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Introduction

ByJENNY EDKINS AND NICK VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS

A number of things have proved striking as we have edited this book. First, we have very much enjoyed reading these introductions to a range of thinkers, some of whom we were totally unfamiliar with before, others with whom we had a passing acquaintance, and yet others who have inspired our own work directly. In each case the chapters provide captivating insights into the thinkers discussed, throwing light on their background, their key contributions and intellectual trajectories, and their relation to the field of study and scholarship we call international relations. And all of the chapters lead enticingly on to further reading and engagement. In addition, the chapters illuminate the thinking and research-and, in some instances, the personal location-of the chapter contributors themselves. Each of the authors has a close relationship with the thinker they elucidate and writes from an enviable grasp of, and a deep involvement with, the thought concerned. One of the most striking things about the process of reading through the

chapters, and one which we think readers of the book will find as captivating as we have, is the way in which this compilation of chapters provokes unexpectedand unscripted-interconnections. When we set out on this project, we imagined that we were putting together a collection of rather disparate thinkers, from a series of distinct traditions and sub-traditions, who might sit rather uncomfortably together. What we have found, by contrast, is a web of common concerns and an interweaving of approaches to tackling them. This explodes the caricatures of distinct and irreconcilable strains of thoughtand hence painful choices-that scholars in politics and international politics sometimes feel they are faced with. Instead, we find in the critical theorists we cover a rich tapestry-or palimpsest-of thought and struggle, both conceptual and political, where the close connections between intellectual life and the life of the world become apparent. A struggle each of our authors has faced has been that prompted by the

title of the book: Critical Theorists and International Relations. Surprisingly for us, some chapter authors have taken the field of international relations to comprise, in a very traditional, not to say ‘mainstream’, sense, questions to do with relations between states. This had led them to focus, in discussions of identity or subjectivity for example, on the state as subject or actor-or on

other ‘collective actors’. It has led to a concern with topics that slot neatly into ideas of the international arena: wars and conflicts, refugees and asylum seekers, terrorism and the like. In introducing the work of critical thinkers whose work spans a wide range of topics it is necessary to be selective, and as editors we encouraged detailed engagement with particular texts rather than broad-brush overviews. However, we did not predict that a number of people would make their choices based on some fairly standard ideas of what the field in which the book was to be situated was, essentially. It is interesting to reflect on how these constructions of ‘the discipline of international relations’ survive and reproduce themselves, even in critical theorising. Now clearly the editors and publishers are in a large extent responsible for this: publishing and marketing still takes place within defined disciplinary fields and, quite understandably, this text is specifically designed for scholars and students who see themselves as having an interest in international politics. However, an engagement with theorists such as those included in this book seems to demand, prompt, and follow from, a re-examination of some of the assumptions upon which the traditional constitution of the field is based. A fundamental way in which current critical theory re-opens assumptions

that have grounded our political thought has been by questioning the starting point of thinking politically. One of the traditional questions of politics has been how we can live together, or in other words, how individuals with a range of backgrounds, beliefs and interests can or do co-exist, peacefully or otherwise. What forms of organisation, institutional or social, promote what forms of co-existence? How do we think through the possibilities of political organisation? What constraints are imposed on these possibilities, for example, by our nature as human beings or by our rights as individuals? When translated to the international sphere – traditionally regarded as distinct from the domestic, and hence the rationale for a distinct field of study – these become the familiar issues of inter-state relations, configured as relations between distinct, bounded and sovereign domestic spheres. How can sovereign states co-exist in an international society or anarchic system? A variety of critical theorists have challenged this starting point. Rather

than thinking about how discrete entities, whether individuals or states, can live together, the question they want to pose is a different one. The challenge is one that is posed at the level of ontology. Instead of thinking of the world as made up of objects or entities that relate to each other in various ways, a number of thinkers want to attempt to put forward an ontology based on a world of interconnectedness or being-with, a world in which there are no distinct objects-whether states, individuals or anything else. To think in this way is taxing, and has led several of those examined in the book to work with mathematical approaches, sometimes based on set theory, which enable the thinking of relationality and being in a way not permitted by language – a way that does not start with the ‘one’. This clearly leads to a very different figuration of the international, and to adopt this approach demands

broadening the scope of concern, away from states and relationships between states to an interest in what might be meant by inter-relations in the first place, at whatever ‘level’ of social organisation. The book can be approached from different angles according to the purpose

