Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique

Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique

Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique

Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique


Recovering International Relations bridges two key divides in contemporary IR: between 'value-free' and normative theory, and between reflective, philosophically inflected explorations of ethics in scholarship and close, empirical studies of practical problems in world politics. Featuring anovel, provocative and detailed survey of IR's development over the second half of the twentieth century, the work draws on early Frankfurt School social theory to suggest a new ethical and methodological foundation for the study of world politics-sustainable critique-which draws these disparateapproaches together in light of their common aims, and redacts them in the face of their particular limitations. Understanding the discipline as a vocation as well as a series of academic and methodological practices, sustainable critique aims to balance the insights of normative and empirical theory against each other. Each must be brought to bear if scholarship is to meaningfully, and responsibly, addressan increasingly dense, heavily armed, and persistently diverse world.


We have replaced decency by reason.

The Lost Vocation

The first academic chair in international politics was established at the University of Aberystwyth, Wales, in 1919, and the discipline of International Relations (IR) has existed in something like its present form since about the end of the Second World War. The life of the contemporary discipline— as distinct from the normative traditions on which it draws—thus spans some six to eight decades. What work is it understood to be doing? What,

1. Koestler (1941), p. 173.

2. Schmidt (1998), p. 155. For additional broad-based disciplinary surveys of IR, see Bayliss, Smith, and Owens (2008), Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff (2001), Doyle (1997), Griffiths (2007), Guilhot (2008, 2011), Guzzini (1998), Halliday (1994), Haslam (2002), Hinsley (1967), Hoffmann (1977), Holsti (1985), Kahler (1997), Knutsen (1997), Molloy (2006), Olson and Groom (1991), Oren (2003), Robin (2001), Smith, Booth, and Zalewski (1996), Spegele , Vasquez (1998), and Walker (1992). Gunnell (2006), Somit and Tanenhaus (1967), and Ross (1991) are useful for a broader perspective. But see also Holden (2002).

A few notes on terminology. Following what is increasingly the academic norm, International Relations (or IR) refers to the academic discipline. Events in world politics will generally be denoted as such. The term paradigm refers to particular theoretical constructs in IR, formed when long-standing normative political theory (or fact-value) traditions are parsed through particular methodologies. Hence, neorealism and neoliberalism are paradigms that draw on longer running realist and liberal normative-political traditions, parsed through middle-range methodological approaches. This can lead to some confusion, as some paradigms in IR are named with reference to the fact-value tradition from which they are adapted (Waltzian neorealism, a paradigm drawn from the realist tradition, parsed through a behaviorist methodology), and others with reference to the dominant methodology they employ (IR constructivism, at turns an adaptation of the realist or liberal tradition but parsed through a combination of constructivist language philosophy and poststructural philosophy of science). This “loose” usage draws on Vasquez (1998), pp. 22–23, and Etzioni (2001), p. 2: “more than a perspective,” as the latter put it, “but less than a theory,” a means by which preexisting political-social-normative

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