What is Post-Critical IR?

The power of critique across social science is waning.[1] Worse, it is possible to determine growing strands of anti-critical thought (Noys 2010). And this is occurring on the wider backdrop of a socio-political shift towards ‘post-truth’ populism, authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, and beyond that threaten (yet again) to violently limit the scope of critical thought (Keller, 2017; Latour, 2004; Calcutt, 2017). Perhaps most striking for social scientists who possess a ‘critical’ orientation (of one sort or another) is, moreover, the ways in which some of the thinking tools that lie at the core of its own debates have been drawn upon by practitioners for ends that seem antiethical to the political orientation of most of the social scientists who have nurtured their growth. Increasingly, for example, military practitioners are lauding a ‘revolution’ in military epistemology that has seen the work of Humberto Maturana, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques, Ranciere, Manuel DeLanda and others used for strengthening military power in conflict zones across the world.[3] Likewise, the embrace of relativistic notions of truth have been employed by political figures and conspiracy theorists not – as they were largely originally intended – to better appreciate and understand the complexities of the social world and the subordination of non-Euro-American knowledges but, rather, precisely to increase simplistic forms of subjugation.[4] However, in order to appreciate the importance of these events it is necessary – first – to abstract away from the immediate socio-political events that preoccupy us and turn to the more general fact that current world political circumstances lead us back to drawing an strong connection between critique and crisis.

As Étienne Balibar (2016) writes, “crisis renders the contradictions visible, and in so doing brings to the fore the internal structure of the world (particularly the political world, the social world) that is to be the object of the critique.” However, as noted, the particular curiosities of the current socio-political crisis and the ways it directly implicates social scientific thought tends to provoke the view that we have reached an “atypical, indeed exceptional, crisis… a crisis characterized by its global reach and the deadly intensification of acts of violence” (Ibid). While self-questioning in the face of an atypical crisis must be considered an affirmation of the very worth of the critical project, we would nonetheless perhaps do well to heed Balibar’s (2016) further words that the regularity with which critical theory self-questions at moments of crisis:

Should put us on our guard, because, in a certain way, the crisis–critique correlation works a little too well. But how to elude it?

The Post-Critical IR? project begins with the premise that we might elude such a fixation with the contemporary moment of world political crisis by reflecting on the ways in which other fields with strong critical traditions – feminism, social theory, philosophy etc. – have called for a (self-) interrogative ‘post-critical’ turn in their thought and in thereafter developing a certain ‘post-critical’ IR. Such a post-critical IR would ask not what comes after critique (i.e. mark the end of critical IR) but – instead – what might come with it for it to be more effective in both its daily praxis and theoretical relevance.[5] The prefix post is used here then with the same inflection post-colonial scholars give it: not to suggest we are beyond critique (or colonialism, structural oppression, etc.) but that we have reached a situation in which something must be added to critique and that this something requires sustained theoretical, methodological, and empirical reflection within the field.[6] Put differently, a post-critical IR would refer not to a “chronological period but” – rather – to “a historical condition” (Ashcroft 1996, 24). Dissecting the ontological, epistemological, and – indeed – very practical and political basis of that historical condition would allow for the transcendence of any particular crisis – however atypical it might be – and compel us thus to look at how we might ‘build up’ ways of changing the world that would work across crises, wherever and whenever they emerge. This article thus asks whether the critical study of world politics has reached a certain zero-point: a moment of struggle and recomposition in which the critical impulse requires a concerted self-transformation in order to ensure its influence continues to be felt. Indeed, the contemporary moment within critical IR represents a crucial juncture in the trajectory of the approach. At this juncture, we can either leverage the proliferation of diverse approaches to studying world politics through a critical eye towards the development of a united set of commitments to utilizing intellectual understanding and ‘sophistication’ for the practical-political good or we can succumb to nascent but growing anti-critical sentiment and see – perhaps – this collective endeavor end before it begins.

Specifically, Post-Critical IR? begins by considering at least four post-critical ‘strategies’ for IR:

  • Hope and Style: Deconstructive Moods for Post-Critique
  • Practices and Fields: Reconstructive Strategies for Post-Critique
  • Composition and Design: Disruptive Strategies for Post-Critique
  • Aporia and Abandonment: Strategies of Post-Critical Hiberantion

All references are available here.

[1] See, for debates on this point, Lisle (2017), Abraham and Abramson (2017), Boltanski (2011), Zournazi (2002), Serres (2002), Love (2010), Rancière (2007), Felski (2012), Boland (2013b, 2013a), Sterne and Leach (2006), Woodyer and Geoghegan (2012), Keller (2017), Andrejevic (2013).

[3] See https://goo.gl/Vp2AvG.

[4] See Latour (2004).

[5] For discussions of what it means to speak of a ‘postcritical’ social science, from across a variety of disciplines, see inter alia Jensen (2014), Polyani (1962), Latour (2004), Miyazaki (2004), Zournazi (2002), Connolly (2013), Fish (1989), Winthereik and Verran (2012), Berlant (2006), Mol (2002, 2011), Stengers (2013), De la Bellacasa (2012).

[6] See, for important discussions, Latour (2004), Gabriel (2015), Garcia (2014), Ferraris (2013).