Abstracts Volume 30, No. 3

Special Issue: Images and Narratives in World Politics


This essay explores the nature and significance of aesthetic approaches to international political theory. More specifically, it contrasts aesthetic with mimetic forms of representation. The latter, which have dominated the study of international relations, seek to represent politics as realistically and authentically as possible, aiming at capturing world politics as it really is. An aesthetic approach, by contrast, assumes that there is always a gap between a form of representation and what is represented therewith. Rather than ignoring or seeking to narrow this gap, as mimetic approaches do, aesthetic insight recognises that the inevitable difference between the represented and its representation is the very location of politics. The essay, thus, argues for the need to reclaim the political value of the aesthetic; not to replace social science or technological reason, but to broaden our abilities to comprehend and deal with the key dilemmas of world politics. The ensuing model of thought facilitates productive interactions across different faculties, including sensibility, imagination and reason, without any of them annihilating the unique position and insight of the other.


This article assesses sci-fi novelist Iain M. Banks' creation, the Culture, an interstellar post-scarcity civilisation based on access to unlimited energy and the existence of benign artificial intelligences of great power. The Culture, an anarchist utopian constructed on liberal/socialist lines, is obliged to formulate principles for its relations with other civilisations, a task for Contact and the small elite within Contact euphemistically named Special Circumstances. Their reasoning is examined in this essay, which concludes that Banks, an overtly 'political' novelist, has actually produced an account of a universe in which the 'circumstances of politics do not apply.


Compulsory Viewing' explores the centrality of Holocaust footage to postwar practises of identity-construction. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Anglo-American occupation authorities proposed that Germans should be compelled to view footage from the newly liberated camps. This visceral confrontation with Nazi atrocities was intended to animate a sense of 'collective guilt' among Germans: a prerequisite to Germany's regeneration as a pacific, liberal polity. But multiple complications confronted this attempt to emplot concentration camp footage in a narrative of Germanic guilt. As Allied documentarists found, not only did the camps prove resistant to cinematic representation but German audiences appeared disinclined to accept the victors' morality so forcibly enunciated by the films. Where the documentarists saw the footage as a mirror to German culpability, many German viewers regarded compulsory exposure as a screen behind which the war's victors sheltered from acknowledgment of their own wartime actions. This fraught encounter duly provides an emblematic example of the ways in which the Holocaust has been used to establish relational identities of barbarism and civility.


This article explores alternative narrations of the political and the cosmopolitical. It focuses on two animal images: the horse and the dog. Animal images have been commonly used in political literature, leading to such acclaimed masterpieces as Pancatantra, Attar's Conference of the Birds, and more recently Orwell's Animal Farm. This article, however, looks beyond the instrumental usage of animal images and examines the theoretical potential their symbolic exchange establishes and the popular imaginative charge it installs in (cosmo)political discourse. It is concerned with what these narratives and their investigation enable in terms of political practice, and what their exclusion and marginalisation disables. For example, the enabling of political analysis that looks beyond the science of government and order and into the everyday impact of mythic and psychic states; or the framing of the cosmopolitan debate essentially around a Western human rights discourse that excludes animal life, or ecological and theosophic knowledge. Moving from the horse-rule exemplifications of ancient Greek mythography to the politicisation of the dog image in the cynic way of life, the paper finally turns to a mythic depiction of cosmopolis as the guiding of the chariot of Zeus, which involves the task of mediating the world through spiritual or cosmic politics.


In the current study (if not in the actual practice) of international relations, events are usually broken down into narrative accounts of cause/effect or rational models of independent/dependent variables. Exceeding this narration, the accident appears as spill-over, externality, or an exception to the rule. This article makes the case for moving the accident from the margins to the centre of IR. It looks at how the accidental event is de-territorialised and globalised by networked information technology, and how it has come to challenge traditional war as the ultimate threat and reason for the national security state. With the failure of positivist approaches to address the question of the accident, a 'virtual theory' is put forward for understanding the fractal and immaterial forms of the global event.

POSTAL ECONOMIES OF THE ORIENT Bülent Diken and Carsten Bagge Laustsen

Having fully absorbed the structuralist and post-structuralism influence, it has become a commonplace within IR to stress the 'relationality' of things: meaning emerges within a floating network of signifiers, and the construction of identity requires a vision of the radically different 'other'. Thus, most scholars would agree that the vision of the East has played a significant role in the construction of the European identity. However, using arguments from Lacanian psychoanalysis, we argue that the configuration of the self and other is not primarily related to the construction of differences within a symbolic space. Rather, the Orient functions as a fantasy space of that which is prior to social or linguistic differences. In this context the Orient demonstrates a remarkable formlessness: it is not only the other but also the hyperbolic. Further, we claim that the fantasies about perversion, bodily enjoyment, and despotism are sustained and stabilised through economies of desire. Empirically, the article unfolds as an analysis of Ferhan Özpetek's film Hamam, relating it to other representations of the Orient including Montesquieu's Persian Letters. The article seeks to elaborate on the fantasies of the East by focusing on their ideological background. In this context it develops two different readings: Foucauldian and deconstructivist methods, on the one hand, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, on the other. Finally, we discuss how the reification of the Orient can be avoided.


The First and Second World Wars, as well as other global conflicts, have merited reflection on the literature they occasioned. Yet the Cold War seems to have avoided such a literary retrospective. Starting with films in 2001 which evoked Cold War controversies, a first attempt is made here to sketch an anthology of Cold War literature, including novels, poetry, cinema, and other forms of popular culture. A thematic outline of the Book of the Cold War, which covers five distinct topics, is proposed: nuclear war; wars of the third world; belief and betrayal; the spy novel; and the end of cold war. This literary overview is suggestive of how substantial and varied the literary reflection on the Cold War has been, how this diversity says something about the complex levels of the Cold War itself, and finally, how culture not only reflected but was a factor in the Cold War.


