in: International Studies Perspectives
In international relations, there is regular reflection about the complex relations between academic and various kinds of practical knowledge. In this article, we add to these reflections using the example of democracy promotion expertise. We develop a practice–theoretical methodology based on the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and extensions of it in the communities of practice literature. We also include a comparative dimension by studying epistemic practices in North America and Germany. Our analysis shows the importance of knowledge translating between academia and democracy promotion practice and the prestige and capital of roaming experts who cross epistemic boundaries that otherwise divide actors. To varying degrees, roaming experts contribute to practice-oriented translations of academic insights and the identification of problems stemming from ongoing practice that are important in democracy promotion. We show that processes of problem construction are regulated by conventions that homogenize epistemic practices and evidence, with only selective attention paid to emancipatory demands or epistemes from the Global South. While our research shows some epistemes and demands conflict with Western norms, Global South epistemes and demands are most often turned into arguments for further liberal democracy promotion.