Выбрать главу
Critical IR, Postcolonial IR

Given the potential critical edge in the discourse of postcolonial-ism, it is surprising that even the more radical endeavors in the field of IR, with the exception of feminism, [18] have generally ignored it. For instance, in the pioneering postmodern work International/ Intertextual Relations (Der Derian and Shapiro 1989), the long bibliography does not include works that move beyond the confines of the "West." Even when the term "postcolonialism" is used in IR, for instance in Clapham's work on Africa and the international system (1996), it is devoid of postcoloniality (that is, a postcolonial criticality) and is used in the simplistic periodizing sense of post-colonial times. "[E]ven works embarking from professedly critical postmodern and poststructural perspectives often replicate the Eurocentric ecumene of 'world politics'" (Krishna 1999, xxix).

Why this lack of engagement of critical international theories with a potential ally (postcolonial theory)? Krishna brought attention to this as early as 1993 when he highlighted the fact that some postmodern theorists commence from a remarkably self-contained and self-referential view of the West and are often oblivious to "the intimate dialogue between 'Western' and 'non-Western' economies, societies, and philosophies that underwrite the disenchantment with modernity that characterizes the present epoch" (Krishna 1993, 388). Cautioning against a blanket critique of subjectivity and agency, which he alleges to be a feature of some postmodernist works, Krishna prefers a postcolonial perspective that entails sensitivity to hierarchical relations between races, genders, and classes while also challenging the ethnocentricity of IR.

While I agree that the critical insurgencies in general and post-modern/poststructuralist writing in particular have tended to ignore the concerns of the non-West, I do not accept Krishna's caricature of postmodern writings in IR as depoliticizing. For not only do these endeavors create space for imagining alternatives (a fact Krishna recognizes) but they also accept the need to formulate ironic, provisional, and yet politically enabling essentializing of subjectivity (something that Krishna accuses them of ignoring). What critical theories like critical social constructivism, feminism, postmodernism, and post-structuralism have exposed is International Relations as a discursive process, a process that constitutes the world we live in. Conceptualizing the international as discursive allows for contestation and recognition of different possibilities of being international.

In his critique, Darby claims that both postmodern and conventional IR share a sense of remoteness from the phenomena under analysis; both look at an essentially depeopled landscape where ethics and intentions do not rate highly (admittedly from very different perspectives) and do not pursue consequences in human terms (1997, 15-17). This comparison underemphasizes the politicizing potentialities of postmodern IR (for instance, Campbell 1998a, 1998b; Shapiro 1988; Walker 1993). Darby also critiques the postmodern influence within Postcolonial Theory as depoliticizing and rejects the concept of "strategic essentialism" for lacking a cutting edge and for inscribing the secondary status of the third world in the thinking of the first world. In contrast, he argues that we need to give much more weight to the problems of the third world, rather than continuing to tailor our approach to the issues in hand in line with the requirements of an often resistant body of theory (1997, 15-17). These arguments not only repeat the positivist fallacy of making a distinction between theory and practice but they also contrast material structures with discursive practices as if they do not perform a mutually constitutive role. Darby ignores the fact that the constitutive paradox of essentialism and antiessentialism is irreducible. Spivakian strategic essentialism-"a strategic use of positivist essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interest" (in Landry and MacLean 1996, 214) [19]-still seems to be the best way forward for it enables while at the same time it is humbling (a characteristic noticeably absent from the often arrogant pronouncements of mainstream IR).

IR's third debate has seriously charged the discipline of IR with promoting the status quo and a lack of self-consciousness and re-flexivity. The "truths" of IR have been revealed as effects of regimes of truth, knowledge as complicit with power, pursuit of objectivity as a chimera, hitherto universal concepts as ethnocentric and particularistic. Let me then recapitulate some of the commonalities that can provide a contingent ground for conversations between existing critical international theories and postcolonialism in order to come up with a postcolonial IR that seeks to deparochialize the discipline of IR. Both endeavors seek to provide a critique of dominant discourses for being the typical products of Western modernity. They reveal the silences of the disciplines by exposing philosophical closures and the underlying power-knowledge nexus. Both are marked by constitutive paradoxes. Challenge to the sovereignty of subjectivity goes along with an assertion of subjectivity. Resurgence of identity accompanies the deconstruction of identity as constructed and processual. The universalistic pretensions of the mainstream are revealed as particularistic and ethnocentric. Emphasis on the local and particular go hand in hand with attempts at more inclusive understandings. The strategy involved includes rereading [20] and rewriting the canonical texts, as well as constructing an alternative and different archive. Reality is no longer seen as an objective fact but as a series of representations.


Social and cultural identities by their very nature have always been discursively constructed. What is new and peculiar to modernity is the desire and ability to construct a bounded identity based on a fixed and autonomous idea of self. This has been paralleled by the power of representations to construct identity and by highly unequal access to discursive and representational resources at a global level. Representational practices feed the dominant knowledge regimes and structures and shape the very identities they seek to represent. The best-known example of this is the ideational construct of Orientalism, which reflects the close connection between particular modes of cultural representations, anthropology, and European imperialism (see Said 1978). In the process it also creates the categories of "Oriental" and "Occidental" people.

Representation and Critical IR

Within IR, it is important to look at Western cultural representations of non-Western people. This is so for various reasons. Representations populate the world with specific subject positions within which concretized individuals are then interpellated (see Weldes 1999). Identity claims of various non -Western communities thus operate within power relations put in place by the West. This does not deny non-Westerners their agency, for there is always space for resistance and accommodation. But it emphasizes differential access to the creation and molding of discursive (both material and nonmaterial) resources. It offers ways of challenging and denaturalizing modes of representation that abet domination by "making it acceptable and coherent within the dominant ethos that constructs domestic selves and exotic Others" (Shapiro 1988, 122-23). Recognition of the productive dimension of representation implies that the very basis of world politics-identity-is challenged. The recognition of the salience of Western representations of the non-West in world politics also questions the conventional view of international studies as a social "science" that has little to do with culture, morality, society, and the like. It underlines the importance of culture as a factor in molding, sustaining, and questioning political practices. It recognizes world politics as a process of cultural interactions in which the identities of actors (including their values and visions) are not given prior to or apart from these interactions. Instead, they are shaped and constituted in the complexes of social practices that make up world politics. Rather than denying the importance of actors in enacting and reshaping the social practices in which they are embedded, it focuses our attention also on the social construction of actors. Thus, representation is an inherent and important aspect of global political life and therefore a critical and legitimate area of inquiry.


[18] See Enloe 2000; Jabri and O'Gorman 1999; Parpart and Zalewski 1998; Peterson and Runyan 1999; Pettman 1996; Steans 1998; Sylvester 2002; Tickner 1992.


[19] Feminists have taken the lead over others in their expositions on negotiating between essentialisms and antiessentialisms. One recalls here

Butler's "contingent foundations" (1992), Ferguson's "mobile subjectivities" (1993), and Fuss's strategy of "deploying essentialism" (1989).


[20] Here one may point out Said's method of contrapuntal reading, which involves a way of reading texts (of literature) so as to reveal their deep implication in dominant systems (imperialism and colonial process). Examples are found in Said 1993.