Academic journal article Social Justice

The Social Construction of Conflict and Reconciliation in the Former Yugoslavia

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Social Construction of Conflict and Reconciliation in the Former Yugoslavia

Article excerpt

The end of the cold war in roughly 1989 to 1990 - and more particularly, the failure of international relations (IR) theorists, scholars, and practitioners to (even vaguely) see it coming - brought to center stage an epistemological and ontological debate about practically everything that has ever been said and done in the name of "international relations." Everything about "IR" became contestable: international relations was recast as world politics; states and state systems became political communities (or not); political discourse became speech acts; war became conflict or violence; theory became epistemology; and boundaries - inside/outside - whether cognitive, geographic, or disciplinary, were decloaked as binary categories of socially constructed space.

The ensuing debates have dragged political science, Western philosophy, and social theory into the fray, and provoked fresh interest in the old, but unsettled debate about the limitations inherent in grafting the methodology and epistemology of the physical sciences onto the conduct of social inquiry. While Edward O. Wilson (1998) argues that all social and physical sciences can be assimilated within a bioscience paradigm, Henry L. Hamman and Amir Goswami (1998) claim a convergence between quantum physics and social constructivism. These are exciting times to be thinking about international relations.

Before the post-structuralist, postmodernist, social constructivist critique of IR,(1) the state was always just there; power was always there; interests were always just there. Research questions focused on institutional and structural relationships given the state, power, and interests. Post-structuralism and social constructivism share credit for redirecting our inquiry to questions of how the state got there; how does the way in which we think about power "make it so," as Jean-Luc Picard would say; and how are interests socially constructed? These do not exhaust the questions raised by ongoing epistemological debates, but it seems to me they are at the core. Questions about the role of norms, normative consensus, identity, boundaries, the construction of the self (rather than the "nature of man"), civil society, uncivil behavior, the role of culture and historicity, and more flow from the contestation of these foundational concepts - the state, power, and interests (see Ruggie, 1998; Kratochwil, 1989; Lapid and Kratochwil, 1997; Katzenstein, 1996; Neumann and Waever, 1997).

My own encounter with current theoretical debates (see Wilmer, 1993) followed from posing the question: What sense can an academic analyst make of the global mobilization of indigenous peoples making claims to international rights vis-a-vis their relationship to states and the state system in the late 20th century? Theories ought to at least help us make sense of what we wish to study by framing our thinking about a problem in terms of its causes, consequences, or significance. I simply did not find much in the area of international relations theory, or indeed, in ethnic mobilization or social movement theory in sociology, that would enable me to even think about the issue of international indigenous political activism. Yet there they were, these indigenous activists, in the Third World and the First. They were lobbying the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the World Bank; holding regional and global conferences; forming NGOs; litigating, networking, publicizing; filing complaints with the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and so on. Moreover, their activism was having effects: large-scale development projects were blocked; the United Nations formed a Working Group to draft a set of principles for the protection of indigenous peoples' rights; their activism provoked constitutional changes in domestic political structures, prompted the World Bank to issue guidelines for evaluating the impact of proposed projects on indigenous peoples; and led the International Labor Organization to revise its 30-year-old convention on indigenous peoples to remove paternalism and reflect contemporary indigenous concerns. …

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