Postcolonial Theory and the Critique of International Relations

  • Citation: Seth, Sanjay. “Postcolonial Theory and the Critique of International Relations.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 40, no. 1 (2011): 167–83.
    • Topics:
    • Reframing IR and Development
    • Keywords:
    • colonialism
    • epistemology
    • international relations
    • political theory
    • postcolonial theory

This article in three parts offers the beginnings of a postcolonial critique of mainstream International Relations (IR). The first part argues that IR, where it has been interested in history at all, has misdescribed the origins and character of the contemporary international order, and that an accurate understanding of the ‘expansion of the international system’ requires attention to its colonial origins. The second part suggests that IR is deeply Eurocentric, not only in its historical account of the emergence of the modern international order, but also in its account(s) of the nature and functioning of this order. The human sciences are heirs to a tradition of knowledge which defines knowledge as a relation between a cognising, representing subject and an object, such that knowledge is always ‘of’ something out there, which exists independently of its apprehension. The third part of the article suggests that knowledges serve to constitute that which they purport to merely cognise or represent, and that IR theory serves to naturalise that which is historically produced.

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