Home > Uncategorized > What I learned teaching intro to IR

What I learned teaching intro to IR

Simplifying the complication of the post-literatures. Basically they all introduce non-material factors. Such as ideas, language, identity. Their ethical stances are about including all perspectives since representation is not neutral. This helps simplify a particularly complicated text. Through all the complex language what they are really doing is very simple and their interventions are also simple to understand if you keep in mind that this is at base what their work is about.

The unifying insight that allowed me to really understand abstruse scholarly work is an insight by Waltz I believe. All scholars are trying to understand and improve the world. They all want an end to conflict, to war, to suffering, they all want justice and order. At base all scholarship no matter how obscure and abstruse aims for these things, even the most critical. The aim is engaging the world and its problems (possibly unified around the word security with all its different definitions). And critiquing existing answers is part of engaging the world and its problems.

Constructivism: Social interaction produces identity.  Focus on ideas, individual matters. Role of great people? Behavior determined not by rational calculation but by logic of appropriateness. How am I supposed to act in this situation. Or what does a person like me do in this situation. Behavior based on identity role fulfillment. Social production of identity through interaction, learning process is important.

Identity: Multiple, open ended, never constant or essential. Overlapping and conflicting.

Feminism: Knowledge produce by who, for who and about who. Usually men, reflects men’s concerns and visions of the world. Linguistic dichotomies of gender characteristic. Gender as social construction, changing does not mean changeable, structures are pretty fixed. Patriarchy, male structures of domination. Introduce perspective of women, their experience and concerns. Overcome linguistic dichotomies, redefine power, interest, cooperation. Critical security: refocus on individual from state, include structural violence and economic violence, and environmental violence. Gender binaries can be transgressed productively. 5 types of feminism. Liberal focuses on formal rules, structures, look to official equality. Other look at language, social roles, expectations and identity reproduction. Criticism by post-co, what does equality with men entail? Not equality with all men, the powerful white males then? Criticize idea of equality with men, and that all women are subject to same patriarchy and have same solutions required. Introducing weaker men makes feminism about emancipation and critical perspectives on equality rather than just about women. 3rd wave feminism, bell hooks. Problem of who speaks for poor same here, women’s experience contain superior insight on their condition but not all women the same, sometimes contradictory, How do we arbitrate between competing claims? On what foundation can non-women make knowledge claims then?

Post-Structuralism: Focus on language/discourses, there is nothing outside of discourse. Theory as performative. Representations of the world create it in a certain way.. No such thing as world ready made. Sure physical reality exists, but without meaning it doesn’t have any impact on human behavior. Meaning is everything. Way we see the world brings it into being but it also orient us to certain types of behavior. Representations of Africa for example. This works also for representations of the self. Problem: representation cannot be individual, the social nature of representation makes focus on individuals problematic. Focus on introducing marginalized discourses, de-naturalizing dominant ones and deconstructing the power acts in them. Reality is never just one thing, always complex and multifaceted, especially people, not just evil or good, when you describe someone as a nurse, or a mother, or a killer, you are creating the world in a certain way, the world in reality is endless, that person is all 3 at once and much more other things. Same about globalization for example.  The things we pick out of the endless reality and choose to represent is not a neutral act and it is an act.

Reflexivists and Social Contextualists as subs of post-struc: Position determined by sociological context, ideas and viewpoints result of where you stand. Where you stand depends on where you sit. Variations within on possibility of overcoming. Inanna’s strong reflexivism: The world out there exists, and we should try to understand it, but in order to do this, the power sociological position of Positivism and scholars ought to be understood as well rather than seeing them as neutral observers. Aim is better understanding of reality after all.

Post-Colonialism: Will tend to be associated with orientalism and Edward Said, but my broader understanding is: two types,  any scholarship that focuses on colonialism, legacies of colonialsim, continued patterns of domination resulting from it. Also any scholar that seeks to disrupt knowledge production and power of colonizers or of dominant global social groups. So who knows, what do we know about and for what purpose. Post-co would say generally white males know, they determine what they want to know about and they mostly study themselves, or when studying others do so for own purposes, exclude local experiences of events a illegitimate. Post-co, knowers must change. Bring in silenced perspectives. Knowledge purpose also changes. Different experience of reality (Cold war for example was not peaceful). No consensus among post-co but focus on giving voice to those who do not have it. Re-orient research for purposes of those excluded. Also critical security definitions. Relook at institutions or scholars, like Kant writing on freedom and not talking about slavery. Now post-co usually about how language dichotomies construct self-other, allow dehumanization, double standards and exploitation. Post-structuralist in the sense that representations are performative. But not all post-co have to bee post-struc. But most work done in post-struc, also in law, new foundations for world including excluded perspectives will look different. Flaws in current inst. constructed on purpose, not incidental but central. WOn’t get it right next time, inst. built for purposes of exclusion. Ex: IMF, NNPT.

