Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Reconfiguring "The International": Knowledge Machines, Boundaries, and Exclusions

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Reconfiguring "The International": Knowledge Machines, Boundaries, and Exclusions

Article excerpt

For many of us, it was IR--disciplinary international relations--that provided our introduction to "the international." It was a rarefied arena governed by its own logic, and as a result, it fascinated. I remember W. Macmahon Ball, a seminal figure in the teaching and practice of international affairs in Australia, lecturing about whether Britain should have gone to the support of Abyssinia after the Italian invasion of 1935 at the risk of driving Italy into alliance with Germany and the possible loss of four capital ships (or have I added that bit of detail in retrospect?). Like many of his generation, Macmahon Ball was deeply influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr and, especially, by his insistence on the brutality and collective egoism of the politics of the international. (1)

A very different way of approaching the international has been taken by students of political economy, both classical and contemporary, and it is one that emphasizes the close connection between the processes "out there" and what is happening within societies. Over time, there have been some striking reconfigurations of thought about the nature of these processes, and they have left their mark on associated bodies of theory. In development studies, for instance, understanding of the international has changed from benign to rapacious, and most recently to a nuanced cynicism about a selective globalism. For others, the international has not figured as a special place in the spatial imaginary. In postcolonial studies, for instance, the self/other paradigm has traveled far from its original moorings in the imperial relationship to encompass global cultural relations.

But whether the international raises particular difficulties for analysis and action has not received the attention it deserves. There are also those knowledges about the international that lie outside the academy and which mostly are not conceptualized in such a way as to find a point of entry into academic discourse. Embedded as they are in ways of life and usually lacking that accreditation that comes from print and footnote, they are seldom seen as forms of knowledge at all.

The object of this article is twofold. First, to consider how the conventions of knowledge about the international system might be reworked so as to bring together, or at least make proximate, different streams of thought and experience. Second, to privilege what I understand to be the situation of the Third World; not to put too fine a point on it, to begin with the people and issues that mostly figure last-if at all-in dominant discourses. For students of international relations this would mean taking long overdue steps to decolonize the discipline. I prefer to think in terms of postcolonizing the international, but this has its own problems because postcolonialism, as it stands, seldom goes beyond critique and so often remains wedded to the past. Either way, the contention is that, in large part, the story of the international must be retold from the ground up, emphasizing the local, the ordinary, and the discrete. Such a methodological inversion raises the question of whether different knowledges are comm ensurable. I will first examine the boundaries of knowledge circulation within academe and then consider the politics of knowledge exclusion.

The two sections are written rather differently. The first is in the nature of an overview that attempts to plot the relationship between various schools of thought that address the international. As such, it is necessarily a narrative in the first person. The second examines how select writers have approached other knowledges and, so far as possible, they have been left to speak in their own voices.

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For most of its history, disciplinary international relations had the field of the international largely to itself. The great debates between realists and liberal internationalists were mainly in-house affairs, and even alternative approaches like conflict resolution plotted their course in relation to the master narrative. …

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