Elsa Leclerc A01290351 New Actors in International Relations
Critical International Theory
Being “critical” as an attitude in academic field involves going back to one’s own original assumptions and criticize, question, challenge these established frameworks or structures in order to finally transcend them. Critical theory in International Relations is a meta-theory: it is a philosophy whichtakes the already existing theories as its object of study. The point is to analyze how theories shape the world and contribute to its existing order by legitimating or disapproving it. The ultimate objective is to reach universal emancipation of Humankind by changing world order. Critical theory is a major rupture in the International Relations study field: it does not only criticize the contentof the established Neo-realism and Neo-liberalism theories but is actually radically opposed to their common philosophical foundations i.e. their prior assumptions about what knowledge is and what a theory should be. Critical theory is exactly at the middle of a fundamental meta-theoretical divide in social sciences and a fortiori in International Relations. As Jackson R., Sorensen G. (2003)summarize it, the debate is ontological since it is concerned with the nature of the world, and epistemological since it is concerned with the ability to know it and the nature of the knowledge we can get from it. As a consequence of this debate, a methodological issue raises: how can we obtain our knowledge about the world? In the purely objective position, the world can be scientifically explainedthrough theories that answer the question “why?” and are systematically concerned with establishing causal relationships. On the other hand, following the purely subjective position, the world can only be interpreted and understood in a certain way. Theories which belong to this current answer the question “how?” and try to develop the various steps of processes. 1. A methodological debate:Positivism v. Post-positivism Critical International theory belongs to post-positivism. This current of thoughts is opposed to the basic postulates of positivism from various points of view: ontological, epistemological, methodological, and axiological. From an ontological point of view, positivist philosophy states that the social world is fundamentally physical, as the natural world. This idea impliesthat the social world, like
Nature, can be touched, experienced. According to post-positivist scholars, the social world is not merely physical, it is also made of culture, beliefs, ideas, and values. Because the social world contains non-physical elements, it contains a part of indeterminacy so we cannot fully experience and touch it. The social world is not a given; its rules areproduced by human beings. From an epistemological point of view, positivist philosophy states that the social world can be observed and known exactly like the natural one, that it is driven by universal laws which can be discovered exactly as any physical law driving the natural world. Practically, or let us say methodologically, this implies that the social world can be studied exactly the same way asnatural world i.e. by an external scientist in position of objectivity and using scientific methods. On the other hand, post-positivists state that because it is not merely deterministic, the social world cannot be known through the scientific methods used in natural sciences. So the social world cannot be scientifically known and explained; it can only be interpreted. So axiologically speaking,according to post-positivism, social sciences are subjective; the knowledge they produce is not neutral because there is no truth contained in the social world waiting for being discovered and accessible through scientific method. So they create conditioned, partial knowledge that is aimed at some unconscious purpose. Positivism argues that the type of knowledge produced by scientific methods is...
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