International Relations Approaches to The Study of Critical International Theory

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International Relations: Critical International Theory (Political Science)

Critical International Theory

  • Both Gramscianism and Critical theory have their roots in western Europe in the years 1920s and 1930s.

  • This was the time and also place when Marxism was forced to come to terms not only with the failure of the series of attempted revolutionary uprisings, but also with the rise of fascism.

  • However contemporary critical theory and Gramscian thought draw on the idea of different thinkers and different intellectual concerns.

  • There is a clear difference in focus between these two strands of Marxist thought , with those concerned with Gramscian thought concentrate upon issues related to subfield of international political economy than critical theorists.

  • Critical theorists, on the other hand, have involved themselves with questions concerning international society , international ethics and security.

  • Critical theory developed out of the work of the Frankfurt school.

  • This was an extraordinary group of thinkers who began to work together in 1920s and 1930s.

  • As left wing German Jews , the members of the school were forced into exile by Nazi’s rise to power in the early 1930s.

  • And much of their most productive work was developed in USA.

Key Features

  • Their intellectual concerns are different from all other Marxists, that they have not been much interested in the further development of analysis of the economic base of society.

  • They have instead concentrated on questions related to bureaucracy, culture , the social basis and the nature of authoritarianism , the structure of the family and on explaining such concepts as reason and rationality as well as theory of knowledge.

  • In classical Marxists terms the focus of critical theory is almost entirely super structural.

  • Critical theorists have been highly dubious as to whether the proletariat in contemporary society does in fact embody the potential for emancipatory transformation in the way Marx believed.

  • Rather, with the rise of mass culture and increasing commodification of every element of social life, Frankfurt school thinkers have argued that the working class have simply been absorbed by the system and no longer represents a threat to it.

  • Critical theorists have made some of their most important contribution through their explorations of the meaning of emancipation.

  • Emancipation ,as traditional Marxists have equated it with the process of humanity gaining ever greater mastery over nature through the development of ever more sophisticated technology and its use for the benefit of all.

  • But critical theorists argue that humanity increased domination over nature had been bought at a too high price , claiming that the kind of mind-set that is required for conquering nature slips all too easily into the domination of other human beings.

  • In contrast they argued that emancipation had to be conceived in terms of a reconciliation with nature- an evocative , if admittedly vague, vision.

  • Andrew Linklater one of the most influential proponent of critical theory , equates emancipation with the process in which the borders of the sovereign state lose their ethical and moral significance.

  • At present , state borders denote the furthest extent of our sense of duty and obligation, or at best, the point where our sense of duty and obligation is radically transformed , only proceeding in a very attenuated form.

  • For critical theorists this situation is simply indefensible. The goal is therefore to move towards a situation in which citizens share the same duty and obligation towards non-citizens as they do towards their fellow citizens.

  • An important element of the critical theory method is to identify, or if possible , nurture – tendencies that exists in the present conjuncture that point in the direction of emancipation.


  1. Critical theory of international relations developed in which year?

  2. 1920s

  3. 1930s

  4. 1940s

  5. 1960s

Ans. B

  1. Who argued that emancipatory potential lies in realm of communication , and that radical democracy is the way in which this potential can be unlocked?

  2. Hoffman

  3. Linklater

  4. Habermas

  5. Marcuse

Ans. C

  1. ‘One dimensional society ‘ is a phrase associated with whom?

  2. Habermas

  3. Marcuse

  4. Max

  5. None

Ans. B

  1. Critical theorists are concentrated on_______?

  2. Economic study

  3. International society

  4. International ethics and security

  5. Both b and c

Ans. D

  1. Critical theory developed out of the work of____?

  2. Habermas

  3. Frankfurt school

  4. Marcuse

  5. None

Ans. B

Developed by: