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10.1 Does poststructuralism provide a good account of the role that materiality and power play in world politics?

1.  Do you agree with critics that poststructuralism cannot be used to understand the materiality of issues such as climate change and genocide?

  • Those who follow such arguments tend to suggest that poststructuralists overlook important factors of world politics, as they overemphasize linguistic representations thereof. This line of argument is particularly strong in relation to concerns over climate change, where many argue that it is a reality, whether it is talked about or not.
  • Poststructuralists, however, argue that material objects only get their meaning through discourse. In other words, the discourse that constitutes our linguistic representation of 'reality' is our (only) reality. Thus, the manner in which we speak about, and therefore perceive, this reality is what determines policies and politics at the international level, including such issues as climate change.

2. Can you think of a way that non-discursive structures of power could be acknowledged by poststructuralism?

  • From bullet point two above it follows that poststructuralism has important contributions to make about such issues as foreign policy in relation to several IR issues. It is thus perhaps more useful to understand poststructuralist thinking not as opposed to materiality, but as opposed to objective knowledge, facts or representations. In this sense, poststructuralism's aim is to question how we bring materiality into being through linguistic (re)presentations, and what effects this has for future discussions and political decisions concerned with these matters. It is here that poststructuralist concerns with the interplay of power, knowledge and discourse are crucial.

3. Do you find the claim that objective historical facts exist convincing?

  • Those who argue that there are certain objective historical facts, ordinarily point to particular numbers linked to historical events, such as the number of deaths caused by war.
  • Poststructuralists do not outright disregard or challenge that these numbers are relevant. However, they might be concerned with questions such as: what constitutes war? Who is regarded a legitimate subject to be accounted for in the death numbers (e.g. civilian-combatant distinctions)? Who has the responsibility/ ability/ right to determine what constitutes war and its deaths? What does the depiction of these numbers serve/ what political ends are pursued with this narrative? Etc. In doing so, poststructuralists aim to interrogate the limitations posed by those narratives that come to be seen as 'logical' or 'natural', and to propose alternative understandings. It is this process that constitutes the political for poststructuralists, rather than a particular political end (policy/law etc.) that is to be achieved.