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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Critical wrestlings: The problem of sustainable critique in international theory
by Levine, Daniel J., Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University, 2009, 353; 3399103
Abstract (Summary)

How could students of world politics deepen their awareness of the normative constructs at work in their research, and take stock of them? Whether one sees value-neutrality or engaged advocacy as the scholarly vocation of International Relations (IR), the need for a rigorous, systematic means to evaluate the normative commitments embedded in theory remains. Such evaluations, however, tend to tip into a paralyzing spiral of self-critique. For that reason, practical theory-building and normative self-reflection are often considered to be opposite and irreconcilable ways of thinking, and the distinction between ‘normative’ and ‘value-free’ international theory is continually being debated and re-drawn.

Both the nature of IR as a discipline and that of world politics as a subject matter intensify this debate. The analytical ‘reach’ of political science is purchased by pressing dynamic realities into static, procrustean conceptual frameworks. Without such frameworks, there would be no means to address the challenges of an increasingly populous, heavily armed, and persistently diverse world. Yet viewed over the longer term, many of these challenges seem to be outcomes of practical theory’s earlier growth: the reification of those same frameworks. So viewed, practical theory seems to have a dialectical quality: both a response to, and a constituent part of, the challenges that make it essential. If so, this would oblige the theorist of world politics to a very high degree of ethical reflexivity.

Surveying the social theory of the early Frankfurt school, this dissertation aims to spell out the nature of that obligation: explaining the need for it, and clearing a path to meeting it. It undertakes a sustained account of reification, and applies that account to the challenges facing students of world politics. It then surveys how different traditions in IR have understood the problem of reification—however incompletely—and attempted to account for it. Finally, drawing on Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics and Max Weber’s concept of the constellation, it sets out an initial methodological framework to maintain those traditions in productive, continuous equipoise: a framework I call sustainable critique.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Deudney, Daniel H.
School: The Johns Hopkins University
School Location: United States -- Maryland
Source: DAI-A 71/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Peace Studies, International Relations, Political science
Keywords: Adorno, Theodor W., Frankfurt School, International political sociology, International theory, Social theory, Sustainable critique
Publication Number: 3399103
ISBN: 978-1-109-65388-5
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