I have to admit, I wanted to post a blank page. Would that be post-Dada poetry in a post-paper world? I decided to save my cheeky response about simulacra and how this blog didn’t really get written for another time, and briefly discuss what “postmodernism” might mean in International Relations (IR). Or at least, how I imagine the huge and varied response to high modernism that emerged in the last century in architecture and art most notably, finds its way to IR.
International Relations Theory is organized around these semi-fictional “debates” that may or may not have happened. Certainly they were not debated in the usual sense, but the common understanding of our discipline comes from organizing it into a first debate where “idealism” took on “realism” (and lost); debate two between the “behaviorists” and the “traditionalists” (no clear victor), the third debate between the neorealists and, um, the rest, I guess (new theories attack! Go Marx! Go Bull!), and finally the great fourth debate the positivists and the post-positivists duke it out over methodology and the role of science in International Relations (by some accounts this is the really the third debate and we are still in it. Just ask anyone with a critical project trying to present work at a conference or get a job in US without a bunch of wonky quant in your work).
So, here we pause and see if this fourth (third) debate is where we can locate the postmodern as such in IR. Not as a facile periodization around the word “post,” but rather as interpretive strategies and analysis that engage with modernity and the changes it wrought. Generally framed as “poststructuralist” or “post-positivist,” this type of analysis finds many sites in IR, especially those engaged in emancipatory or critical projects. Think of it less than a theory and more of an attitude. A perking up of the ears to marginalized voices and perspectives. This is a profoundly ethical engagement with the world. A postmodernist critique would want you to feel unsettled and challenged. To look at those common sense assumptions about the world “out there” and question how power operates in seemingly simple common sense assumptions. Oh, and you’d want to understand that power isn’t monolithic and traded in blocks by sovereign states by the pound, but rather seductive and productive and pleasurable….and intertwined with knowledge….
This returns us to methodology. For IR, the “critical turn” would encompass seeing knowledge as fractured and epistemological claims as dependent on relations of power. These claims are not “countable” or empirical as a positivist would understand it, but rather they wrestle with the “real” and what it means to shape the real into reality.