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«Interruption Ashley CYNTHIA WEBER Review of International Studies / Volume 36 / Issue 04 / October 2010, pp 975 - 987 DOI: 10.1017/S0260210510001397, ...»

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Interruption Ashley


Review of International Studies / Volume 36 / Issue 04 / October 2010, pp 975 - 987

DOI: 10.1017/S0260210510001397, Published online: 01 November 2010 Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0260210510001397

How to cite this article:

CYNTHIA WEBER (2010). Interruption Ashley. Review of International Studies, 36, pp 975-987 doi:10.1017/S0260210510001397 Request Permissions : Click here Downloaded from http://journals.cambridge.org/RIS, IP address: on 26 Jun 2014  Review of International Studies (2010), 36, 975–987 2010 British International Studies Association doi:10.1017/S0260210510001397 Interruption Ashley


Abstract. Rather than reading the work of Richard K. Ashley as iconic – as some dead, stable image used to signify the whole of post-modern or post-structural International Relations (IR) in a single swoop – this article considers Ashley’s work as an interruption to the discipline of IR (mainstream and critical). In so doing, the article suggests that what is important about Ashley’s work is how it creates a thinking space where it is possible to think again about international politics, about international theory, about what Ashley’s interruption itself permits and limits and about how this interruption unfolds and sometimes folds back on itself.

Cynthia Weber is Professor of International Relations at Sussex University and co-Director of the media company Pato Productions. She has written widely on International Relations theory, feminist and queer theory, and US foreign policy.

Richard K. Ashley is an iconic figure to many in the discipline of International Relations (IR), and he hates this. Rightly so. As an icon – a dead, stable image used to signify the whole of post-modern or post-structural IR in a single swoop – Ashley is regarded as an object of uncritical devotion by some admirers and as a heretical iconoclast hell-bent on destroying traditional IR by some detractors.1 Both * Thanks to David Campbell, Francois Debrix, Roxanne Doty, Anne-Marie Fortier, Mark Lacy, Marianne Marchand, V. Spike Peterson, and Mike Shapiro for their comments on this article and to Kyle Grayson for organising 19 April 2007, ‘Critical Reflections on Professor Richard K. Ashley’ Conference at Newcastle University where this article was presented.

Mark Laffey’s article, which follows in this special section, is worth mentioning here because of how it has a foot in each of these categories and, in so doing, performs the very objections Ashley has to iconic readings (see Mark Laffey, ‘Things Lost and Found: Richard Ashley and the silences of thinking space’, Review of International Studies, 36:4 (October 2010). Laffey’s article simultaneously seems to regard some aspects of Ashley’s work with uncritical devotion (the ‘Marxist’ bits) while it seems to be hell-bent upon destroying other aspects of Ashley’s work (the ‘post-structuralist’ bits).

What makes Laffey’s article’s seemingly contradictory position possible is its determination to exclude one of the most significant aspects of Ashley’s work from Ashley’s texts – the claim by Ashley that he is writing critically in relation to all structuralisms, including Marxism. So, while on the one hand, Laffey’s article wants to credit Ashley’s work because Marx, capital and especially labour were there all along, Laffey’s article also insists that post-structuralist readings of Ashley’s work are not based upon close textual readings but merely upon over-identifications with and sympathies for Ashley’s intentions about his work. In other words, Laffey’s article suggests that Laffey’s analysis offers the hard materialist facts of the matter, while particularly my reading of Ashley’s work in this article offers merely soft sentiment and sentimentality. This is why, from the perspective of Laffey’s article, Laffey’s reading of Ashley is counter-memorialising and therefore truly broadening of ‘thinking space’ while mine is memorialising, static, and constrictive of ‘thinking space’. There are several ironies here. I will mention just two.

