States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations)


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The article attempts to transcend a conventional assumption that international in security derives from un balanced distribution of material capabilities among States by arguing that in security can also be produced by im proper use of language, and as a result designing good language in foreign policy is also crucial in IR. This article falls into five parts. The first part gives a brief account of some philosophical resources on which the discourse as in security practice and the understanding of its meanings are based, with its focus mainly on the insights of "speech act" theory and poststructuralist theory on meanings.

The second part explores discourse and meanings in IR, arguing that IR is not only an arena of physical competition among States, but also a place where States struggle for dominance of discursive power. In part three, the article conceptualizes critically drawing notions from the conception of "securitization" provided by the Copenhagen School on how the meanings of foreign and security discourse can be lexically constructed and interpreted in the context in which the effect of in security culture is produced, and how the process of language use itself is taken as an in security practice.

The fourth part takes the U. Bush's rhetoric of "axis of evil" as an empirical case, crystallizing how improper use of language in foreign and security policy has led causally to bitter antagonistic tensions between the U. Concluding remarks comprises the final part of this article. Philosophical insights as intellectual resources. It has long been believed that language is an abstract system of signs. This understanding tends to see language as something ontologically static and neutral in nature, and thus takes neither adequate attention to its dynamic use nor the productive role it plays in social practice.

According to conventional assumptions in traditional linguistics, social practice is particularly conducted by physically "doing" or perpetrating deeds rather than by verbal "talking" or words. However, language is not merely an abstract system of signs. It is also a crucial factor that can help constitute social acts or realities.

States of Political Discourse

Language in use or discourse is a social practice that produces effects of power in social relations. In fact, people participate in various kinds of social, political and cultural activities mainly through the use of language. In other words, people employ linguistic signs in a given historical, social and cultural context, in which the language in use not only conveys ideas of the language-user, but also generates social effects on the language-user and the targeted audiences in their social relations.

It can be argued that language is not merely a device of human communication and a reflection of reality; it also functions as a catalyst on the minds and deeds of others. The social implications of language consist in its influence, persuasion and even alteration of others' ideas, beliefs, and behaviors.

An important use of language is as significant social practice that produces effects of power in social relations. That is a crucial but unheeded aspect that is fundamentally different from traditional linguistic theories. That said, it is imperative to take earnest concerns with use of language, which is no longer merely viewed as innocent and impartial in social life. One focus on it refers to how people do and even accomplish things by words, and how responses and effects are produced among the audiences who interpret the meanings of those words.

A theory of "speech act", advocated by English philosopher John L. Austin, is invoked here as a point of departure for these concerns on the ground that this theory expounds the idea that human beings do things with words. According to the "speech act" theory, a particular use of language may involve different acts. The language in use not only illustrates the language user's acts, but also causes social effects of power on audiences. As a social practice, discourse can be employed to do either good or bad things.

People may use language to influence, alter and even manipulate thoughts, behaviors and feelings of others, and to make "others believe or engage things against their own interests". The "speech act" theory provides a philosophical framework for the idea of discourse as social practice, though the theory itself also invites critiques and challenges. Still, the theoretical claim that people do things with words is both intellectually insightful and pragmatically meaningful.

Unlike other social practices, discourse may not directly affect the structure and changes of the external world, but works "indirectly and psychologically". A related concern to the discourse as social practice is the issue of meaning. In both structural linguistics and poststructuralist philosophy, a shared view is that the meaning produced by linguistic signs is not naturally given or fixed; rather, it is the product of social customs and norms. The meaning that a word obtains lies in its difference from other words. That is to say, meanings exist in the relationship of differences, so called "the principle of differences".

However, there is a fundamental disagreement between structuralism and poststructuralism as to whether the meaning remains stable after its existence. The former insists that as soon as the meaning of a word is produced, it is in a stable and unchangeable structure. In other words, the meaning of a sign thus produced has stability and fixation. The latter, though sharing with the former's view that meanings of a sign are not obtained by its relations to external reality but by internal relationship of the structure of different signs, does not share such a structuralist idea that meanings can be stable, fixed and complete as soon as they are socially given.

