“Critical” International Relations (IR) began as a strongly emancipatory and normative project. She attempted to challenge the emerging neo-‘realistic ‘and neoliberal hegemony in the IR by questioning the nature of their ontological and epistemological claims that would serve to undermine existing power relations in a highly unequal world created by capitalism, colonialism and Patriarchy is structured to reify and reproduce, and the nation state. However, we argue in our recent article “Rethinking Emancipation in a Critical IR: Normativity, Cosmology, and Pluriversal Dialogue” that it appears to have lost its original focus and is risking its emancipatory Potential.
An essential part of regaining emancipation, however, is the questioning of normativity. This seems to be the condition of possibility for a post-western IR that critical theorizing is not exclusive Product of European thought, but identifies critical discourses in various cosmological traditions. Part of a more differentiated criticism therefore consists in a new conception of emancipation that does not reproduce a dichotomous contrast between those in need of emancipation and those in need of emancipation. The emancipation must therefore be emancipated from the dichotomy “self” / “other”. The deessentalization of the dichotomies “self” and “other” is of crucial importance, since the western “self” is historically constituted by exploitative relationships and hierarchies in relation to what it is not. Any language of a ‘self’ and ‘other’ that does not actively de-essentialize and deconstruct its origins and legacies from a global perspective of difference (s) thus reproduces a certain culturally specific (ie often liberal) subjectivity. It thus makes invisible the historical relationships that made the exercise of liberal agency possible in the first place by downplaying the influence of colonialism on the historical construction of the “post-western” self.
To regain an understanding of emancipation that avoids “ontological imperialism” (ie, imposing ideas and understandings of the “self” on every “other” culture or individual; see Levinas 1989), we propose the concepts of “thin” and “thick” normativity. We look for inspiration and intellectual guidelines within the western philosophical tradition, which then has to be revised itself, since every encounter with politically, culturally or religiously different cosmological discourses refers to the limits of this tradition. Therefore, the concepts of “thin” and “thick” normativity, which provide an initial orientation for approaching and understanding differences, must be supplemented in the encounter with different cosmological traditions in order to enable an intercosmological understanding and an intercosmological exchange. For this exchange we propose the term “Plurilogue“. Plurilog implies that there are more than two voices and perspectives at the same time that are equally legitimate (and worthy of respect). Plurilog therefore implies a deep commitment to perspective and inclusion.
The term “plurilog” seems to be used only rarely and this without further specification or definition. So it’s still a long way from being a concept. We propose it as such, but we are aware of the initial stages. One of the rare uses of the term “Plurilog” is an article by Lucy Rykers on “Woman of Color in Coalition: A Plurilogue with Lorde, Mohanty, and Lugones”, which describes the underlying thesis of Plurilogue as “Theory is never produced in isolation, but exists within a broader body of knowledge from a multitude of social locations and perspectives ”. In this understanding, Rykers relies on an earlier article by Shireen Roshanravan on the subject of “Motivating Coalition: Women of Color and Epistemic Disobedience”. The term “plurilogue” is also used by the Politics and Philosophy Blog (http://irnrd.blogspot.com/p/plurilogue.html), whose organizers derive Plurilogue from John Rawls term “Omnilogue” (Rawls 1995). While accordingly plurilog emphasizes the simultaneously Plurality and diversity of the discourses that Rawlsian and the understandings derived from it presuppose one of rationality as a yardstick for the legitimacy and inclusion of discourses. We criticize such an understanding – which is also present in a Habermassian and Gadamerian discourse understanding – as a form of ontological imperialism and epistemological violence.
Recapturing emancipation through “thin” and “thick” normativity and their interrelationships
While “thin” normativity describes the norms behind deconstruction and criticism, “thick” normativity describes the norms behind active political and moral statements. Both versions of normativity are not only always – consciously and pleasantly – present in the worldview and practice of a political actor and analyst, but are necessary in order to understand, explain and critically, ie emancipatory, political and theoretical different positions. “Thin” and “thick” normativity thus each have their own meaning and role in practice and theory. They are co-constitutive and co-original.
