Book chapter

Ontological Security and Foreign Policy (2017)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


In the early 21st century, a stream of international relations (IR) scholarship has emerged that interprets states' foreign policy processes, decisions, and international outcomes through the lens of a distinctive type of security, ontological as opposed to "physical" or "material" security. It is a concept that helps us think about how the ability to make choices and take action depends critically on our sense of self, which is itself produced in our actions, albeit often at the level of routines and background narratives. Bringing ontological security into the study of foreign policy in some cases points to different explanations for choices, while in others it adds causal depth and generates new implications. This article reviews the literature that treats foreign policy as an outgrowth of the pursuit of a multifaceted understanding of security, ontological and physical, and raises questions for further research.