Critical Theory and World Politics

By Richard Wyn Jones | Go to book overview

8
WHAT'S CRITICAL ABOUT CRITICAL
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THEORY?
Mark Neufeld

Living in an era of globalization places new demands on both thought and action. One such demand is the need to theorize and act out of a global perspective. This demand is no less acute for those social and political theorists whose prime allegiance is to critical traditions. In this regard it is striking that one of the more prominent among those traditions—the critical theory of the Frankfurt School—has been largely silent on global-level issues or processes. As a leading American Frankfurt School theorist has noted, with the exception of occasional comments by Herbert Marcuse in the 1960s, a macrological critique of imperialism or of systems of world domination was “inexplicably absent from most of Critical Theory” (Kellner 1999a). Accordingly, although critical theory has had an influence on some branches of social science, for example, sociology and philosophy, it has, at least until fairly recently, had “virtually no impact on International Relations” (Halliday 1987: 165–166). Indeed, this obvious lacuna has prompted calls from contemporary proponents of critical theory for its reformulation in more globally sensitive terms. Note, for example, the following comment by Thomas McCarthy: “I have wanted to underscore the need for critical theory to adopt a consistently global perspective, so as to locate the received problematics of the nation state in a broader web of interconnected histories” (McCarthy 1994: 92–93).

What holds for the critical theory of the Frankfurt School holds for other critical theory traditions as well, both in terms of their neglect of the global and in terms of their need for a corresponding reformulation. And here it is important to point out that scholars interested in carrying out such a reformulation could benefit greatly from a familiarity with the existing literature in international relations (IR) that makes claims to provide a criti-

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