demanding attention to research across these many disciplines, the study of emotion in IR has proved a tough nut to crack, and more disagreement than consensus continues to be found on how to study emotion and what its politically significant effects might be. One persistent schism exists between those who approach the study of emotion through social constructivism—as an aspect or by-product of discourses, identities, and norms—and those who approach it from a psychological perspective—as a personality trait or cause of misperception and bias. Nevertheless, agreement is wide on the fundamental claim that traditional approaches to the study of international and global politics have either neglected or marginalized the role of emotions. Current research on the topic is now setting out to discern the distinctive properties of emotion and the specific impact they have in specific topical areas—from nationalism, war, and ethnic conflict to diplomacy, conflict management, and transnational advocacy.

General Overviews

Because of its multidimensionality and its multidisciplinarity, studying emotions can be daunting to the uninitiated. There is specialized terminology but also intense debate over the often subtle cognitive distinctions among different emotions. More recently, volumes of research have been produced into the neural correlates of both specific emotional responses and the varied modalities of affect—from conscious feelings and acute emotional responses to more subtle moods and unconscious sentiments. In short, debate continues both across and within disciplines on how to typologize emotions and how to conceptualize their embodied and cognitive dimensions. To help navigate this complex terrain, this section lists several useful overviews of research across various disciplines, although it should be noted that the more cultural analysis catalogued in parts of this article have tended not to be included in synthetic sources such as these. Perhaps the most inclusive overview is Lewis, et al. 2010, which contains short chapters summarizing a range of different approaches to the study of emotion across many disciplines. Fox, et al. 2018 does the same but organizes contributions around key questions and enduring puzzles. Brader and Marcus 2013 offers a short synthesis of research on emotion from several disciplines and shows how these have been applied to the study of political behavior. Oatley 2004 is perhaps the closest to a light-and-lively survey of ideas from across disciplines.

  • Brader, Ted, and George E. Marcus. “Emotion and Political Psychology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology. 2d ed. Edited by Leonie Huddy, David O. Sears, and Jack S. Levy, 165–204. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    A summary of various approaches to emotion, including those in neuroscience, and their application in political psychology. Includes an extensive bibliography of research in psychology, social psychology, political psychology, and neuroscience.

  • Fox, Andrew S., Regina C. Lapate, Alexander J. Shackman, and Richard J. Davidson, eds. The Nature of Emotion: Fundamental Questions. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    A collection of short essays organized around key questions in the study of emotion. Responses are provided by important scholars in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. This second edition is substantially updated to reflect current emotions research across multiple disciplines.

  • Lewis, Michael, Jeannette M. Haviland-Jones, and Lisa Feldman-Barrett, eds. Handbook of Emotions. 3d ed. New York: Guilford, 2010.

    A useful collection of essays summarizing research on emotion in various disciplines, including economics, history, neuroscience, psychology, developmental and social psychology, and sociology.

  • Oatley, Keith. Emotions: A Brief History. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470776322

    An accessible and engaging survey of both historical and contemporary research on emotion. Contextualizes current research in neuroscience, sociology, psychology, and social psychology in relation to the long history of literary and philosophical engagements with emotion in the West.

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