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Multiple worlds, Ontological Pluralism and the English School

Multiple worlds, Ontological Pluralism and the English School 1. Introduction In social sciences, the degree of relativity is always a matter of debate. Proponents of relativistic understanding of knowledge
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Multiple worlds, Ontological Pluralism and the English School 1. Introduction In social sciences, the degree of relativity is always a matter of debate. Proponents of relativistic understanding of knowledge in social sciences mostly assert that the human factor in social sciences maintains relativity. It is true that human factor is a deterministic element of social sciences. However, it does not indicate that reality in social sciences cannot be universal; instead, human factor in social sciences induces a high degree of change, but not completely relative knowledge. It is obvious that reality can be understood in various ways. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily mean that generalizations, concretizations and abstractions cannot be reached in social sciences. In fact, if reality is completely relative in human phenomena, there would be no scientific knowledge of it. Consequently, it would make scientific activity in social sciences impossible. The discipline of International Relations as a branch of social sciences also shows characteristics of high degree of change and low degree of stability. Therefore existence of multiple worlds in international relations is in accordance with the changing nature international reality. One of the main issues in international relations, what is the structure of international realm? is highly related with these characteristics. That is why multiple worlds of international relations is in question. The definition of multiple worlds must be clarified to comprehend the nature of change in international relations. Do multiple worlds co-exist in international relations? Or do they exist in international relations independent from each other? These questions also form the basis of this inquiry. Logically, these questions must have contrary answers. If there are multiple worlds in international relations, then the change has to occur between these worlds. In other worlds, the existence of independent multiple 1 worlds necessitates a move from one world to another. Nevertheless, if multiple worlds coexist in international reality the change must occur in the degree of social relations which determining the practice of world politics. This paper argues that change in international relations can only be understood by comprehending the pluralistic nature of international reality. Ontological pluralism, the most essential contribution of the English school to discipline of International Relations can help us to overcome the challenging nature of multiple worlds. However, this theoretical framework is generally misinterpreted. Within the English school literature, it is inclined to examine ontologies independently which evokes progressivism. Consequently, international relations is considered as a progress which begins from international system, continues with international society and ends with world society. The understanding of the ontological pluralism of the English school as it stands is not anything else than accepting the idea that all these webs of social relations in international relations existed, exist and will exist in different time periods of history. Thus, pluralistic ontology of the English school cannot be utilized for analysis of multiple worlds without reconsidering that shortcoming. Ontological pluralism in the English school has emerged as coexistence of different entities. However, Hedley Bull s valuable contributions to the field, including his international system/international society distinction, have raised the misunderstanding of the ontological pluralism. Consequently, ontological pluralism can only help us in the issue of multiple worlds if it is understood as co-existence of international system, international society and world society in international relations. Change in international relations occurs in these multiple worlds, not between them. Change occurs in international relations when one of these different webs of social relationships international system, international society or world society becomes more deterministic over others in different periods of history. 2 This paper aims to contribute to the debate on the analysis of multiple worlds of international relations by re-assessing the ontological pluralism of the English school. In this manner, it will be argued that Adam Watson s pendulum is more compatible with Wight s three traditions in the context of understanding change in international relations. 2. Multiple Worlds in International Relations Multiple worlds in the theory of international relations is more apparent than in the real world. For instance, realism in its broad sense sees international reality as an international system, a system that all actors are alike units, seeking for help and survival. Liberalism on the other hand argues that this system can be regulated via international trade and institutions, which diminishes the effects of international anarchy. Reflectivist theories criticize the role attached to state in international relations and bring civil society in question. They all have different perspectives on world politics which creates multiple theoretical worlds. It can also be claimed that these theoretical worlds are reflections of world politics practices. Social sciences in general and International Relations in particular put great emphasis on definitions. However, making a clear cut definition and measuring the subject according to this definition would not be an accurate method of inquiry. Instead, when making a definition, a student must bear in mind that all reality is bounded by its time and space. Especially in this kind of theoretical inquiry, definitions must go hand in hand with reality. In other words, practice is the key for definition. One cannot define theoretical concepts without considering the practice (James, 1993: ). Furthermore, practice can easily overrun theory. Thus, it is not misleading to argue that these theoretical multiple worlds are not only theoretical, but they are also real. Dynamics of world politics occur in different levels. None of these levels can be reduced to others. Thus, analyses of world politics require grasping different levels of interaction. In 3 other words, multiple worlds of international reality cannot be separated from each other. They all hang together. It is not useful to analyze one independent from another as they are interwoven. All of the abovementioned theories try to understand and analyze only one aspect of world politics. They construct their theories on only one element of international politics. However, to overcome the challenging nature of multiple worlds a theory must contain all elements in international relations. This is only possible by acknowledging the fact that there are systemic, societal and civil elements in international relations. If it is logical shortcomings are overcome, English school of international relations has great advantage to understand multiple worlds in world politics. This is the aim of the paper in the following pages to overcome these shortcomings by summarizing Wight s three traditions and comparing Watson s contribution with Bull s. In the conclusion, it will be tried to represent how change can be understood through the lenses of the English school. 