Meaning and International Relations

Meaning and International Relations

Meaning and International Relations

Meaning and International Relations


This innovative volume brings together specialists in international relations to tackle a set of difficult questions about what it means to live in a globalized world where the purpose and direction of world politics are no longer clear-cut. What emerges from these essays is a very clear sense that while we may be living in an era that lacks a single, universal purpose, ours is still a world replete with meaning. The authors in this volume stress the need for a pluralistic conception of meaning in a globalized world and demonstrate how increased communication and interaction in transnational spaces work to produce complex tapestries of culture and politics. Meaning and International Relations also makes an original and convincing case for the relevance of hermeneutic approaches to understanding contemporary international relations.


This book is an attempt to come to terms with one of the most elusive of all concepts in philosophy, and indeed in life as it is lived by most people, that of ‘meaning’. It is our contention that there is a great deal to be learned by the stimulation of a debate between those philosophers, especially those who are collectively referred to as being interested in the ‘hermeneutic’ and those within the discipline of international relations (IR) who have become inspired by the revival of interest in such philosophers. As I say in the introduction to my own chapter in this book:

… the philosophical and political thinking that has informed much of this book draws on a huge and rich series of traditions of ‘meaning’, from the phenomenological and existential thinkers of twentieth-century Europe and the work of the linguistic scholars of the Oxford School (such as Wittgenstein) through to the often non-European thought and a ‘world of multiple meanings’ that should be celebrated not mourned.

In so attempting we could easily be accused of perpetrating yet another ‘pomo joke’ on our long-suffering students and indeed the wider community of international relations, including as it does a majority of those interested in ‘real world’ phenomena - wars, the environment, revolutions, globalisation etc. - and little concerned with yet another bunch of obscure thinkers being disinterred from their graves in the interests of furthering the careers of sensation-seeking academics. We would suggest that those involved in this book are on the contrary all very committed to the ‘real’ world, most of them have gone into print or onto the academic hustings on a number of occasions to denounce the ever more mystifying excesses of what we loosely call ‘post-modernism’. If not searchers after ‘truth’, which probably all of us would agree is an elusive and possibly impossible dream, we are all searchers after understanding and meaning, or ‘hermeneutics’ as some of us would explicitly put it. This is therefore our attempt to put our collective thoughts on paper to say why we think that an exploration of hermeneutic approaches to IR might actually reconnect us to reality in a significant way, and not distance us further from it.

International relations in the 1980s, and of course significantly before the end of the Cold War led to the end of many seeming certainties, was a field with little . . .

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