Critical Theory and World Politics

By Richard Wyn Jones | Go to book overview

2
THE CHANGING
CONTOURS OF CRITICAL
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY
Andrew Linklater

When Frankfurt School critical theory first made its mark on the study of international relations (IR) in the early 1980s, the terms of the debate were narrower than they are today. At that time, the advocates of critical theory were mainly concerned to refute the principal arguments of neorealism. Drawing on Marxian themes, critical perspectives offered an account of the nature of social inquiry with explicitly normative goals; they proposed modes of sociological inquiry oriented toward enlightenment about, and emancipation from, unnecessary constraints. Unsurprisingly, given the intellectual debt to Marxism, much of the analysis criticized global inequalities of economic and political power. Critical theory started from the paradigm of production and, in so doing, reflected the influence of the broad problematic, but not the detailed argument, of the neo-Marxian analyses of global dominance and dependence, which enjoyed their greatest influence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A robust alternative to the neorealist analysis of immutable geopolitical imperatives was built on these theoretical foundations (Ashley 1981; Cox 1981).

Critical theory has not stood still in the intervening years, but the nature of its foundations has been keenly debated since the mid- to late 1980s. As a result, Frankfurt School critical theory no longer represents the main challenge to orthodoxy within the field. It is important to recall that members of the first generation of the Frankfurt School criticized the paradigm of production over a half-century earlier and that Adorno, in particular, foreshadowed some of the more recent moves to the paradigm of identity and difference (see Coles 1995). However, the parameters of the debate have shifted even more dramatically in the past decade. Postmodern critical theory, which has taken the initiative in developing the paradigm of identity

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