chapter  2
43 Pages

Critical theorising about IR and security

Chapter 2 considers how critical approaches fared in identifying and addressing IR’s limits as discussed in Chapter 1. I do this by focusing on the question, ‘who does the theorising?’ – a question initially raised by K.J. Holsti (1985) and elaborated upon by the postcolonial critics of IR. Writing from today’s vantage point, where critical IR is found wanting in addressing this question and its various implications, one may fail to appreciate the roles played by critical IR scholars in opening up the field to allow a variety of voices to be heard.1

Indeed, beginning from the early 1980s, the field of International Relations witnessed concerted efforts designed to re-think IR.2 By the early 1990s, the project of ‘re-thinking IR’ was considered to have gained significant ground. Jim George (1994: 216) applauded the critical approaches for having ‘broken down’ what Holsti (1985) referred to as the ‘three-centuries long intellectual consensus’ in IR. In the following years, others joined George in commending the critical approaches for ‘introducing doubt’ (Wyn Jones, 2001b: 2) into the study of world politics, even if the positivist edifice of the mainstream remained standing (also see Smith, 2002a, Krishna, 1993, Neufeld, 1995, Walker, 2002). Arguably, it was these very accomplishments of critical IR scholarship in

opening up the discipline that have also rendered visible the ways in which some of the pillars of the ‘three-centuries long intellectual consensus’ were still standing. Among IR scholars, George was not alone in overlooking the question ‘who does the theorising?’ as he applauded the accomplishments of critical IR. Michael Banks (1986), when highlighting what was at stake in the ‘third debate’ between realists, structuralists and pluralists, mentioned ‘the South’ only with reference to economic inequalities and conflicts, but not in epistemological terms (cf. Maghroori and Ramberg, 1982). Yosef Lapid (1989: 237, also see Lapid, 2002), who clarified the terms of the ‘third debate’, did not problematise the question of ‘who does the theorising?’ even as he endorsed re-thinking IR in a manner that paralleled ‘the intellectual ferment’ that other social sciences were experiencing at the time (cf. Biersteker, 1989). Finally, Steve Smith (2002b, 2004), who has done much to challenge mainstream IR’s parochialism and ethnocentrism, was also criticised for failing to reflect upon the Eurocentric

limits of his own critique (Chan, 1997). That having been said, some strands of critical IR thinking have been more attentive to the question ‘who does the theorising?’ and the implications of the answer (see below). Chapter 2 begins with a discussion on how critical scholars sought to identify

and address IR’s limits. The sections that follow consider the contributions of critical theorising about IR and security. The concluding section suggests that if some of critical IR’s Eurocentric limits have remained, this is because the students of critical IR understood the limits of IR in terms of the geo-cultural origins and/or location of scholars whose voices were apparently absent from the debates. To invoke the conceptual vocabulary introduced in the Introduction, where asking the question ‘who does the theorising?’ calls for worlding IR in the first sense (‘worlding-as-situatedness’), inquiring into its implications invites worlding IR in the second sense (‘worlding-as-constitutive’). Indeed, as will be seen below, the need for inquiring into ‘others’ as IR’s ‘constitutive outside’ has barely registered in critical IR debates on the limits of the field. I borrow the notion ‘constitutive outside’ from Stuart Hall (1996) whose

definition of postcolonialism I presented in the Introduction. Pal Ahluwalia (2005) elaborated on IR’s ‘constitutive outside’ in a discussion on ‘post-structuralism’s colonial roots’ (also see Go, 2013). Ahluwalia sought to capture the ‘ambivalence of deconstruction’, which he formulated as