Samer says post-co is not about representation of those not represented.. Problems: there is no other that needs to be represented, it is endless, there will always be some other not represented, ultimately you will get down to each individual must be represented and given voice and this is impossible and not even useful. The other reason is that there will always be others and othering and power relations. Samer sees post-co not as emancipation, that and inclusion can be don in a liberal frame. Rather post-co or post-struc is a critical stance, an ethical commitment to exposing power-knowledge relationships.

Inanna on Teaching the schools, interesting as always: “The question you’re posing is important, but I think that since it is one of ‘classification’, the point is to ask what is the objective/function of a classification, and hence what makes a classification (or typology) more valuable or useful than another one. Another way of looking at such categories is in terms of ‘labelling’, which can be more appropriately understood as a form of practice – so classificatory/labelling practices, which are essential to any discipline, have their stakes and also operate in ways that are not always made conscious to the ones who produce and/or use them. You’ll remember that I don’t use textbooks in my own teaching, and this is largely because textbooks ‘erase’ all the processes that underscore the finished product (the 2×2 or 3×3 tables) and only show the ‘rational’ logic that their authors make explicit.

So from a general perspective, you can ask the same questions about Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism, Post-structuralism, etc… as well as about the dichotomous pairs that are presented in the literature: i.e., Liberalism understood ‘as opposed to’ Realism, and these oppositions are also constructs based on specific (perhaps arbitrary, or at least not absolute) criteria or standards. In fact, if you apply a ‘deconstructionist’ approach (a la Derrida) to the categories of disciplinary discourse, such as these debates and pairs of opposed paradigms, you can bring out what is silenced or highlighted in the finished product, and this tells you more about the underlying rationale or logic of classification or labelling, than the headings of the ‘tables’ that present them in an analytical way. E.g., opposing two paradigms is, paradoxically, a way to allow for a synthesis of them – e.g., the neo-neo synthesis, etc.

I agree that ‘Post-colonialism’ is a tricky one, and I think part of the difficulty comes from the fact that although it is essentially about ‘the international’, it was constructed outside of IR and imported into it from other disciplines – cultural studies, comparative literature, national political science traditions, historical sociology, area studies, etc…

The connection between post-colonialism and post-structuralism seems to be evident to many people – and indeed the norm. This was verified to me in a survey I did a few months ago, of US and UK scholars. John Hobson, for example, does not count himself within postcolonialism, because he is not a poststructuralist. So I think he would place himself within international sociological history or international history, but also international political economy.

The problem is that the standards for all these categories are different: do you define a tradition by its theme, its object(s), its methodologies, its epistemic-ontological framework, or what? A good exercise is to compare the standards/criteria used to classify all these ‘isms’ in textbooks, and you’ll see that they are not unified.  If you use the definition you propose, then many people doing postcolonial work would disagree because they think that by definition positivism is antithetical to a postcolonial posture (because it is ahistorical, it separates subject and object, knowledge and reality, etc,, so a lot of what postcolonial studies investigate, such as the knowledge-power nexus, cannot become objects of study within a positivist framework). This might explain the connection with post-structuralism, although post-structuralism is also a very weird category (what is common between Foucault and Derrida, and between genealogy and deconstruction??)

There is also another problem, which is that some consider that post-colonialism is also intellectually a Western tradition. So they propose instead ‘decolonial’ studies (see Walter Mignolo for example) as grounded in properly ‘local’ cognitive traditions. This is an interesting view because it entails that all western traditions are rejected, such as Marxism, realism, liberalism, constructivism, etc… So someone like Vijay Prashad, who is a Marxist, would be rejected outside of postcolonialism because he’d be seen as using a western tradition – and I agree, in fact, because if you take the idea of ‘cognitive hegemony’ to its logical conclusion, then post-colonialism, being largely produced in the west based on western categories, is also contributing to this hegemony.