“Thick” normativity is necessary in order to leave the circle of criticism and advance from the ethics of criticism to political practice that re-articulates agency. After the deconstruction, we argue that we need a reconstruction. Criticism and deconstruction, however, do not offer the normative orientation that is necessary for acting and creating political order (cf. also Behr, 2019 on this argument). We need to formulate actionable norms, even if they are contestable; and they will always be fought over in a pluralistic world, therefore global plurialogue, openness and empathy for difference (s) are essential. However, such a reconstructive moment will not be prescriptive. It must take into account the plurality of theoretical and practical worldviews. And it is precisely this moment of correction that describes the second relation between “thick” and “thin” normativity: “thin” normativity functions as a critical corrective and claims openness for and the de-essentalization of difference (s) for the case. “Thick” normativity goes “wrong”, ie when political and moral narratives exclude empathy for difference (s) and thereby actually undermine plurality and perspective. Then “thin” normativity is used as a deconstructive normativity to correct and criticize corresponding narratives.
We develop thin normativity according to Jacques Derrida’s concept of deconstruction, which deconstructs essentialisms and is a corrective of thick normative political and moral claims (among other things Derrida 1993: 19; 1997: 13; 2007: 24). A dense normativity, which is necessary for a self-reflective attitude towards our own positionality, in order to make this positionality explicit at all and to develop the language and concepts to include different cosmologies and their own normative claims from within – derives from the work of . from Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse (Horkheimer 1937 ; Marcus 2009). Based on a reading by Horkheimer and Marcuse, we can formulate the following main features of thick normativity: (1) Criticism includes a plurality of values; (2) Criticism distinguishes between different forms of epistemological claims that can correspond to different forms of knowledge; (3) Criticism and its envisaged alternatives are generated from historical judgment and imagination.
These claims serve as a starting point for a critical theory formation, but must be revised to take into account different epistemological and ontological claims in order to enable a global plurilogue. In summary: Thin normativity is crucial and self-critical thick normative claims. Thus, thin normativity is a corrective of thick normative (political, moral, religious, etc.) claims. And it is this relationship that leads us to reformulate thick normativity when we encounter differences in global plurilogues.
Cosmology and Reconceptualization of Emancipation in Post-Western IR
To combine critical theorizing with different cultural traditions in a post-western IR, we propose the concept of cosmology. Cosmologies refer to culture-specific ontological and epistemological statements about the origins and development of the cosmos and our position in it. These statements prove and give answers to existential questions about the basic parameters of human life, including existence and being, finitude and experience of difference. Cosmologies combine theories of origin with a series of normative political and moral claims that offer the possibility of going beyond what is and of constructing meaning through terms such as redemption, moksha or nirvana (cf. Shani and Behera 2021). Such normative claims correspond to our understanding of “thick” normativity. Cosmology can be used to categorize various cultural traditions that include concepts of the “sacred” and the “profane”. All cosmologies have both a concept of the sacred and the profane, so there are no exclusively “religious” and “secular” cosmologies. The concept of cosmology therefore has the advantage of narrowing down the Western distinction between the “religious” and the “secular” realm. It can be distinguished from “culture”, which refers to those cosmological fragments that remain after colonization reduces living worlds to essential, ahistorical objects for study through a process of desacralization; and of “religion” which refers to notions of the “sacred” separated from living cosmology to form a separate realm from the “profane” which does not exist in the everyday practice of many peoples around the world.
Finally, an emancipatory dimension can be identified in cosmologies, which encompasses the transcendence of each “self” beyond its possible essentialization. Such a transcendence would enable different cosmologies to come into contact with one another and open up the possibility of a global plurilogue. We therefore argue that rather than translating cosmological claims into a universal secular language, one should try to understand these claims in their own terms. Sensitized to cosmological differences, post-western understandings of emancipation should allow the articulation of multiple claims to freedom without first categorizing them according to a “secular” / “religious” separation; and second, without giving priority to any particular tradition, to have a monopoly on the definition of emancipation. This leads us to the problem of how to deal with multiple and potentially competing thick normative claims. A discussion of “thin” normativity is necessary here.