Then what makes the meaning of a sign change? There are divergent views about it even within poststructuralists themselves.

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Jacques Derrida, French philosopher, argues that the meanings of signs are always uncertain and unstable, and that words do not carry universal meanings, which are, on the contrary, taken as something that is subject to change. One can give multiple meanings to a sign through the device of deconstruction, a strategy of double reading of texts, which aims to unsettle the root of freezing or fixing meanings. To other poststructuralists, however, deconstructivism is an idealist "scholastic" effort, which relies naively and narrowly on the reading of symbolic signs or texts, refuses to accept methodology of empirical analysis, and as a result brings about "problems" to the social practice due to its limiting the scope of pragmatic applications.

Michel Foucault, French social thinker, argues that discourse can be regulated; and in the realm of power social relations, it can affect and create the object of knowledge, and determine what a "truth claim" is. Therefore, in social reality, meanings of a sign are not fluid all the time but can be controlled and even manipulated in the context of power social relations.

Social power determines what can be said, what cannot be said in a certain social and cultural context; it also regulates who can say things and when and where to say them. A discourse under the social relations of power can help construct and maintain certain social order, which is regarded as one that is most suitable to power holder's interests, and silence and downplay other social orders that may threaten the power holders. Therefore, according to Foucault, there is a constitutive relationship between discourse as a form of knowledge and social power. Another French social thinker also observed meanings of signs through the lens of the social relations of power.

Pierre Bourdieu pointed out that the feature of linguistic power couldn't be understood simply from the level of language itself but by putting it in the particular relationship between those who exert power and those who accept power. The power that can produce discourse is the one that can maintain or subvert social orders.


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Everyone produces discourse on a daily basis. But its importance and effects are of wide difference. It depends on who uses language. In both Foucault and Bourdieu's ideas on culture, struggling for dominance of discourse, and maintaining or subverting the meanings of signs, these are crucial aspects of social life. Those who control discourse control society. Since discourse produces multiple meanings, a consensus is that people understand and, in most cases, deal with the world mainly through the means of words, and the knowledge produced and acquired in this way is not so much objective reflection of the real world as the result of discursive generalization and conceptualization of that world through the social relations of power.

What is the difference between International Politics and International Relations

In other words, human knowledge is the social construction within a specific historical and cultural context. In this sense, the meanings of signs are obtained and generated in and through social interactions. In short, based on the understanding of discourse as social practice, which draws the insight of "speech act" theory as its philosophical foundation, several claims can be made as follows.

First, language is not merely a system of signs as a device for human communications or a mirror of social realities; it is also a crucial means by which the world is historically and socially re presented and re constructed. Things and events can be done and accomplished by words. The meaning of language derives from, and changes within, a specific social and cultural context. Second, discourse as social practice does not work alone or in isolation; it is closely related with other forms of social performances.

Third, as a type of social practice, discourse or language in use is not value-free, but characteristic of ethical and normative intentions. In different disciplines of social sciences, discourse has different categories, like discourse of law, religious discourse, discourse of science and technology, medical discourse, and ethical discourse etc.

In the discipline of IR, one often takes interest in political including foreign policy discourse. By political discourse, it may refer to the use of language pertaining to political topics and issues. Political discourses often appear on newspapers, televisions, radios, and the Internet; they are also seen on various political arenas such as political campaigns, party rallies, popular demonstrations, political pamphlets, diplomatic negotiations and international agreements.

Political discourses are usually involved directly with political topics and issues. Yet certain civil discourses indirectly associated with political issues can also be regarded as political discourse. In IR, when certain language is in use, it expresses meanings on at least two levels. One is the superficial meaning that a word carries or the explicit meaning that is defined in dictionaries.

Another is the deep meaning that a word carries or the implicit meaning behind that word. The superficial and hidden meanings of a word change with "the evolution of history and culture". With the passage of time, the original meaning of this word fades away. The Bush administration expected that the word "crusade" could play a role in recalling American people's sentiments. But, it also helped American enemies, because the leaders of Al-Qaeda could also make use of the word to mobilize their forces to defend their "homes" and avenge the victims of the "crusaders".

