Criticizing Critical Theory

Author’s note: I will be posting a series of one-pager essays I wrote for my IR Theory class to share my insights on some of the world views that we have discussed in the course.  In short, I want you to meet the nerd in me. This first one was originally written by me on February 9, 2013.

The point is not just to understand the world, but to change it. Critical international relations theory is mainly concerned on power relations and seeks to empower those who do not have the voice in the global arena. Also, it disparages positivism as a doctrine due to its tendency to treat facts as a given and disregard the historical variables that molded them. For Critical theory, the aim is to better the world by recognizing the status quo, comparing it to history and searching for deviations or anomalies and then act to resolve these.

Critical theory challenges the idea of a value-free science. Does absolute objectivity exist? Can anyone be really devoid of bias? The theory also argues that science is about power like anything else and there’s no science in the world that doesn’t serve a master. This could be seen in realism it tries to justify powerful states lording it over much smaller ones; and capitalist economics where it aims to serve those very few who have the capital.

Whether Critical theory is an IR theory or not is, however, a question. While it does try to explain the existing hierarchy in the international stage, just like Marxism, it fails to recognize the importance and the role of states in international affairs. States are decidedly very important actors in international relations and it can be argued that any theory that undermines their significance will face several criticisms and demerits.

Critical theory has its contributed significance though in the study of international relations. Its purpose to provide those who do not have power the voice, for me, is its main importance. If this isn’t considered an scholarly achievement for some, then I guess I may really still be a young learner of the IR theory. One difficult and ironic thing about studying IR is you have to detach your human emotions or feelings when discussing very human concepts such as poverty and human rights. As much as possible, you need to not have bias over these issues because they can taint your judgment. Otherwise, you’ll be branded a liberalist, a Marxist or unscholarly even. But as Critical theory argues, is that even possible?

Critical theory, although thriving, still fails to provide reasoned alternatives to sciences they are criticizing such as an alternative to capitalism and positivist sciences.

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