Critical international relations theory

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Critical international relations theory is a set of schools of thought in international relations (IR) that have criticized the status-quo—both from positivist positions as well as postpositivist positions. Positivist critiques include Marxist and Neo-Marxist approaches and Neo-Gramscianism. Some may also consider Social Constructivism as a positivist theory. Postpositivist critiques include postmodernist, postcolonial and feminist approaches, which differ from both realism and liberalism in their epistemological and ontological premises.

Such schools of thoughts are less common in the United States. Outside the United States, such theories are still not widely recognized but are generally known and accepted in smaller academic circles. They are, however, taught at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in many universities outside the United States, as a major concern is that "a myopic discipline of IR might contribute to the continued development of a civil society in the U.S. that thinks, reflects and analyzes complex international events through a very narrow set of theoretical lenses" [1]


[edit] Marxist theories

Marxist and Neo-Marxist international relations theories are positivist paradigms which reject the realist/liberal view of state conflict or cooperation; instead focusing on the economic and material aspects. It makes the assumption that the economic trumps other concerns; allowing for the elevation of class as the focus of study. Marxists view the international system as an integrated capitalist system in pursuit of capital accumulation.

[edit] Social Constructivism

Main article: Constructivism in international relations.

Social Constructivism is an attempt at bringing some of the epistemologic and ontological premise of postpostivistic theories into positivism. Its proponents claim it is a middle ground between positivist and postpositivist theories. Social Constructivism focuses on the power of ideas in defining the international system—its founder, Alexander Wendt, noted that anarchy is what states make of it, implying that the international structure is not only a constraint on state action, but in fact constitutes state action through constituting the identities and interest of state agents.

[edit] Criticisms

Social Constructivism is considered by many postpositivists as being positivist as the focus of analysis is the state (at the ignorance of other factors such as ethnicity, class, race or gender); and considered by many positivists as postpositivist, as it forgoes many positivist assumptions.

[edit] Postpositivist theories

Postpositivist (or reflectivist) theories of IR attempt to integrate a larger variety of security concerns. Supporters argue that if IR is the study of foreign affairs and relations, it ought to include non-state actors as well as the state. Instead of studying solely high politics of the state, IR ought to study world politics of the everyday world—which involves BOTH high and low politics. Thus, issues such as gender (often in terms of feminism which generally holds salient the subordination of women to men—though newer feminisms allow for the reverse too) and ethnicity (such as stateless actors like the Kurds or perhaps Palestinians) can be problematized and made into an international security issue—supplanting (not replacing) the traditional IR concerns of diplomacy and outright war.

The postpositivist approach can be described as incredulity towards metanarratives—in IR, this would involve rejecting all-encompassing stories that claim to explain the international system. It eliminates the neo-neo debate by arguing that neither could be one true story. A postpositivist approach to IR does not claim to provide universal answers—but seeks to ask questions instead. A key difference is that while positivist theories such as realism and liberalism highlight how power is exercised, postpositivist theories focus on how power is experienced resulting in a focus on both different subject matters and agents.

Often, postpositivist theories explicitly promote a normative approach to IR, by considering ethics. This is something which has often been ignored under traditional IR as positivist theories make a distinction between positive facts and normative judgements—whereas postpostivists argue that discourse is constitutive of reality; in other words, that it is impossible to be truly independent and factual as power-free knowledge cannot exist. (#)

Postpositivist theories do not attempt to be scientific or a social science. Instead, they attempt to tell a story about international relations by asking relevant questions to determine in what ways the status-quo promote certain power relations.

[edit] Feminism

Feminist IR would probably be best described as a series of feminisms—as there is no singular approach. First-wave feminist IR sought to involve women at the sub-state level—in the hope that this would lead to women's involvement in the international level. Second-wave (radical) feminism sought to emphasize feminine differences, by arguing patriarchy as the reason for women's subdomination and while third-wave (poststructuralist) feminism sought to analyze issues concerning gender and sexuality by deconstructing definitions of men and women. In IR, some feminists argued that the discipline is inherently masculine in nature, by focusing on specific actors in both politics and in conflict—i.e. diplomats and warriors. Instead, they argue for a more inclusive IR that considered the role of women in both politics and war—by gendering war. For example, this may be done by considering how decisionmaking affects women (e.g. women in men's work during World War II) and the role of women as prostitutes or as victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence in war. Feminist IR, however, considers other questions too: For example, it may expose how rationality or security become gendered concepts; or how the status-quo international system serves to perpetuate gender inequalities. Influential in the study of a feminist international relations has been the work of Dr. Cynthia Enloe, who in her books has systmatically re-evaluated the ways in which IR is typically gendered.