the reader has in mind. It is essentially a collection of thinkers who have impacted upon analyses of contemporary political life in a global context. This could be thought of as a playlist. Tracks are often put together on playlists for a particular purpose or occasion: for someone’s birthday; to make an apology; or perhaps to ease a long-distance journey. In the same way, our purpose is to bring together different social and political theorists so that scholars and students of international politics can better appreciate the inspiration behind recent work in the discipline. On the one hand, like any playlist, our compilation of writers is necessarily selective: it is not comprehensive and could include many other thinkers. On the other hand, thinking of the book in terms of a playlist allows for a different way of reading than that textbooks usually encourage. Rather than working through each chapter in turn the idea of a ‘shuffle’ is instructive here: readers might want to dip in randomly to allow for chance encounters with the thinkers we have chosen to include. And indeed one of the aims of the book is to encourage such chance encounters. In 1969 Edward Packard wrote Sugarcane Island, which came to inspire a

generation of children’s books published in the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series. Readers determine what course of action each character takes along the way thus allowing for the possibility of a multiplicity of plots and endings. In one adventure book, UFO 54-40, the reader is offered the promise of reaching paradise, but none of the formal choices actually lead there. Only by abandoning the set structure and going through the text at random can paradise be found. Whilst this book is unlikely to lead to paradise, it does offer an opportunity for readers to determine for themselves where to start and where to end up. What happens if there is no pre-set structure? Perhaps the most interesting

way to approach this book would be to take the idea of UFO 54-40 seriously. This can be associated with the notion of a rhizomatic reading. In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980) Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari discuss the figure of the rhizome. A rhizome has no beginning or end. Rather, it is always in the middle of things and establishes connections. Rhizomes do not involve points or positions: a rhizome is distinct from an arborescent structure like a tree, which has roots, fixed foundations and a set order. As such, a rhizomatic reading involves the invention of different connections, and these spread beyond the ‘covers’ of a text. In this way, those reading the book might not only seek links within and between different chapters but with other thinkers, or even with novels, films and everyday experiences. Although each of the chapters is devoted to a particular theorist, the focus

running throughout is on specific texts. We are not concerned to give a comprehensive overview of all of a person’s work or writings. This would be an impossible enterprise in any case within the limits we have here. Rather,

the aim is to bring out ways in which a theorist’s thought might be – or indeed has been-useful in the context of global politics through a focus on selected texts or writings. This approach serves three functions. First, it guards against the urge to make generalised claims about an

individual thinker. Often, for example, people refer to ‘the early Foucault’ or ‘the later Derrida’. Distinctions are drawn between a writer’s work at different ‘stages’ of what is seen as their intellectual development. However, these categorisations can be misleading and distract attention from detailed engagement with particular writings. Moreover, merely pointing out contradictions or incoherence within the work of a theorist can be equally distracting. To some extent we are all incoherent: there are always polyphonic voices as meaning is less stable than is sometimes assumed. What matters is a willingness for close engagement with the text in order to appreciate its complexity and subtlety. Second, a focus on specific texts will hopefully encourage readers to follow

up by looking at original works for themselves. In this way our hope is that the book will not be treated as a substitute for actually reading the thinkers it attempts to cover. Rather, it is designed to provide a way in to a direct reading of the texts discussed, and others. For this reason, as well as offering detailed readings of selected texts, each chapter provides a further reading list in order to steer you in the right direction. In particular, we suggest good places to start reading particular thinkers. Other commentaries and examples of uses of a particular author to think through questions of international politics will also be suggested. Third, by examining texts rather than authors of texts per se it is possible

to move away from the tendency to group or box people into specific ‘schools of thought’. Such a tendency involves a divisive way of reading that is at best problematic given the overlapping nature of the questions or issues that many of the authors seek to address. At worst, it can lead to a focus on critique – and even dismissal or caricature – at the expense of the attempt at understanding and engagement. Rather, to reiterate, a rhizomatic approach privileges the invention of different connections between diverse writers. Moreover, such an approach reflects a certain hospitality and openness to texts, which we believe is potentially more productive than adopting a fixed and/or dogmatic position. Each chapter of the book is written by someone whose own research

draws upon the respective theorist and contemporary illustrations are given in this context. Chapter contributors have been encouraged to think in terms of four elements:

A short intellectual biography of the theorist setting their work in context. A summary of some key aspects of their ideas and writings. An overview of some of the ways in which these ideas and writings have

influenced or might be useful for thinking about international politics. A list of suggestions for further reading, briefly annotated.