Monday, June 16, 2008

Complexity in International Relations Theory

Nick, at Accursed Share, has posted an interesting and relevant post about issues relating to the structure/agency problem in International Relations Theory.



I am in agreement about the need to consider multiple interacting systems in International Relations theory. There still seems to be a desire to simplify actual events, and the complexity of them, into all-encompassing theories that accounts for the change before it happens (e.g. the eternal wisdom of neo-realism). A lot of the approaches still fail to cope with the issue of emergence and lack the capacity to identify system-generating processes. They seem to always assume that the system is already there (Waltz and Wendt) ! However, historical approaches like world systems theory do acknowledge the importance of historical analysis, but lack, i feel, a non-linear understanding of History (althought this is emerging in world systems theory).



There is also the problem of organismic approaches to the state, which is most prominent in Alexander Wendt's recent work, which tries to propose a quantum hypothesis of consciousness. While it is all very interesting Wendt seems to be appealing to an essential and totalising (human) condition to propose his theory of the state as a person. His example of how a state functions is connected to the idea of a beehive composed of homogeneous units (i.e. individuals). The problem I feel with Wendt’s approach is his model of the stats is based on what DeLanda refers to as a ‘relations of Interiority’, which is a result of arguing the state is a superorganism (like a beehive). I tend to think Wendt needs to consider the state more from a ‘relations of exteriority’ approach, which could account for heterogeneous components (i.e. assemblages) interacting with one another. For example, lobbying power in some states is a crucial factor for understanding the actualisations that occur in Global politics. One only needs to consider the lobbying power in encouraging the U.S. to not sign the Koyota protocol. However, this is not to claim that the U.S. (as a state) is a homogeneous person in favour of rejecting the protocol. There are plenty of assemblages that are present (and also emergent) in the U.S that lobby and protest in favour of environmental policies. This means the state is more like Deleuze's idea of the wasp and orchid interacting (heterogeneous components) than a beehive (homogeneous organic beings).






I would also propose that anthropocentricism is a problem in the discipline of International Relations. This seems to be a difficult topic because it would appear that humanity is the cause of International Relations (IR). However, could IR, in an attempt to learn from the natural sciences (particularly complexity theory) think, for example, about the significance of such things as weather systems producing events in international politics? The example of the recent cyclone in Burma would illustrate that humanity is not the ‘centre’ of global politics.

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Well, one could say that it is humanity's reaction to the weather system fluctuations that influences global politics due to national imperatives.
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