[edit] Criticisms

By focusing on 'traditional' women’s roles (as victims or being used by men), feminist IR may exclude those women participating as diplomats or soldiers as well as ignoring men's issue such as why it is generally men are forced to fight in wars. Furthermore, as with criticisms with feminism in general, feminism almost always treats women as the subject of analysis at the exclusion of men—whether as agents or victims. In defence, some feminisms do consider men—though it still often makes the assumption that due to patriarchy, a certain, rational man is privileged. This may result in a confirmation bias.

Perhaps, rather than feminism, a more inclusive term may be gendered IR; a gender-aware understanding of international relations as opposed to a gender-blind one. A gender-aware approach means that existing understanding of IR are analyzed to see in what ways they reflect existing power structures; though in many ways, this function is already addressed by more inclusive men and women who align with the third-wave feminist movement.

[edit] Postcolonialism

Postcolonial IR challenges the eurocentrism of IR—particularly its parochial assumption that Western Enlightenment thinking is superior, progressive and universally applicable. Postcolonialists argue that this is enabled through constructing the Other as irrational and backwards. [2]

Postcolonial IR attempts to expose such parochial assumptions of IR; for example, in the construction of white versus coloured peoples. An example is the IR story of a white men's burden to educate and liberate coloured men and women, to protect coloured women from coloured men. Often this is linked to other postpositivist theories, for example, through Postcolonial feminism, which analyze issues in IR through the lenses of both gender and culture.

Examples of the parochialistic nature of IR include geographical parochialism and cultural chauvinism. For the former, the construction of the Cold War era as a time of peace ignores the reality that major conflicts continued in the developing world. Furthermore, the oft-cited history of IR is constructed in western terms (more information under history); and IR has been used to justify everything from imperialism to a playground for skirmishes between the two Cold War superpowers. For the latter, the West (through IGOs such as the IMF's quick rush to "save" Asia in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis of 19978 could be seen as both a white men's burden to save Asia or to reformulate Asian capitalism in a Western image. [3]

[edit] Criticisms

Such IR stories are limited in scope; and like other postpostivist theories, they do not attempt to form an overarching theory as after all, postpositivism is defined as incredulity towards metanarratives. In defence, postpositivists argue that metanarratives have proven unworkable—and thus, such theories, although limited in scope, provide for much greater possibilities in the normative work of formulating foreign policy that takes into account gender, ethnicity and other concerns.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Smith, Steve (2002). "The United States and the Discipline of International Relations: Hegemonic Country, Hegemonic Discipline?". International Studies Perspectives 4 (2): 67-86. 
  2. ^ Edward Said (1979), Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books
  3. ^ Cultural Chauvinism and the Liberal International Order - ‘West vs Rest’ in Asia’s Financial Crisis - Forthcoming in G. Chowdhry and S. Nair (eds), Power in a Postcolonial World: Race, Gender and Class in International Relations (London: Routledge)

[edit] Bibliography

  • Critical Theory and International Relations: A Reader, ed. by Steven C. Roach, Routledge, 2007, 432 p., ISBN 0415954193
  • Women, Culture, and International Relations (Critical Perspectives on World Politics) ed. By Vivienne Jabri, Eleanor O'Gorman, Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc, US, 1999, ISBN 155587701X
  • Jenny Edkins, Poststructuralism & International Relations: Bringing the Political Back in (Critical Perspectives on World Politics), Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc, US, 1999, ISBN 1555878458
  • Cynthia Enloe, The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire (Paperback), University of California Press 2004, ISBN 0520243811
  • Jim George, Discourses of Global Politics: A Critical Introduction to International Relations, Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc,US, 1994, ISBN 1555874460
  • Emin Fuat Keyman, Globalization, State, Identity/Difference: Toward a Critical Social Theory of International Relations, Prometheus Books, 1997, ISBN 1573926051
  • Carne Ross, Independent Diplomat: Despatches from an Unaccountable Elite (Crisis in World Politics), C. Hurst & Co, 2007, ISBN 1850658439
  • Christine Sylvester, Feminist international relations: an unfinished journey. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., 2002
  • Cynthia Weber, International Relations Theory. A Critical Introduction, 2nd edition, Taylor & Francis 2004, ISBN 0415342082
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