ABSTRACT

It is standard fare to open a book on International Relations (IR) with a critique of realism, the theory of geopolitical rivalries and the balance of power. In this chapter we turn this convention around. We aim to deepen our theoretical investigation of the unholy alliance against sovereignty identified in the Introduction by isolating a particular strand of international theory for special attention, namely ‘reflectivism’.1 We shall focus in particular on constructivist and poststructuralist theories. Both of these reflectivist schools of thought have established themselves by offering critiques of state sovereignty. Indeed, the rapid advance of these theories in the discipline indicates just how out of step with world politics realist theories of IR have become. It is for this reason that we believe it is time to begin theoretical reflection with reflectivist, and not realist theories. The putative purpose of the reflectivist critiques is, first, to enhance our understanding and appreciation of change in international affairs, and, second, to open up the possibility for new political actors to enter the global stage. Both of these theories claim that changing our understanding of international affairs is crucial to opening up new political possibilities. A further reason why we focus on these theories and their claims is that, given their recent origins, they are ostensibly best positioned to provide new insights into changing circumstances. Moreover, as we discuss in the Introduction, we agree with their basic premise that sovereignty is a constrained form of political activity. In keeping with the aims and methods of the book as a whole, then, we ask: How successful are new reflectivist theories at pointing to new forms of political creativity after having abandoned the sovereign, self-determining state? This is the question that we shall seek to answer in this chapter.