I’m not sure what the best set of criteria is. If we start with the least common denominator, postcolonialism considers that the contemporary situation cannot be understood unless the history and effects of colonialism are taken into account. And this is already a huge shift from traditional IR theory. So it entails a historical approach, but then you can combine it with materialism within the economic basis (Marxism), or anthropology/sociology (looking at institutions, culture) or psycho-social (the constitution of the self/other) etc…
Ayoob proposed a realism that is adapted to the ‘periphery’. Is that postcolonialism? or is it simply inspired by a postcolonial ‘gaze’, or better, a local perspective? I mean there isn’t a single ‘theory’ that is postcolonial (Said’s methodology was so weak that it cannot be turned into anything substantial – that’s why it became so famous so quickly, by the way), and postcolonialism doesn’t rely on any singly theory, so the ‘ism’ is also deceiving: it gives the impression of a clear set of assumptions, which is not the case in epistemic-ontological terms.

So it’s probably better to actually start from this, and explain what kind of ‘ism’ postcolonialism is – this is why I believe that when teaching IR theories, you need to make students aware of the socio-historical context, and show them the classifications for what they are. And then find the common denominator, and then show the different currents within it. But ultimately, it’s never very interesting to remain at this level of discourse: this is really just for teaching and communicating stuff to uninitiated students. Even in your papers, you will be asked to specify what you’re referring to, and you cannot write any argument or propose a classification that denies all the diversity of positions and nuances.

One important component of postcolonialism, though, is it’s political nature and origins – people like Fanon, unlike Said, where both thinkers and activitsts. In fact, Said is more related to western post-colonialism I think, whereas if you read people who promote ‘decoloniality’, they will more likely refer to Nasser, the Bandung conference, or the non-alignment movement during the cold war, as important signposts (and even ‘models’) for the development of ‘local’ representations of the world that are not grounded in western thought or social-political experience. Feminism, too, cannot be understood as an academic tradition without linking it to its origins: it started as a political movement, from social struggle, and this is very different from other academic or intellectual traditions (including Marxism, as opposed to ‘socialism’ which did start in social struggle and then became intellectualized (I think)).

I haven’t read the article you’re referring to, but the idea that the oppressed have a ‘privileged’ view of reality goes back to Marxism – but, according to some, not to Marxian thought itself – and was developed by Lukács who argued that the consciousness of the proletariat is the ‘true consciousness’, because they can see the full historical process, whereas the bourgeoisie cannot because it takes for granted the social order as the ‘given’ one. This is something I’m actually working on, and if you’re interested in it, I would suggest that you look at the tradition that has most developed it, i.e., Feminist Standpoint Theory (Donna Haraway, Sandra Harding, Dorothy Smith). They consider that positivism provides a distorted view of reality precisely because it attempts to detach itself from any perspective. But a perspective is necessary for knowledge to be possible: knowledge is only possible from a perspective, and therefore a ‘strong objectivity’ needs to be grounded in a ‘standpoint’ – reflexively. So the question becomes, as with Lukács: which perspective is better? Karl Mannheim, in the 1920s, proposed that each perspective provides a valuable partial representation, and the point is to operate a synthesis – he thought those who could perform this synthesis were a ‘free-floating intelligentsia’. But Feminist Standpoint theorists consider that not all perspectives are equal, and the perspective of the oppressed is privileged, but in order for it to become epistemically a sound cognitive perspective, it needs to be turned from a ‘viewpoint’ to a ‘standpoint’. And this is not just the position of ‘women’, but also those who are socially oppressed or marginalised on the basis of race, economic status, etc.. – in fact, the contribution of Black Standpoint Feminists was essential to show these nuances. I suggest you read the Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader – it includes all the classical texts and it’s really excellent.

I hope this is useful somehow. Ultimately, these are all artifacts that you can only make sense of sociologically. In the survey I did – the results of which are hopefully coming out in a few months in a paper I’m co-writing with Felix Berenskoetter, who looked at how textbooks ‘map’ theories of IR – IR scholars actually ‘do’ theory in a completely different way: they mix and match in fact, so whatever dichotomies are presented in textbooks are just rationalized on the basis of abstract a priori criteria that are not related to the actual practice of scholars. some respondents even said that they found liberalism and marxism compatible!”

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