Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Jonathan Berman Examines the Nuts and Bolts of Postmodernism

As a matter of personal preference I like Shinko's article a lot more than Lynch's piece. I am primarily interested in IR because I am curious as the mechanisms through which states exert power. Lynch's piece was more of a moral condemnation of the current state of international relations which, in his opinion, relies on strategic consensus, where actors use their relative power to get their way. This is contrary to a communicative consensus, which Lynch proposes as the most moral method of creating policy, whereby actors disregard their power and engage in an open dialogue where pure rationality and reason win the day. This normative approach is fine, however, it disregards the nuts and bolts that make international relations tick.

In my opinion, Shinko's article demonstrates that postmodernism has the potential to explain state behavior and how states exert power in IR. Truth as a force to be created, transformed, and utlized by the state to exert its political will helps explain the power of ideas in IR. Furthermore, I believe that it forces us to reconceptualize our idea of soft power. Not only must things like economic power and diplomatic power be taken into account by policymakers and IR scholars, but also ideational and ideological power too need to be accounted for. By accounting for ideational power, the influence of actors like Bono or the Catholic Church, who have little military or economic clout, can be explained.

The only criticism of Shinko that I have is that he doesn't explain where the Western states power to shape the truth came from. Was it because they had more access to the media than the Serbs? Or because the leaders of the US, UK, France, Germany etc...were elected leaders and had more legitimacy in the minds of their citizens than others like Milosevic or Annan? Or is it something else?

I imagine if Shinko had more space he would go into further detail, however, it is clear that the truth is potent force that can shape how people perceive the actions of actors in IR.

7 Comments:

Blogger Kat said...

The only criticism of Shinko that I have is that he doesn't explain where the Western states power to shape the truth came from.

As I understand Shinko (which is by no means perfectly), I believe the Western nations were able to describe the truth to their citizens, who accepted it because they had trust in their government; and because the idea of truth was shared between the Western countries, and because the Western countries hold so much power in the economic and political spheres, it became "truth" by default of so many people believing it. There might be a constructivist argument for why Western countries had more ideational power than the Serbs... perhaps because it was part of their identity to be perceived as fairer and more legitimate than countries in which there were such widespread HR abuses. I might be grasping at straws there, though.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Johnny B. said...

I don't think pure power decides who gets to dictate the truth. If that were true history would not be full of revolutions and rebellions.

Really, I think people tend to trust those who they identify with and distrust those who they don't. Thus, Americans tend to trust the American government more than other governments.

This is in line with a lot sociology research that says that people tend to have positive feelings for those who match their identity and have negative feelings for those who don't.

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