I selected the article, “Singing Our World Into Existence: International Relations Theory and September 11,” written by Steve Smith. This article was sourced from the International Studies Quarterly and was published by Wiley on behalf of the International Studies Association in 2004. This paper is structured as follows: in the first section I will address Smith’s main arguments and introduce the scholars he engages with throughout the text. In the second section, I will reveal the major problems the author associates with international relations theory. The discipline holds prevailing assumptions which have endured since the era following World War Two. In addition, it fails to include multiple forms of violence which the author contends are what led to the events of 9/11. The author further holds that the discipline was founded on the interests and policy concerns of the Western powers, which established a narrow agenda for the international realm. In the third section I provide the solutions that Smith suggests will improve the traditionally defined theory of international relations. Finally, in the fourth section I describe how Smith uses the artwork from Magritte and Velazquez as a way to show how interpretation and representation are factors to consider in the construction of knowledge within the practice of international relations.
Smith argues it is critical for the international relations discipline to evaluate the ways in which we have framed theories about world politics and we must scrutinize the underlying logic behind the construction of these theories. The author engages with a variety of scholars throughout the text which reinforce his main arguments. Smith shows that Weber argued for the nature of science as a vocation by highlighting the distinction between the academic and the political. Weber sets the stage for a coherent argument regarding the separation of facts and values in academic work. This argument serves as a stepping stone for the succeeding sections of the article because Smith connects Weber’s work to the complexities of the theories and approaches that have dominated the discipline. Following this, Smith itemizes the competing perspectives of international relations through the research of Robert Keohane, Peter Katzenshetin, and Stephen Krasner on the rationalist and constructivist theories. Smith introduces the issues of epistemology through the workings of Wendt, Ronald Jepperson and Katzenstein which I found important for evaluating the way in which international relations was initially constructed. The engagement with these scholars is significant for understanding the disciplines path dependancy, constituting asymmetrical outcomes at the international level.
Smith reveals several issues pertaining to the existing international relations discipline. These problems stem from the ten core assumptions of the international relations theory which Smith further unpacks to explain the controversy surrounding these particular claims. The author problematizes the discipline through the critiques of its assumptions and practices, arguing they created the space for the events to occur on September 11, 2001. The overarching problem of the theory is the notion that the state is the primary unit of analysis because it has excluded alternative forms of violence, including the acts of 9/11. Additionally, the discipline is fragmented and limited in its scope because of its one supporting vision of the world established by the Western Powers. Traditionally, these superpowers defined the concepts of balance of power and war and adopted policy concerns that were of significance to only those nations. This established narrative has dominated the discourse of international relations theory today, sustaining these partisan views.
Despite there being a number of complexities with the existing theory of international relations, Smith accounts for some possible solutions that would refine the framework of the theory. The author seeks for the theory to incorporate intellectual pluralism which would refrain from assuming the subject’s rationality, interests, and identities. Smith suggests that the discipline should evolve from one single vision of the world to concentrating on a multitude of issues in the new millennium of world politics. This kind of concentration requires diversity. Integrating positivist views of international relations will effectively open up its ability to solve various issues globally. We must reflect on who devised these rules to uncover the truth about the world and how knowledge has been historically constructed.
The United Nations Human Development organization does not function in accordance with the international relations theory. However, in response to the catastrophic events of 9/11, the 2002 Human Development report focused primarily on violence in international relations. The report established the concept of human security which opened up the capacity for including multiple forms of violence. Owing to the essence of the international relations theory, this report was ineffective considering these alternate forms of violence are not recognized within the discipline. This is relevant to Smith’s argument which he emphasizes the importance of questioning the subjectivity of international relations and its underlying set of assumptions. It is these efforts that can reconstruct the theory and its path dependent way of thinking.
This article challenged my understanding of international relations because in the context of Smith’s analysis of the discipline, it was evident that the practice of international relations was a by-product of Western views and interests. Furthermore, I recognized how the world has become consumed with stylized ways of talking about international relations which have blinded us to the constant asymmetrical outcomes. The interconnection of Foucault’s ‘Order of Things’, and the paintings of Magritte and Velazquez was significant because each figure effectively challenged the way reality is understood and represented. The author logically connected Magritte’s artwork to the social world, compelling me to rethink the relationship between the individual and the world they live in. Foucaults ‘Order of Things,’ was helpful for explaining how the Las Meninas painting by Velazquez questioned the nature of representation. This challenges my understanding of international relations because it illustrates how the world lacks the definitive ground on which to pronounce a singular interpretation, as international relations has historically sought to do. Therefore we are caught up in a circle of misunderstanding and we must demarcate the variability of truth that encircle the world.