Discourse is pragmatically used in real life. If it is correct to say that without discourse there is no world politics, and that one can hardly understand world politics without discourse, then it is necessary to do discourse analysis in IR. There are different approaches to understanding IR as a positivist approach that centers on "objective existence" of social world. Discourse analysis as a theory and methodology, in contrast, takes more attention to the issue as to how particular social events in IR are given meanings and re constructed and evolved as they are through the function of discourse.

Inter texts are major objects of discourse analysis. The purpose of textual study is to "explore the facts that are described, recorded or documented by the text". Discourse analysis warns that any single text is without meaning, it obtains its meaning only when it interacts with other texts and is put in a broad social and historical context in which those texts are produced, disseminated and consumed.

For example, if one wants to understand the meaning of an event in world politics, he needs to put together divergent texts about the event intertext , identify who is telling the story of the event identity , recognize what perspectives that the story-teller is taking world outlook or position , in what places context and who are the audiences receivers. He needs to know not only what the story-teller says about the event explicit meanings , but also what he does not say about it implicit meanings.

Thus there is more than one form of reality in IR. While an objective existence of what really happens in a real world is out there, many even most of understand the reality mainly through different and competing "stories" retold by those who make use of language to represent the original one. The retold reality is no longer an innocent reflection of that original one, rather it is a "reality" that is refined, cut and modified by people, and thus is socially and lexically constructed. For example, a speaker usually chooses proper words and refines them carefully to make them correspond with the speaker's identity, the context in which the speech is made, the formation of targeted audiences and the need of political agenda.

In other words, there are differences between the objective reality and the "reality" articulated by the speaker, because the "reality" retold by carefully chosen words is bound to be different from the original which has been "refined", "cut" and even "reshaped" by the function of words, and in this sense, "discourse is replete with ethical factors".

One major task of discourse analysis in IR is to explore the relationship between language use and social realities, and see how social relations of power work constitutively in it. For instance, people use languages on daily bases, but this does not mean that the languages they use have equal social effects or leverages.


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According to poststructuralism, whose discourse is more relevant usually depends on how closer the relationship of this discourse is to social power. Put it concretely, politicians usually have more opportunities and resources to get access to discourse, and their political status and social identities make their political discourses look more meaningful and easier to expose to the public.

So it can be argued that the process of giving meanings to certain events in IR can be competitive and is one form of social relations of power. Whether launching wars or engaging diplomatic talks or delivering political speeches, they all contain the acts of giving meanings to the events in concern.

Debating over meanings whether to maintain them or subvert them is a common phenomenon in social life. For example, after the "9. The war makers claimed that it was part of a global war "against terrorism", a war of "liberating Iraq". War opponents called it an "aggressive war" and put it in the analogy to U.

To some extent, whether the meaning of a certain thing can be maintained or overthrown, strengthened or destroyed, it depends on how the society categorizes and selects its values. States that are in dominant positions in world politics have more opportunities and accesses to give meanings to certain events than states that are less powerful. But whether the given meanings are accepted by others, and how they may give rise to controversies and even resistances, all these will affect in turn the authority and leverage of the given meanings.

The process of accepting a given meaning is a process of willing to subject to power influences; while challenging a given meaning implies the challenge of the power of the meaning-giver. When this discourse confronted questions and critiques against evidences, it implies that the war makers' authority and credibility began to meet greater challenges and turn to be unpopular. So if language and its use are critical in terms of their giving meanings to social "realities", what do all these mean to IR studies?

Several claims can be made as follows. First, it has unsettled the roots of hegemonic discourse in IR "knowledge". All the production of IR knowledge is a social, historical and cultural process related to discursive practice. Although there is objective reality in IR, the reality narrated through language is one that is interpreted, modified and refined, and thus can no longer be totally objective. IR theories as a form of knowledge are the products of given social and cultural contexts, and are restrained by the time and space in which theorists live.

All IR theorizing is taken from certain perspectives and views, which observe the external world from certain angles at the cost of marginalizing and even ignoring other ones. It is understandable that the world politics approached by one theorist from one perspective will be different from the one by another theorist from another perspective. That is the reason why there are divergent strands of theories and approaches in the discipline of IR.

