Dadaism and the Peace Differend

By Richmond, Oliver P. | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, October-December 2007 | Go to article overview

Dadaism and the Peace Differend


Richmond, Oliver P., Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


This experimental essay attempts to show how alternative methods and approaches are valuable in interrogating the ways in which orthodox theories of international relations (IR) approach peace. Drawing on a broad variety of critical traditions, it seeks to encourage the development of creative and experimental interdisciplinary approaches as well as to underline the deficiencies of more instrumentalist theories and methods. It especially tries to show how eclectic and experimental theories and methods produce sophisticated insights that are capable of reorienting analysis so as to respond to dynamics that must be understood if sustainable and multiple variations of peace are to emerge. Keywords: Dadaism, peace, differend, international relations, experimental eclecticism

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  The life we led, our follies and our deeds of heroism, our
  provocations, however "polemical" and aggressive they may have been,
  were all part of a tireless quest for an anti-art, a new way of
  thinking, feeling, and knowing.--Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-
  Art (1)

Is IR theory antipeace? Certainly, for a long period any notion of peace has been submerged behind the debates about states, sovereignty, institutions, norms, identity, and representation. (2) On the institutionalization of this discipline after World War I it was hoped it would help discover a postwar peace dividend, especially through idealist and, later, liberal approaches. Whether this occurred is debatable. Certainly, orthodox analyses of international relations have failed in this respect, although they have been instrumental in developing a liberal discourse of peace since 1945, albeit one that has been as an expression of Western interests, rationalism, and culture. Even peace research has been criticized for having the potential to become "a council of imperialism," further implicating the discipline in the "tragedy" of international relations. (3)

This tendency is indicative of a "differend," a reminder that institutions and frameworks may produce injustices even when operating in good faith. (4) Many researchers interested in this problem often blame the "muscular objectivism" (5) that has dominated the analysis of international relations in Western scholarship and policy. This has resulted in a narrow discipline, prone to lose sight of a broadly emancipatory notion of peace and insulating it from the contemporary culture wars that are raging across many other disciplines. The survival of the demand for reductionism and parsimony through "research" in liberal institutions without need for a broader ethical exploration is of especially great concern, given that methodological pluralism has become a generally accepted objective across many disciplines as a way of avoiding parochialism. (6) As with premodernist art, orthodox analyses of international relations represent the world mimetically, so that repetitions of the lessons of history become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (7) In order to gain a multidimensional understanding of international relations, this article argues, it will be necessary to embrace an ironic eclecticism in the manner of the Dadaists and of many other antimimetic approaches to representation that recognize universal subjectivity, rather than trying to replicate an eternal truth or reality. (8)

Thus, in the context of various critical turns in the analysis of international relations, this article experiments with search, rather than research. It considers the implications of a genealogy of examples engendering resistance to an accepted norm of, or institutional approach to, knowledge that has implications for a critical discussion of peace. It especially seeks to engage with orthodox claims to be able to interpret the "unknowable other," (9) while also opening up alternative perspectives that add previously hidden dimensions to a disciplinary discussion of peace. Using a collage of cases (in the performative sense of Dadaism), (10) it illustrates how an approach based upon experimental eclecticism in method and theory can be used to contribute to a broader understanding of the key problems of international relations. …

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