First, it is ironic that what makes Laffey’s reading possible is his article’s analytical confusion between Ashley’s textual engagement with structural Marxism (about which Laffey’s article is correct – it was there all along) and Ashley’s textual embracing of structural Marxism (which was not and is not the ‘material fact’ of Ashley’s texts). This conflation of ‘engaging’ with ‘embracing’ 976 Cynthia Weber positions are absurd. That Ashley could be regarded in these ways could not be more ironic, for what his work does is critique claims to ‘the Word’ or ‘the Image’ depends upon a necessary exclusion employed by Laffey’s article – one that forgets how the lessons of 1968 lead Marxist-influenced thinkers like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida to take seriously the resilience of capitalism. This lead them to develop alternative understandings to Marxism that broke free of Marxism’s determinist logics and laws of contradiction, with concepts like power/knowledge in Foucault’s case and differentiation and différance in Derrida’s case. It is only by erasing this intellectual history of the relationship between Marxism and post-structuralism – by effectively narrowing our ‘thinking space’ about how post-structuralism historically and intellectually grew out of what it perceived to be the failures of Marxist praxis and of how this spoils the wished-for Marxist-inflected continuity in dissident critique that Laffey’s article so desperately desires – that Laffey’s article can conflate Ashley’s engagement with Marxism with an embracing of it. Yet this is precisely what Laffey’s article does (although the ‘Postscript’ to Laffey’s article claims otherwise; see, Laffey, ‘Things Lost and Found’). Not only that. Laffey’s article evidences and sustains this confusion not only by deploying very simplistic and contentious, even demeaning, dichotomies (for example, hard, masculine, materialist textual facts on the part of his article vs. soft, feminine, immaterial intentions on the part of my article and of Ashley’s self-readings, implying that my and Ashley’s analyses are not textually based) that evidence a regrettable ‘intolerance of intellectual difference at the margins’ (also see the ‘Postscript’ to Laffey’s article which dismisses my point-by-point analytical reply to Laffey’s article in this footnote as ‘a little hysterical’, by which it does not mean funny; see Laffey, ‘Things Lost and Found’; and for the quote on intolerance, see Kyle Grayson, ‘Disidence, Richard K. Ashley and the Politics of Silence’, Review of International Studies, 36:4 (October 2010). Laffey’s article also reveals the very ‘protocol of reading’ upon which its entire argument is based – a silencing of its own sentimental attachment to Marx and Marxism as the originary, continuous, undifferentiated, and uninterruptable sources of dissident critique out of which all of Laffey’s article’s arguments and occlusions of history flow. This is what makes it possible for Laffey’s article to come to two contradictory conclusions at the same time. On the one hand, Laffey’s work concludes that ‘in thinking space the Marxist trace in the poststructuralist text is simply ignored’ (Laffey, ‘Things Lost and Found’) because my article does not mention Marxists enough. Yet, on the other hand, Laffey’s article concludes that Ashley must be involved in disciplinary boundary-work against Marxists and Marxisms when he recalls Marx at all, like when Ashley asked of Laffey in response to Laffey’s presentation of his draft article, ‘Don’t you think Derrida read Marx?’ (Newcastle Conference, 17 April 2007).

A second irony of Laffey’s article is that it tries to draw its readers into a debate about deciding who really is ‘the essential Ashley’ and about how Ashley’s work essentially or properly or best opens up ‘thinking space’. Such a debate is neither counter-memorialising as it claims to be (for it is about arguing over which ‘essential Ashley’ – as if there were one – to memorialise; here I agree with Kyle Grayson that there are multiple and I would add indeterminable ‘Ashleys’, see Grayson, ‘Dissidence’) nor productive (don’t we all have more important political projects to be getting on with than one that revolves around trying to determine which ‘iconic Ashley’ – and presumably the ‘Marxist one’ or really the one remixed with Laffey’s brand of Marxism – is the proper representative of Ashley’s textual opus?). Most importantly, though, such a debate detracts from what Ashley’s texts themselves do in and for IR, which is they emphasise the undecidability of all ontologies and all grounds for making ontological claims – not only about mainstream and dissident/critical IR but also about IR theorists like Ashley himself or about his body of work, not to mention about political and economic theorists like Marx or about his body of work.