All theories, ethically and normatively conditioned, are served "for certain people and for certain purposes". So the total knowledge about world politics is historical knowledge. Now a related question is raised in IR studies. If realities in IR can be socially and linguistically constructed, then what is reliable knowledge in IR? Different theoretical schools may have different views on it. The school of "linguistic turn" would argue that it depends on whether given knowledge could contribute to progress and emancipation of human society, and that the significance of IR theories lies in its providing guidance and direction for social and political improvement.

Illuminating the fact that the meaning of reality in IR has features of social and linguistic construction does not mean the denial of relative stability of international orders, nor international orders replete with chaos or lawlessness. Other schools of IR theories, like political realist ideology, take more attention to issues as to how to maintain status quo of power relations in world politics. Through selective accounts of human history, these theories tend to observe with prudence the re arrangements and distributions of material capabilities in international systems in order to avoid repetition of tragedies among major powers in the past.

It is a process of social learning. Political realists focus on their studies of cruel experiences recorded in human past, taking historical lessons of violence, conflicts and wars as mirrors in dealing with security dilemma in realpolitik, and thus cherish a state' s superb political wisdom, physical priority and military power of containment.

Still, other theories take more concerns about promoting transformation of social and political orders, seeking ways of restructuring prevailing global power structures. They stress human equality, social justice and fairness, advocating both construction of security community and tolerance of differences of diversified cultures and political beliefs and values. If world politics aims at reaching consensus and common understandings, international system needs to transform into a system of communications and dialogic communities. Second, in order to get closer to objective reality in IR, one needs to understand different accounts of the same reality.

Who is telling the story of that "reality"?

Words, Regimes, Seditions

Whose discourse and texts? What is the social identity of the narrator? And what is the context in which the narrator speaks, from what perspectives and in what ways the story is unfolding? In other words, one needs to be aware to what extents the "realities" that have been known in IR are close to truth, and what "realities" have been ignored and even erased intentionally.

For instance, one may see how politicians and foreign policymakers make use of, and even manipulate, certain discourse to establish their political agendas and achieve certain foreign policy intentions and goals, including how they construct "threats" to national security and "diplomatic crisis". To some commentators, all insecurity is culturally produced. In other words, all insecurity is the product of social and political construction. Of course, as a form of social power, discourse alone does not accomplish a given foreign policy act.

It has to perform along with other forms of social practice. Therefore, one needs to observe how discourse functions along with other forms of power such as the compulsive, the institutional and the structural, etc. For example, in U. The President of the United States "controls the right of explaining the definition of crisis"; he prefers to take the initiative in the construction of certain crisis, rather than responds to the crisis constructed by others. Third, IR is not only an arena in which states compete for distributions of physical capabilities, but also a place where states struggle for dominance of discursive power.

Arguably, IR is fundamentally represented through means of language. Besides, language can be used to help produce identity politics of Self and Others in IR, constructing sources of insecurity culture such as national security "threats" and "diplomatic crisis". A state responds to another state's foreign policy rhetoric as well as its deeds, because words themselves are also interpreted as part of the act.

The shift of a state's foreign policy discourse may indicate the shift of its actual foreign policy practice. Therefore a due attention to, and analysis of, discourse matters in IR studies. Language, not only an abstract system of signs but also a tool for social practice, should be taken as an independent unit of political analysis. Through empirical observations of language use in IR, one comes to be aware of the process of meaning production in which world politics is re constructed. Lexical construction of politics of in security. For a long time people have been making efforts to identify determinants of a State's foreign policy.

Conventional IR theories would argue that a causal linkage exists between international system and a State's foreign policy behavior.

States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions - CRC Press Book

Political realist ideology puts its focus on the objective-ness of external threats to national security, the distribution of physical capabilities among States, and the awareness of uncertain intentions and motives of other States. Material forces are highlighted to play important roles in either unsettling a prevailing power structure or maintaining a status-quo of that structure, or protecting one State from fears and dangers. According to this ideology, culture-related elements such as language are minor phenomena that are secondary in IR studies.

