What is the nature of critique that informs a project that “claims” the international? How are we to understand the meaning of critical thinking that proceeds with a claim, not merely a demand? As a critical project, what does it do to the object-the international-that constitutes the nodal point of a discipline? Is there something distinct about such a voice of dissent? What does it say to the disciples of a discipline? These questions constitute the point of departure for this chapter, which
reﬂects on the nature of critical theorizing within the ﬁeld of International Relations (IR) and tries to bring these insights to bear on the idea that the international needs to be “claimed.” While taking critical IR theory as my main focus, I should note that my intention is neither to construct a theory of critique, nor to provide an exhaustive review and evaluation of the forms of critical theorizing that exist within the discipline. Rather, I reﬂect upon what it means to think critically in order to highlight the implications for alternative worldings as critical worldings beyond the West. The meaning of critique itself has generally been sidestepped in discussions
among critical scholars of IR. More often than not, conversations about critical theorizing have been dominated by attempts to delineate ontological, epistemological and methodological cleavages; to deploy these lines to demarcate and diﬀerentiate critics from mainstream voices; and to categorize dissident voices into various schools.1 Discussions about the stakes at play in critique, in other words, have revolved mainly around questions on and prioritized concerns over how to do critical theory. Assessing the merits and/or shortcomings of distinct schools in their claims to be critical have become common parlance and the accustomed way to think about the challenges posed by critical investigations. While the importance of epistemological and methodological questions is undeniable and cannot be dismissed, overwhelming focus on them has distracted attention from
and left little room for reﬂections upon what it means to be “critical”—to be in the world, and to think and act critically. To the extent that epistemology and methodology are reiﬁed as the sole concerns in deﬁning and assessing critical thinking, what is erased from sight is the political nature of the questions asked and the chance to reﬂect upon what it means to respond critically to the world and to the political conundrums posed by the times. It is this important, yet much neglected, question of the “what” rather than the
“how” of critique that I focus on in the pages that follow, in order to reﬂect on the temporal dimension of critical theorizing. In this regard, I argue that it is precisely the element of being untimely, the eﬀort, in the words of Walter Benjamin (2007: 257), “to brush against the grain” that gives critical thinking its powers. In order to elaborate upon what is at stake in such a notion of critical theorizing as an “untimely intervention,” I draw on political theorist Wendy Brown’s (2005) discussion of what it means for critical theory “to brush against the grain.” Brown’s exegesis of Benjamin’s thesis contests and recasts predominant conceptions of critical thinking and untimeliness. It is in relation to this formulation of critique as an untimely endeavor that I attempt to situate the project to claim the international and to think through its meaning as a critical one. As an untimely intervention, worldings beyond the West promise to seek no less than putting disciplinary reason out of synch with itself by tarrying with disciplinary presuppositions and raising the issue of which questions can be raised about the “international.” Stated diﬀerently, the promise of non-Western worldings cannot be fully comprehended if critique is reduced to a method or a technique applied to an object of study. Rather, what such research oﬀers is the possibility to disﬁgure the discipline’s object-the international-by unsettling the grounds upon which the disciplinary architecture has been erected.