3. Wight s Three Traditions and Change in International Relations Defining change as a move from one world of international relations to another results in a positive meaning. It is usually accepted that a later stage of the history of international relations is better than the former ones. Wight (1966:17-34) connects the issue of change and absence of international theory in his Why is there no international theory? This question has been one of the most prominent questions of International Relations discipline. Considering the enormous literature of the discipline, it would be unfair to claim that enough effort has not been invested to construct an international theory. Nevertheless, reasons explaining the absence of any international theory suggested by Martin Wight still seems valid; the intellectual prejudice imposed by the sovereign state and the belief in progress (Wight, 1966:20). 4 Drawing insights from Wight s abovementioned first reason explaining the absence of an international theory, it would not be erroneous to claim that sovereign state in the form of nation state is still the prevalent actor in international arena and it is almost impossible to think international relations beyond it. I make the previous assumption in an objective manner - without making any judgments related the role that is occupied by the sovereign state - and by taking contributions of post-structuralist theories of International Relations into consideration. Wight was mainly focused on the issue of membership of the international society while claiming the existence of sovereign state as a barrier on the development of international theory. Representation of an individual in the international society is only possible by being a citizen of a state, according to Wight; thus, international politics is the untidy fringe of domestic politics (Wight, 1966:21). In addition to Wight s argument on the constraints of sovereign state, the meaning attached to sovereignty in International Relations is also problematic. It is obvious that usage of the term sovereignty in the discipline is completely modern. Consequently, it is anachronistic to use this term in the analysis of pre-modern international relations. For instance, according to the realist school of International Relations, the nature of international politics has not changed throughout the history of mankind. Balance of power is the main theme of international arena in ancient, medieval and modern times. Anarchy has a timeless wisdom. However, even in the Westphalian era, the nature of sovereignty was quite different from the modern conceptualization of the term. It was an absolutist sovereignty which is basically characterized by the absence of a separation of politics and economics (Teschke, 2003:219). Therefore, the sovereign was a dynasty or monarch rather than being judicial modern state. In other words, using the terms of sovereignty, balance of power, self-help system etc. does not easily fit into international relations in all times and spaces. The discipline of International Relations emerged in the early twentieth century, international 5 relations in its wider sense in the sense which refers to beyond particular can be traced back to the beginning of the history of mankind. Therefore, using modernist terminology in an analysis of a historical state system is another drawback for achieving international theory. The second reason that Wight asserts in explaining the intellectual poverty of international theory is also highly relevant with this study. Wight argues that there is a belief in progress in international thinking; however, international arena is composed of recurring phenomena. Demarcating clear boundaries between international system, international society and world society itself is a belief in progress. Another essential factor that entails progressivism in international relations theory or in social sciences is the moral priority that is attached to the modern era. For international relations, what is modern is self-valuable. State, for instance, is not seen only as a form of polity, but also as a desirable one. State in the form of nation state is preferred against any kind of polity. Progressivist understanding, therefore, constrains the development of the discipline beyond the state. A posthumously published work of Wight, International Theory: The Three Traditions (1994) should also be mentioned here. This book reflects the most important contribution of the English School in the field of International Relations while providing a basis for ontological and methodological pluralism. Misleadingly, the three traditions; realism, rationalism and revolutionalism are often regarded as only lines of thought. The corresponding ontologies are also seen as ideas of these three traditions. For instance, it is generally argued that realists conceptualize international relations as systemic, rationalists as societal and revolutionists as communal. Although it would not be a mistake to argue that these traditions understand international relations within these three ontologies, it does not necessarily mean that these ontologies are only analytical but not real. Indeed, they are both analytical and real. (Yurdusev, 1994: ) In Wight s own words, these three lines of thought can be in some sense related to the three interrelated political conditions which comprise the subject 6 matter of international relations (Wight, 1994:7) These three traditions and corresponding ontologies provide the basis for understanding change in international relations in relation with Adam Watson s pendulum. A distinction in the English school literature should be made here. It is important to distinguish one line of thought from another to reveal how pluralistic ontology is understood in different ways. The literature of the English School can be seen in its first glance as monolithic. Roy Jones can be evaluated