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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reading Gavin Bolton: a biography for education Jardine, Laurie


The discipline of International Relations is today pervaded by an almost debilitating sense of “crisis,” perhaps even “entropy,” where certainty in our theoretical constructs, research programs, intellectual motifs and disciplinary sense of purpose, has all but disappeared. Practitioners now readily rehearse the litany of ills that beset the discipline, lamenting an era free of dire proclamations that announce “crisis,” disjuncture, division, and retrogression. The imminent end of International Relations, or at least pronouncements of its intellectual disarray, now serve both as an intellectual starting point for the study of international relations as well as an epitaph forewarning of the discipline’s intellectual closure or impending collapse. Theoretical turmoil has become endemic, indeed part of the normal disciplinary discourse by which International Relations has come to be understood and identified. This thesis addresses some of the causes of this “crisis” and the sense of intellectual malaise prevalent amongst students, theorists and practitioners alike. More generally, the thesis is a contribution to reclaiming International Relations from those who would wish its end and from those who actively seek its deconstruction. To that end, I question the utility of the latest, and seemingly perennial, bout of metaphysical reappraisal labelled the “Third Debate.” More specifically, I explore the newest theoretical fad to hit International Relations, post-modernism, analyzing critically what this might offer international theory, or, more accurately, what it threatens to do to the discipline and theoretical endeavour. Until now, most commentators have merely announced the arrival of the “Third Debate” and of post-modem theory, little understanding the epistemic leitmotifs of the debate or the epistemological and ontological issues at play amid the abstract interlocutions of positivists and post-positivists. Post-modernist discourse, in particular, has tended to favour a somewhat obtuse and recondite form of self-expression, ostracising those not versed in its technical jargon and engaging in a level of debate not traditionally familiar to theorists of international relations. In this respect, this thesis might be understood as a baedeker to the “Third Debate” and postmodern theory more generally; an attempt to traverse the otherwise un-traversable subterfuge of post-modernist discourse in order to make sense of it and assess its worth and utility to the study of international relations. It is in this spirit that I explore the writings of various post-modernists throughout the social sciences and humanities, and attempt to develop a series of heuristic typologies of postmodern theory in order to provide an overview of its various nuances and epistemic motifs. These categories are then applied, via a critical exegetic analysis, to the work of Richard Ashley, one of the discipline’s leading champions and importers of a post-modernist perspective.

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