Critical Theory and World Politics

By Richard Wyn Jones | Go to book overview

5
THE NATURE OF CRITIQUE IN CRITICAL
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY
Kimberly Hutchings

In this chapter the aim is to focus attention on the nature of critique in the kind of international relations theory that refers to itself as critical. I begin by drawing attention to the fact that there are different forms of critical international relations theory. What is sometimes identified as critical theory proper tends to rely heavily on Marxist or Frankfurt School sources. In contrast, postmodernist and feminist IR theory, which also sees itself as critical, draws on a range of post-Marxist inspirations. In spite of this diversity of theoretical grounding, however, I argue that it is possible to identify a common element that helps to identify all these theoretical approaches as critical. It is my contention that this common element reflects a logic that can be traced back to the origins of the idea of critique in the work of Kant. I then go on to suggest that, as with Kantian critique, there are both dangers and possibilities inherent in the kind of critical theoretical turn in international relations (IR) that is the subject of this book. The dangers can be summed up as those of lapsing back into the wars of reason between realist and idealist perspectives, which critical theory in international relations is actually supposed to have transcended. These dangers, I argue, are largely responsible for the tendency of critical IR theory to remain trapped within unsolvable theoretical debates rather than turning attention toward redirecting empirical research and specific explanation. The possibilities of critical IR theory relate to the ways in which it opens up our understanding of the scope and potential of developments in international politics. There are two dimensions to critical theory's contribution here: On the one hand, by challenging the traditional limitations on explanation, critical theory extends the capacity of social scientists to account for particular phenomena; on the other hand, by never taking the limitations and conditions of possibility of

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