Even if language is taken into consideration, it is usually regarded as a tool in diplomatic negotiations, talks and mediations, and thus belongs to the domain of individual attributes or an abstract system of signs. As a result, the attention to discourse in IR studies has been marginalized and downplayed. However, IR studies should not be confined in its interests merely in the account of physical aspects in IR. Despite the fact that IR is featured by the pursuit of national interests, mutual deterrence, military alliances, and balance-of-power games, it is also a place of struggling for dominance of ideas and discourse among States.

To bring language back into the field of IR studies is to indicate that a State can do things by means of words in its foreign policy, and even construct selectively an international "reality" that may benefit its own national and security interests. So it is imperative to reveal and expound the possible linkage between language in use and IR. In this aspect, the Copenhagen School in Europe has made intellectual contributions to associating the conception of securitization and the "speech act" theory, assuming that the articulation of security is a crucial form of security action. In a political community, States cultivate their mutual understandings and trusts through normative and discursive means, by which they reach their consensus of discussing their common external threats and taking collective measures to tackle them.

In security discourse, certain things are socially, politically and lexically constructed and "dramatized" as "security problems". Something becomes securitized through the function of language. Apparently, the study of security made by the Copenhagen School draws its intellectual insights from the "speech act" theory. The conception of 'securitization' relies on the core idea that speech is a form of human act. According to this School, the narration and description of security is a crucial aspect of politics of security.

It is these narratives and descriptions that provide potential possibilities for policymakers to take succeeding foreign and security policy performances. As the process of security narratives is mainly performed linguistically, the construction of security problems or threats can be one of a lexical nature. In other words, sources of security problems and dangers can be derived from, and constructed by, discursive accounts and interpretations rather than from real or objective conditions.

Since " in security" is not necessarily an objective condition, security threats can be caused not only by the shift of distribution of external physical capabilities but also by the articulation of particular political discourses. That said, the conception of 'securitization' is also influenced by the strategy of postmodernist "textual" analysis, that is, the construction of "security problems" is understood in texts rather than contexts.

It can be argued that if discourse is a kind of social practice, the meaning of a particular foreign and security policy discourse is made sense of in a particular IN security context, and the social effects caused by such discourse among States should also be taken into consideration. When policymakers articulate their national foreign and security policy ideas, they try not only to make their audiences understand them, but also to establish political and social identities between the States they represent and the States or other forms of actors involved.

Therefore, the meaning of the foreign and security policy discourse is determined not merely unilaterally by the articulators or their purely physical acts, but also mutually by intersubjective acts of the articulators and the audiences in a specific context in which politics of IN security cultures exists. Therefore, language is always a "key and independent object of research" in the field of foreign and security policy. A State can establish and then operate its system of foreign policy discourse to construct security threats and dangers, incidents, and even diplomatic crisis for political purposes, including maintaining its own political identity and legitimizing its use of strategic resources or violent means to "fight against enemies".

We provide a free online form to document your learning and a certificate for your records. Already read this title? Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this may cause. Home States of Political Discourse: States of Political Discourse: Add to Wish List. Toggle navigation Additional Book Information. Description Table of Contents Author s Bio. States of Political Discourse addresses these questions through a series of highly original and provocative essays that engage a range of political conditions and practices, exploring areas that are conventionally neglected.

Topics include the language of normal and pathological states in Freudian psychoanalysis, the mythography of Europe, the political reification of the Himalayan region, the spirituality of cosmopolitanism, the status of the Knights of St John, and the literary exploration of diplomacy and security. Table of Contents Foreword by R. States, Ethnocratic States and States Within 2. Representations of Sovereignty on the Himalayas 3. Piracy, Knight-errantry, Statehood Part 2: Poetics of Security 5. Diplomacy, Grotesque Realism and Ottoman Historiography 6. Author s Bio Costas M.

States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations) States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations)
States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations) States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations)
States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations) States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations)
States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations) States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations)
States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations) States of Political Discourse: Words, Regimes, Seditions (New International Relations)

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