What Makes the World Go Round?

In my last blog post, I wrote about how the discipline of International Relations would always, oh-so-frustratingly, lack any sort of consensus (in terms of epistemology, ontology, theory, etc.), and I absolutely stand by that… with one exception. I think that, demonstrably, the one thing that will forever unite accounts of IR is an emphasis — no, obsession — with power. No matter what account you’re dealing with, what lies right beneath the surface is the power of whatever the discipline happens to hold as its central category of analysis. And this stays true with any account that you take. Marxism deals with the power of class, or the lack of power that comes about via class oppression. Feminism deals with the power of gender, and its influence on the way that people of different genders exercise power within society. Post-structuralism deals with the power of language, and Critical Theory deals with the power of theory itself. In other words, what, for you, makes the world go ‘round?

Why is that important to recognize? Or is that even a valuable observation to make at all? I’ve been thinking, all throughout the term, about how it might be possible to reconcile these disciplines that are so fundamentally incompatible. The closest thing resembling a solution that I have been able to come up with is defining them in terms of power, and then moving forward from there. Epistemology and ontology are two things that theorists are not going to agree on. But maybe if accounts can be boiled down at the very least to the central tenets of their analysis, some more meaningful dialogue can take place. In his International Institutions: Two Approaches, Robert Keohane says “we must understand that we can aspire only to formulate conditional, context-specific generalizations rather than to discover universal laws, and that our understanding of world politics will always be incomplete.” If this is true, then it will only be in starting to utilize the same lexicon (power) that any progress will be made. And at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be the goal?

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