Why language matters
DOI link for Why language matters
Why language matters book
Introduction This chapter sets out to show why it is important to pay attention to language in IR. Rather than assuming talk is cheap, a critical constructivist approach is adopted to illustrate that words really do matter and can even be very expensive for agents acting within particular spheres of engagement. The discussion begins by outlining the origins of the “constructivist turn” in IR (Adler 1997; Checkel 1998; Price and Reus-Smit 1998). The next section turns a critical eye to the internal boundaries within this approach in order to address gaps at the heart of the literature that is being built upon. As shown, the dividing line between conventional and critical constructivists on the one hand and critical constructivism and post-structuralism have serious implications for how each strand understands and explains the construction of social identities, realities and language. Having set the theoretical and methodological backdrop, the chapter turns to analyzing the Bush administration’s justification for the 2003 Iraq War. The main objective is to show that this particular foreign policy represents a socially constructed reality. More specifically the goal is to explicate that language was a powerful constitutive and constraining device in legitimating the Iraq War. Evidence is provided to show that the Bush administration’s justifications helped to constitute the rules of engagement for undertaking Operation Iraqi Freedom. Demonstrating that the Bush administration was constrained by these rules is much more difficult. At first glance it almost seems paradoxical, given the military prowess of the US and the pre-emptive manner in which they conducted their foreign policies post-September 11, 2001. This chapter intends to recollect this point on two levels. In conjunction with illustrating that President Bush and his team were constrained by the intersubjective context in which they were interacting, it is highlighted that they were also limited by the language they employed to legitimate the Iraq War. Sketching out the first defining moment illustrates the linguistic paradox in operation. Although the modifications that the Bush administration introduced to their justifications for undertaking the invasion gave them agency to proceed, it also constrained their actions at this moment and thereafter.