as the first author who defined the English School. In his work, he describes the English School literature as easily recognizable. Besides his implication of the interests in a society formed by sovereign states, Jones points out the features which belong to the English School in a negative manner: few statistics, no geometry and less algebra; and no vulgar agonizing over so-called world problems of poverty, commodity prices, monetary reform and such (Jones, 1981:1). Recalling debates on the existence of the English School is redundant; however, my point is to assert an objection to the claims that the literature of the English School is monolithic. In addition to pluralist solidarist debate in the school, another distinction can be made among Bullian and Wightian traditions. While modern European international society and its expansion, functioning of an international society and maintenance of order in world politics can be counted as characteristics of Bullian tradition; role of culture, historicism and philosophical context are the prominent features of Wightian tradition. Bull and Wight are also divided in the questions they have asked. Wæver (1996:222) argues that Bull is particularly interested in answering how much international society emerges in a system. Wight on the other hand, deals with the question of what type of international society has evolved. According to Wæver, in a Wightian world there s no neutral system of states, but rather, every system of states is embedded in a specific cultural and historical context. Thus, in a Wightian understanding of international theory, 7 one can argue that the international system in its realist, mechanistic sense does not exist (Wæver, 1996: ). Bull, on the other hand, mainly focuses on the issue of how an international society functions. Therefore, for him, an international system without an international society can exist since a system and a society are differentiated by their functioning mechanisms. The main departure of Wight from Bull is the former s different views on the nature of international system. In line with this distinction between Wightean and Bullian traditions of the school, a brief explanation of Bull s international system/international society distinction will be represented to clarify why Watson s contribution is more compatible than Bull s with Wight s three traditions and understanding the change in international relations. 4. Hedley Bull s International System/International Society Distinction and its Shortcomings The most important problem of pluralism of the English school is originated in Hedley Bull s international system/international society distinction which is not sustainable since it contains its own logical shortcomings. For instance, Bull argues that in international systems, two or more actors may be in contact with each other [..] without conceiving themselves to be bound by common set of rules (Bull, 1985: 14) however, at least one rule is needed in order to establish and maintain a permanent relation between these two or more states. Although Bull acknowledges that all three elements (international system, international society and world society) are at work in international politics, he misleadingly draws a line between international system and international society that never exists in reality. The absence of a clear line between international system and international society arises both from abovementioned logical shortcoming and from the nature of international reality. Martin Wight, unlike Bull, never tries to demarcate clear boundaries among international system, 8 international society and world society since he considers international reality as a practice of the three traditions which can never be separated from each other. However, Bull differentiates international system from international society as distinct from Wight s theory. Bull s distinction evoked many works in the English school such as one of the most known books in the literature From International to World Society? English School Theory and the Social Structure of Globalization (Buzan, 2004). In this comprehensive and detailed study, Buzan distinguishes the primary and secondary institutions of international society and then, develops his world society approach on the basis of pluralism - solidarism debate. Buzan mainly investigates where an international society ends and where a world society begins. In other words, he tries to draw a sharp line between these ontologies as Bull did in his Anarchical Society, namely, an international system and an international society. This kind of effort is both progressivist and also is in contradiction with Wight s three traditions. A number of scholars in a series of articles can also be regarded as relevant to international system/international society/world society distinction. Among these; Barry Buzan s (1993), Alan James (1993), Martin Shaw s (1992) and Richard Little s (1998) contributions are particularly important. All these scholars inquire the ontological or epistemological priority of international system, international society or world society and they all try to understand how these ontologies emerge and transcend each other. As Little correctly points out, these scholars fail to capture the methodological implications of the English School. He argues that all these three attempts to clarify whether an international system, international society or world society is prior to the other two by reifying these three ontologies (Little, 1998:74). However, he does not develop his point further. He only tries to enhance this debate by reminding the pluralistic understanding of the English School. Nevertheless, no scholar including Little himself explains how these three ontologies exist simultaneously. It is also interesting to note that none of these inquiries are based on Wight s three traditions. 9 4. Adam Watson s Pendulum In order to explain change in international relations, I will employ Adam Watson s pendulum instead of Bull s international system international society distinction. Adam Watson s contribution both to the international relations and to the English school has never been appreciated. Compared the enormous literature which deals with the other members contributions to the discipline, Ole Wæver s Europe s Three Empires: A Watsonian Interpretation of the Post-Wall European Security (Wæver, 1996:220-60) can be regarded as the only study which uses Watson s pendulum as an analytical tool. Watson s several works include a co-edited volume with Bull, The Expansion of International Society (1984), Diplomacy: The Dialogue between States (2005), and The Evolution of International Society (2002). In the Evolution
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