Research areas: International Relations, Philosophy, Social Theory
Having obtained a PhD from the University of Aberystwyth, I joined the Department of War Studies at King's as an Assistant Professor in 2007. Currently I am a senior visiting fellow, working on projects that explore the problem of anarchy, as well as the connection between practice theory and the normative structure of the international realm. Although formally educated in political theory and international relations, my research engages broader questions in philosophy and social theory.
(1) International relations theory
- International political theory
- Ethics of war
(2) Social theory and philosophy of social science
- Social practices as normative domains, rule-following (Winch and Wittgenstein)
- Early Frankfurt school (Adorno)
- Methodology of social science
(3) Political philosophy
- Hobbes, Kant, Oakeshott
- Questions of authority, anarchy, and freedom
- Social contract theory, 'states of nature'
(4) Ethics of technology and bioethics
A current project includes Hobbes's conception of a state of nature ('anarchy'), as an unregulated realm of free interaction. The core problem it entails is the uncertainty of transactions and incommensurability of values. A stable solution cannot be a third-party coercion, but only a common set of rules. I explore this puzzle in Hobbesian Internationalism (Palgrave 2019), from the vantage point of political theory as well as in the context of an international anarchy between states.
My book Practice Theory and International Relations (with Mervyn Frost, Cambridge 2018) outlines a theory of social practices. It attempts to clear some conceptual ground by defining the core aspects of practices as normative domains such as constitutive rules, rule-following, and understanding rule-governed action from 'the inside' (Verstehen). It identifies a number of misconceptions. One notable misconception is that a practice (a normative domain constituted by rules) is the same as action (doing). Another one is that a categorical gulf separates praxis from theoria. What is shown, instead, is that actions are only intelligible under a description and hence are 'theoretical' by default. And, as Wittgenstein and Oakeshott have noted, in rule-following, understanding a rule (the theoretical part) and using it (the practical part) are intertwined. On the plane of IR theory, the book makes the case that the civil state, as well as the society of states, constitute macro-level practices ('closed', ethically fundamental, second-order normative domains) that cannot be reduced to everyday micro practices.
Parallel to this, I have a long-standing interest in contemporary social theory, and in the first-generation Frankfurt school whose disenchantment with late modernity was most powerfully articulated by Adorno. Adorno's critique was directed against contemporary society marked by false positivity and consumerism, understood as the opposite of production in the fundamental sense in which a human being is a producer or maker of one's own world, a free being. The resultant idea of unfreedom as a loss of individuality represents an important kontrapunkt to more recent criticisms of late modernity that draw on ideals of democracy, rights, and equality.
In addition, I have written on moral bioenhancement where my position is that while medical enhancement is an unobjectionable (and perhaps valuable) technique, using it as a tool for moral perfection, leads to dangerous social engineering. A new problematic that I have started working on is the ethics of technology, related to the use of big data and algorithms to predict the behaviour of individuals. The problem here is not well captured by theories of surveillance or autonomy/consent. Rather, it concerns the question of legitimate political authority, and invites us to consider the relation between capital, the state, and the pubic sphere under the conditions of advanced technological capitalism.
Silviya Lechner, Hobbesian Internationalism: Anarchy, Authority and the Fate of Political Philosophy (London: Palgrave, 2019).
Silviya Lechner and Mervyn Frost, Practice Theory and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
Articles and Book Chapters
' Practice Theory and International Relations: A Reply to Our Critics' (with Mervyn Frost), forthcoming in Global Constitutionalism, Dec 2019.
‘Constructivism’. In Theories of International Relations. Vol. 2, ed. Atanas Gotchev, Evgenia Vassileva, Boyan Hadgiev. Sofia: Albatross, 2019, in press.
'War and the Morality of Risk', Vol. 14, No 2, Feb. 2019, Oxford St. Anthony's International Review, pp. 37-57.
'Why Anarchy Still Matters for International Relations: On Theories and Things'. Journal of International Political Theory , Vol. 13, No 3, June 2017, pp. 341-359.
'Anarchy in International Relations'. Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of International Studies, ed. Renée Marlin-Bennett, 2017.
'Understanding International Practices from the Internal Point of View' (with Mervyn Frost), Journal of International Political Theory, Vol. 12, No 3, Oct 2016, pp. 299–319.
'Two Conceptions of International Practice: Aristotelian Praxis or Wittgensteinian Language-Games?'(with Mervyn Frost), Review of International Studies, Vol 42, No 2, April 2016, pp.
'Why Moral Bioenhancement is a Bad Idea and Why Egalitarianism Would Make it Worse', American Journal of Bioethics vol. 14, No. 4 (14 April 2014), pp. 31-32.
‘Morality and History in Oakeshott’s System of Ideas,’ in Michael Henkel and Oliver Lembcke (eds.) Praxis und Politik -Michael Oakeshott im Dialog (Mohr Siebeck, 2013), pp. 77-94.
‘Basic Rights and Global Justice: The Problem of International Coercion’, in Matthew Happold (ed.) International Law in a Multipolar World (London and New York: Routledge 2012), pp. 158-178.
‘Wood’s Kantian Ethics: A Hermeneutics of Freedom’, Kantian Review, Vol. 16, No 1, 2011, pp. 141-150.
‘Humanitarian Intervention: Moralism vs. Realism?’, International Studies Review, Vol. 12, No 3 (6 September 2010), pp. 437–443. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2486.2010.00947.x
‘Neuroscience: On Practices, Truth and Rationality’, American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience , vol. 1, No. 4, (4 Oct ) 2010, pp. 57-58.
'Kant’s System of Nature and Freedom: Selected Essays by Paul Guyer', Kantian Review, vol. 13, No 2 (July) 2008, pp. 146-150.
‘Equality, Authority, and the Locus of International Order’, Research Papers on Constitutionalism and Governance Beyond the State (Currently, Global Constitutionalism : Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law) Jan. 2007, University of Hamburg.
‘What Difference does Ius Inter Gentes Make? Changing Diplomatic Rights and Duties and the Modern European States-System,’ The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2006, pp. 235-259.