Magoosh GRE

Post Modernism and International Affairs

| March 26, 2015

INTRODUCTION

In the recent years, postmodernism has come under intense attack with regards to its approach to international relations. A number of political analysts have attempted to dismiss postmodernism by claiming it to be self-contradictory and irrelevant in its analysis of international relations. While the former may have some grounding, the later assertion has no basis and is even more difficult to justify. This analysis is thus an attempt to regain sight of the important contributions of postmodernism in international relations. Furthermore, our analysis will explore on how this theoretical paradigm can be used as an effective tool of analysis for international affairs.

POSTMODERNISM CONCEPT

The postmodernism paradigm believes in the arbitrary nature of modernity. It subscribes to the notion that the existing arrangements were merely created by human beings and that what is conceived to be the truth is in the actual sense a “choice” made by a predecessor (Burchill & Linklater, 2009). That is, it denies the notion of objective truth. According to postmodernists, the truth and knowledge of reality depends on our perception and representation of reality.
Post modernism is often identified with ‘postpositivist’ theories that condemn the mainstream International Relations due to the uncritical nature of its assumptions. A fundamental postmodernist critique of the neorealists and neoliberals is that they tend to create foundations for their theories in the fear of collapsing in IR and hence ascribe to positivist social science. The problem with positivism is that they give a limited view of international politics since they solely rely on observable ‘facts’ while ignoring ‘unobservables’ such as socially created cross border structures (Steans & Lloyd 2010).
Constructivism, on the other hand, claims to have seized the grounds in international relations by emphasizing on intersubjective creations in the international society. In its analysis of state centric, Constructivism sees states as an individual or agent determined by norms, practices and identities (Devetak 1996). Postmodernism, however, goes further by providing alternative historical narratives to the formation of states and identity concepts. By engaging in their deconstruction, postmodernism is able to question these concepts that the constructivism paradigm accepts as given, hence engaging more critically with the norms and practices that it describes.

ANALYZING INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS USING THE POSTMODERN PARADIGM.

Post-modern analysis to international affairs varies incredibly due to the widespread appropriation of ideas from various disciplines. However, these diverse methodologies are held together by the idea of deconstruction. Deconstruction involves exposing and undermining assumptions and ideological underpinnings in order to demonstrate the possible multiple readings that can result from the text (Williams & Goldstein 2006). Such genealogy or study of the different historical accounts is very useful in understanding the formation of states and other concepts in the society.
Certainly, there is a multiplicity of perceptions behind wars. For example, there may be different historical interpretations to the Darfur conflict depending on the person’s position or ethnic group. On the one hand, the different historical interpretations may complicate our understanding of reality while on the other hand; paying attention to the different historical narratives may reduce our perception of exclusion. In this respect, the postmodernist approach appears to be open to listening and dialogue by paying attention to the multiplicity of perceptions. This approach is very useful in conflict resolution.
Another illustrative example can be seen in the deconstruction of the September 11 attacks into two events. First, the US being attacked in its homeland, and secondly, the AL Qaeda attacks on the pentagon and towers as a consequence of US actions in the region and its support for non-Islamic regimes. Similarly, in deconstructing the Iraq war, we find that the Iraq invasion did not begin in 2003 but rather when, George Bush, the former US president brought doubts to the UN about Iraq’s capabilities of building weapons of Mass destruction.

POSTMODERNISM MAIN CONTRIBUTIONS TO IR

1) THE ARBITRARY NATURE OF MODERNITY
Modernity refers to the path of progress whereby one is freed from superstition, ignorance and set of institutional ideas that shape destiny (Vasquez 1999). Postmodernism however denies the idea of progress. The ideas of economic and political development to postmodernists are just modernist conceits imposed on the defeated and the weak. For postmodernists, there is no right or wrong ways of doing things and modernity is viewed as arbitrary.

2) CHOICE POSING AS TRUTH
Postmodernism sees things as arbitrary choices that come from power and interests. That is, arrangements that do exist are in fact choices made by human beings either consciously or unconsciously. Such constructions are choices in the sense that there are many other arrangements that could have been selected.

3) REALITY IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION
Arrangements that do exist are socially constructed by human beings. That is, reality is not nature-given or God-given but rather human -imposed.

4) LANGUAGE AND CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORKS PRONE TO SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECIES
When people believe and act on ideas that spread, then that part of the world portrayed by these ideas comes into being in the actual sense. Reality comes into existence when certain norms and rules are obeyed, institutionalized and enforced via social control mechanisms. According to postmodernists, the language that we use and conceptual framework paradigms are responsible for shaping the world.

5) THE PROCESS OF IDENTITY CONSTRUCTION IS A FORM OF POWER AND ACT OF VIOLATION
Identity is certainly, one of the most intimate forms of social construction imposed on individuals. Often, identity is associated with wars, persecution and victimization as seen the Darfur conflict. It therefore follows that, whoever has control of identity has profound influence over the life and destiny of a group, individual or society.

MAIN CRITICISM AGAINST POSTMODERNISM
Postmodernism has been criticized on several accounts. First, it is seen as denying the general applicable moral principles. Secondly, the theory neglects more material production processes. The major criticism is in its self-contradictory nature. The idea that everything that exists is a social construct implies that postmodernism’s perspective and projection of the world is also socially constructed and is therefore also temporal.

IMPACT OF POSTMODERNISM TODAY
The idea of identity as a social construction is of great significance to today’s political climate. This idea has given birth to the concept of a nation, which consists of community of people bound together by a common descent. This community of people however does not own the geographical territory to constitute a state. A good example can be seen with nations such as the Tibetans and Kurds who in the recent years have sought for the formation of a state but have been denied such sovereignty.

CONCLUSION
Indeed, postmodernism is a very useful tool for analyzing international affairs since it challenges many ideas in International Relations and is very strong in constructing arguments. However, it can’t really offer solution to the problems that exist and has been heavily criticized for providing self-contradiction. Therefore, the study of international relations cannot be confined to postmodernist perspective alone. To get a more coherent picture and understand the various nuances and intricacies in international relations, it is important to amalgamate various ideas and theories. Nonetheless, postmodernism has made important contributions to the study of international relations.

REFERENCE
Burchill, S., and A. Linklater, 2009. Theories of international relations. 4th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Devetak, R., 1996. ‘Postmodernism’. In: Burchill and Linklater (eds.), Theories of International Relations. New York: St. Martin’s Press, p. 180.
Steans, J., and P. Lloyd, 2010. An introduction to international relations theory: perspectives and themes. 3rd ed. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Vasquez, J.A., 1999. The power of politics: from realism to neotraditionalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Williams, P., and D. M. Goldstein, 2006. Classic readings and contemporary debates in international relations. 3rd ed. London: Thomson Wadsworth.

Category: Essay & Dissertation Samples, Politics Essay Examples