Pl7505 Brief intro to critical theory and critical security studies
Transcript of Pl7505 Brief intro to critical theory and critical security studies
The aim of this lecture is to introduce you to:
the core commitments of critical security studies
two key theoretical approaches to Security Studies that responded to the post-Cold War call for new security thinking
and suggest possible avenues for critique. These thoughts should serve to
compliment your own reading and analysis - not replace it.
Reflects theoretical developments in International Relations and the social sciences more widely.
From 1980s onwards there was a move away from positivist approaches.
• ‘Critical’ in critical thinking does not refer to ‘criticising’ or being negative.
• Rather critical thinking is an ethos. It involves questioning knowledge that is taken for granted.
• ‘Critical thinking is not simply higher order thinking. Instead it is a search for the social, historical and political roots of conventional knowledge and an orientation to transform learning and society’ (Benesch, 1993).
Critical security studies is not a coherent, unified body of scholarship, rather it includes a disparate body of scholarship (e.g., Poststructuralism, Feminisms, Critical Theory, Postcolonialism, Constructivism, Critical Geopolitics, etc.) that share similar critiques of orthodox security studies.
The end of the Cold War signalled an opening in the intellectual field of security studies through which a growing body of scholars disillusioned by the politics of the Cold War sought to challenge the assumptions underpinning dominant discursive understandings of what security means.
These challenges stemmed from critical interpretations of the territorially-bounded sovereign state and critical challenges to orthodox claims that state sovereignty equals security
So instead of critical security studies signalling a cohesive theoretical enterprise, it signals a critical attitude/stance.
Differ in terms of ontology and epistemology
Ontology – what does reality consist of?
Epistemology – how do we (get to) know it?
Objectivist ontology – seeks to study reality out there
Empiricist epistemology – the way to find reality is to study ‘facts’
Realism, liberalism, Marxism are all positivist.
Scientific methods can be applied to non-scientific studies
This is the case because: the social world, like the natural one, has regularities
that scientists (social and non-social) can ‘discover’. A distinction can be drawn between facts and values
because facts are neutral and therefore value-free. How we know what is a true fact and what is a fiction is
by doing empirical analysis, i.e., by testing theories against the real world.
Techniques for studying the real world are themselves neutral, i.e., they are beyond politics.
Cannot study the social world through natural sciences
Facts are not ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’: there are no ‘brute facts’ without interpretation, and interpretation always involves theory
Cannot claim to be objective – the researcher cannot claim to be detached from the society he/she is observing because he/she is a part of it
All concepts are historically and socially constructed, incorporating certain values
Should it be a question of what security is or what security does?
Linked to intellectuals at Aberystwyth Key text:
Ken Booth, Critical Security Studies and World Politics
Links critical security studies to post-Marxist Critical Theory – (work of Jurgen Habermas is central).
All knowledge is a social process – for someone and some purpose.
Reveal the politics behind seemingly neutral knowledge uncover ‘truth claims’.
Critical theory offers the basis for social change – progress
The test of a social theory is its capacity for fostering emancipation
Horkheimer on the distinction between Traditional and Critical Theory …
Traditional theories: make a distinction between subject and object. Postulate that the subject (the theorist) can stand independently outside the object which they are attempting to theorise. There is a world that exists independently of the observer, and s/he can suspend cultural, linguistic, social and historical biases. There is, and can be, a distinction between fact and value and theory must be value-free. (NB this kind of theory often referred to as empiricist and positivist)
Critical theories: deny the possibility of a separation between subject and object. The social scientist (subject) is wholly embedded and situated in social and political life. As such, theories are irreducibly related to social life. They are not, and cannot be, simple objective descriptions of what there is. Critical Theory is concerned with the purposes and functions of social theories. The purpose underlying critical theory is the improvement of the human condition through the elimination of injustice. Theory does not simply present an expression of ‘the concrete historical situation’, it also acts as ‘a force within it to stimulate change’. (Adapted from Max Horkheimer, Critical Theory, 1972)
Horkheimer was a member of the Frankfurt School, a group of theorists who broke away from orthodox Marxism in the 1930s.
Robert Cox (1981) Problem-Solving Theory:
Takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions which they are organised, as the given framework for action. The general aim of problem-solving theory is to make these relationships and institutions work smoothly by dealing with sources of trouble.
Does not take institutions and social and power relations for granted but calls them into question concerning itself with their origins and how and whether they might be in the process of changing. It is directed towards an appraisal of the very framework for action, or problematic, which problem-solving theory accepts as its parameters.
Robert Cox (1981), ‘Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations
Theory’ Millennium 10 (2), pp. 128-129.
Dominant theories of IR reinforce power relations and favour those who already dominate
The state and other institutions should be denaturalised - historicize and interrogate existing structures
For progressive change to happen international politics should be guided by emancipatory values.
Is Traditional Security Studies Part of the Problem?
Traditional Security Studies accepts the world as it is (Problem Solving Theory).
Assumes war is a recurrent feature in the international system
Accepts the state is the referent object Accepts the anarchic nature of international
relations Did traditional security studies perpetuate
the status quo? If we treat war as inevitable does it in fact
become a self fulfilling prophecy?
For Booth: Critical Security is both:
› a theoretical commitment › a political orientation
Theory› Critical and permanent exploration of ontology,
epistemology and praxis of security Politics
› Aim of enhancing security through emancipatory politics.
Individual autonomy and the establishment of equity. What distinguishes critical theory from ‘traditional’ theory
is its commitment to change. Theory ought not to be neutral The Welsh School radically re-conceives security as
emancipation of individuals and communities from structural constraints.
Insists on understanding security as a complex, holistic process – requires ongoing structural transformations based on ideas of emancipation, social justice and human progress.
Security is a means to an end – but an end that can always be improved upon.
‘”Security” means the absence of threats. Emancipation is the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those constraints, together with poverty, poor education, political oppression and so on. Security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin. Emancipation, not power or order, produce true security. Emancipation, theoretically, is security.’ (Booth 1991: 319)
Can you foresee any problems with linking emancipation with security?
What is Security? What does it mean to take a
critical stance towards it? What is Security Studies about?