In summary it can be said: While “thick” normativity suggests ontological and epistemological worldviews and moral claims of the cosmologies themselves, “thin” normativity defends spaces for plurilogue and openness and functions as a critical corrective of thick normative claims made possible by essentializing the spaces that enable critical Theory and practice. Theorists, we argued, also need to be aware of the permanent possibility of counter-arguments. A dialogue between different cosmological traditions about the meaning and importance of emancipation and about the normative orientation of and for politics then represents a dense normativity. The characteristics of a “thick” normativity for a plurilogue can thus be found in the following reformulation of the normativity criteria by Horkheimer and Marcuse consist: (1) Criticism encompasses a plurality of values since we live in different universes; (2) Criticism distinguishes between different forms of epistemological claims that may correspond to different forms of knowledge, including those that have been marginalized and fragmented by the “coloniality of power” (Quijano 2000); (3) Criticism and its envisaged alternatives are generated from historical judgment and imagination, influenced by and specific to multiple and distinct cosmologies; and finally (4) it requires an emancipatory project to decolonize our imagination rooted in different cosmologies and to uncover the pluriversal relationality that connects different cosmological fragments.
Critical IR, in its current form, is based on “ontological imperialism” which imposes ideas and understandings of the “self” on every “other” culture or individual. Following Lévinas, we conclude this to be a form of epistemological (and later often political) violence. To understand the “other” in his own termsInstead of subordinating our understanding of their needs and desires to them, we have to deal with “thick” normative claims that should be open to revision and self-criticism, what we call “thin” normativity. Overall, “thick” and “thin” normativity are necessary conditions for every communicative encounter between different cosmologies, which we call sets of normative Ontological and epistemological claims about the origins of the cosmos and our place in it. We refer to this communicative encounter as the “Plurilog”. A plurilog is more than a “global conversation” (Fierke and Jabri 2019), as it is transformative and plurivok like a dialogue, but differs from Habermass’s and Gadamer’s understandings of dialogue in that it is open to several cosmological traditions at the same time This also does not privilege an argumentative rationality as a form of communication. In addition, a global plurilogue must not, as in Habermasschen and Gadamer’s dialogue concepts, lead to an intersubjective understanding that leads to an agreement or a “horizon merging”. Plurilog is and leads to the articulation of ontologies and epistemologies that are less exclusive than they currently characterize international relations. A “critical” theory of international relations (in contrast to Critical IR). IR as a discipline needs to be deconstructed in order to uncover the thick normative narratives on which it is based and to enable a global plurialogue on the central issues of international relations (such as war and peace, security, poverty and inequality, order and justice, gender) and sexuality, colonialism and race, migration or climate change) without epistemic (or political) violence, so that different cosmological perspectives are taken into account.
References (more about those referred to)
Behr, Hartmut, ‘Towards a Political Concept of Reversibility in International Relations: Bridging Political Philosophy and Policy Studies’, European journal for international relations 25, 4 (2019): 1212-35.
Derrida, Jacques, Aporias (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).
Derrida, Jacques, Psyche. Inventions of the Other, Volume I. (Stanford: Stanford California Press, 2007).
Horkheimer, Max, “Traditional and Critical Theory”. In: O’Connell (Ed.) Critical Theory: Selected Articles (New York: Continuum Press, 1999), pp. 188-243.
Derrida, Jacques, Deconstruction in brief. A conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997).
Fierke, Karin and Jabri, Vivienne. “Global Conversations: Relationality, Embodiment and Power Towards a Global IR”, Global constitutionalism, 8: 3 (2019), 506-535.
Lévinas, Emmanuel, “Ethics as First Philosophy”, The Levinas reader, Eds. Sean Hand and Basil Blackwell (Oxford 1989), 75-87.
Marcus, Herbert, Negations: Essays in Critical Theory (London: MayFly Books, 2009).
Quijano, Aníbal. “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America.” Translated by Michael Ennis. Nepantla: views from the south 1 (3) (2000): 533-80.
Rawls, John, “Political Liberalism: Response to Habermas. The magazine for philosophy 92,3 (1995): 132-180.
Shani, Giorgio and Navnita Chadha Behera, “Provincializing International Relations by Reading the Dharma”. Review of international studies (2021), 1-20. doi: 10.1017 / S026021052100053X.
Further reading on e-international relations