The merits of Laffey’s intervention, then, lie not in the points his article invites us to debate (about which ‘iconic Ashley’ to ‘counter’-memorialise while, it should be stressed, always leaving relatively uncontested and un-remixed yet ever memorialised some desired-for sense of Marx and Marxism that provides continuity to dissident critiques by erasing the very critical differences in Ashley’s work that give it its rich interruptive character, of IR generally and of Laffey’s brand of undifferentiated dissident critique specifically). Rather, the merits of Laffey’s article lie, first, in performing the very reasons why I suggest Ashley sees these debates as counter-productive and why I suggest Ashley therefore hates to be regarded as an iconic figure. Second, the merits of Laffey’s article lie in reminding us of how limiting the presumed truly broader ‘thinking space’ of the specific brand of Marxism employed by Laffey’s article can be when its persistent reply to interruptions by poststructuralists is to insistently forget the material historical conditions that made it necessary for post-structuralists – including Foucault, Derrida, and Ashley – to not only think with Marxists but also to think beyond the limits of Marxism.

Interruption Ashley 977 as summary statements of anything.2 In this regard, Ashley and his work are not iconic. Nor are they iconoclastic, for while they take on established beliefs and institutions in IR, they never position themselves in opposition to IR, even if others attempt to position them there. Instead, Ashley and his work are interruptive.

Interrupt – ‘to stop or hinder by breaking in; to break the uniformity or continuity of x; to break in upon an action, esp. to break in with questions or remarks while another is speaking’.3 One word Ashley interrupts is realism.4 One image Ashley interrupts is realism’s image of itself. As Ashley puts it, ‘I raise questions for which that discourse typically presupposes answers and, hence, I raise questions that that discourse characteristically finds no need to entertain’.5 In so doing, Ashley politicises realism – particularly neo-realism and its contemporary structurationist variant – returning it to the realm of the political by insisting that realism critically reflect upon the inter-subjective meanings it relies upon to construct common-sense ideas about global political life. He describes his arguments as ‘like warning shots, meant to provoke a discussion, not to destroy an alleged enemy’.6 A volley of warnings issue from Ashley’s direction. He cautions IR theorists against modernist forms of reasoning that exclude critical self-reflection, whether these be technical rationality,7 liberal positivism,8 or economism.9 He warns them about neo-realism which, in its structuralism, statism, utilitarianism, and onedimensional positivism, serves the hegemonic state.10 He advises discretion before embracing IR practices like the dichotomisation of domestic/international and community/anarchy that fail to describe global political life,11 that arbitrarily limit As Ashley and Walker put it, ‘Words can no longer do justice because they no longer bear a promise of certain, liberal judgment on behalf of a social order, a community, a discipline, a culture. As a result, the very possibility of truth is put in doubt’. See Richard K. Ashley and R. B. J. Walker, ‘Reading Dissidence/Writing the Discipline: Crisis and the Question of Sovereignty in International Studies’, International Studies Quarterly, 34:3 (1990), p. 378.

Webster’s Dictionary.

Realism, neo-realism, and contemporary structurationisms function in Ashley’s work as illustrations of modernist discourses. As Ashley explains, he could just as easily target other modernist discourses – like Marxism or Kantianism – for critique. His choice of realism, neo-realism, and contemporary structurationisms have to do with their hegemonic status in the discipline of North American IR.

Richard K. Ashley, ‘The Eye of Power: The Politics of World Modeling’, International Organization, 37:3 (1983), p. 521. While in this passage Ashley is speaking specifically about world modelling projects, he could just as easily be speaking about realism.

Richard K. Ashley, ‘The Poverty of Neorealism’, International Organization, 38:2 (1984), p. 229.

Ashley, ‘The Eye of Power’ and Richard K. Ashley, ‘Three Modes of Economism’, International Studies Quarterly, 27:4 (1983), pp. 463–96.

Ashley, ‘The Eye of Power’.

Ibid., ‘Three Modes’.

Ibid., ‘The Poverty of Neorealism’.

Richard K. Ashley, ‘The Geopolitics of Geopolitical Space: Toward a Critical Social Theory of International Politics’, Alternatives, 12 (1987) pp. 403–34.

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