After International Relations: Critical Realism and the (Re)Construction of World Politics

After International Relations: Critical Realism and the (Re)Construction of World Politics

After International Relations: Critical Realism and the (Re)Construction of World Politics

After International Relations: Critical Realism and the (Re)Construction of World Politics


After International Relations articulates a systematic critical realist response to a quest for more emancipatory methodologies in International Relations. Heikki Patom¿ki here establishes a way out of the international relations problematic which has puzzled so many great thinkers and scholars for the last two hundred years. After International Relations shows how and why theories based on the international problematic have failed; articulates an alternative, critical realist research programme; and illustrates how this research programme can be put to work to enable better research and ethico-political practices.


What are international relations? This book argues that all social relations are changeable. They are dependent on transient concepts, practices and processes. What has once emerged can change and even become absent. So it is also with international relations.

There is no closed list of transformative possibilities. After International Relations claims that critical realist (CR) social sciences can help determine some of them. Social sciences should proceed in three successive stages. First, in order to explain, researchers have to engage with social meanings and assume a dialogical relationship with relevant actors or traces and evidence of history, including texts and quantified observations. Only with dialogically understood data can social episodes, practices, relations and processes be studied adequately and in sufficient detail.

Mere understanding is not enough. Causally explanatory models can and should rely also on holistic metaphors, historical and other analogies, and various social scientific theories. The best available explanatory model is often different from prevalent understandings. Consequently, in the second stage, explanatory models may not only turn out to be critical of the understandings of the lay actors but also take steps towards explaining them.

The critical moment evokes a need for social scientific re-signification of practices, including edification by means of better causal stories and proposals for concrete alternatives. If a change is argued for, as it often is, realist strategies for transformation have to be spelled out as well. Constant openness to critique and further studies is a condition of validity. In the third, and practical moment, CR explanations should translate into practical action-often transformative. Also, practical-political action should be a learning process, in turn enriching theoretical discourses.

CR has emerged in a particular world historical context. As some constructivists and post-structuralists argue, there are signs of far-reaching transformations of international relations into something more akin to world politics (cf. Ruggie 1998:174-75, 195-97; and, more explicitly, Walker 1993:183). After International Relations makes a case for CR social sciences which are not content with describing transformations but try to understand, explain and critically assess contemporary practices, relations and processes, and, thereby, contribute to making them more emancipatory and empowering.

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