The article attempts to tease out some of the contradictions and ambiguities of Hollywood cinema, with regards to its depictions of modern technology and ecopolitics. Cinema, it is suggested, is often developing ideas in a manner that resonates with the critiques created in sectors of critical theory. The article focuses on movies that appear to offer a critique of the use of technology in capitalist modernity, such as Jurassic Park and The Lost World. At the same time as these movies offer a critique of 'modernist' uses of 'nature', these movies are commodities (they are often designed to market other types of goods) and have limited 'emancipatory' potential. The article concludes by arguing that there are few areas of contemporary cinema that create a space of resistance to anti-ecological development.


The study of diplomacy ought also to be the study of how societies at large think about what diplomacy is. One particularly understudied site in this regard is the representations of diplomacy produced in popular culture. The paper investigates how diplomacy is represented in an interesting popular setting, that of the science fiction show Star Trek. The aim is, first, to elucidate how Star Trek presents what the practice of diplomacy it entails, and second, to relate this to contemporary practices of diplomacy at large. Star Trek representations of diplomacy mirror what we know of the genesis of human diplomatic systems: they have all emerged from a situation where the political entities in question have already shared a number of cultural traits. Attacks on Star Trek's confirmation of a 'standard of civilisation' as a prerequisite for the forging of diplomatic relations can only be launched from a position where the soundness of the historical base for presupposing the existence of such a standard is acknowledged.

Louiza Odysseos

This article explores the ability of comedy to challenge the hegemony of the rational narrative in political study and practice. It argues that the production of laughter by comic narratives appears to have lost its prominence in the political sphere with the advent of modernity. This is especially true for International Relations, where the gravity of the subject matter is said to require the unrelenting exercise of the rational. Comedy, the article suggests, can participate in the search for the site from which the hegemony of the rational can be questioned. Juxtaposing the narrative of the 'democratic peace' with Aristophanes' comedy Peace it illustrates that comedy has a number of political functions. Primarily, comedy expands the political outlook of the polis by introducing Dionysian elements to rational political debate. Furthermore, comedy has a critical function, by which it renders 'the everyday' strange and recovers new possibilities embedded within it. Finally, the comic narrative indicates the limits of discourse, as exemplified through its exploration of terms such as 'peace' and 'democracy'.


In this article I address some of the visual methods that have become concurrent with the demands of global liberalisation. These techniques are often abetted by an emphasis on abstract values such as transparency, democracy, and omnipresence that intone both freedom and control. I am also concerned with how technologies like the cinema, complicit in the rationalisation and normalisation of the visual faculties, are themselves used to comment on global liberalisation. I look at some of the 'mechanics' of these new visualities while at the same time treating vision as a historically and politically contingent practice of management and differentiation. Rather than leaning toward either of these characteristics, I focus on the historical intersection of these desires as part of a continuing re-formation of the modern political subject. After looking at some of the historical conditions under which the human vision became subject to technical manipulation and control, I compare a few of the visual methods inherent in abstract subjectivities as they are mobilised within discussions of humanitarianism, good governance, need, and care.


Throughout the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, and despite significant contestation, various official and artistic genres, under varying degrees of state control, have been instruments of national cultural formation. Map making, landscape painting and photography, the writing of epics and novels, theatrical performances and musical compositions (among other genres) have been vehicles of 'national narratives', the temporal frames within which states have sought nation-state status as coherent cultural as well as territorial entities. Beginning with an analysis of the role of music in aiding and abetting state nation building projects, the essay's primary emphasis is on the political challenge to the dominant narrative of American nation-building provided by John Coltrane's jazz improvisations and Robert Altman's film making.


'Postmodernist' approaches to the nation as a cultural artefact and as an imagined political community do scant justice to the popular appeal and deep-rooted attachments of nationalism, and to the moral and emotional dimensions of the nation conceived as a sacred community of citizens. The imagery of the nation from the eighteenth century onwards reveals how vital and central have been the two nationalist themes of collective will and self-sacrifice on behalf of the nation. These themes have been embodied in great works of music, art and architecture, which, by drawing on older religious sources, have communicated the sacred qualities of the nation to its citizens. From Jacques-Louis David's Oath of the Horatii and Benjamin West's Death of General Wolfe to Stanley Spencer's Resurrection at Burghclere, from the Paris Pantheon to the Whitehall Cenotaph, this imagery of national will and sacrifice has resonated in public fora, and has helped to shape elite and, later, mass perceptions, values and attitudes towards the nation.


The London National Gallery's exhibition 'Encounters: New Art From Old' (2001) becomes the basis for setting sail on the waters of abstraction in art and in the field of International Relations. Cy Twombly's abstract ships from and post J.M.W. Turner are compared with Kenneth Waltz's oceanic neorealism. Louise Bourgeoise's watery abstract installation, also from and post a Turner painting, is contrasted with Alexander Wendt's effort to sail with and beyond Waltz. It is not easy to get away from all the Turners, but Bourgeois especially manages to do so in ways that amplify the possibilities for an abstract yet observational, fluid yet imaginative and bold form of visual sense making in International Relations.


In this article, I argue that the liberal discourse of globalisation is science fiction. That discourse, rather than simply reflecting recent trends and transformations, is part of a science fiction/globalisation intertext that encompasses both science fiction and a liberal globalisation discourse spanning the media, state officials, and multilateral economic institutions. After a brief introduction to the notion of an intertext, I examine the defining tropes and narratives of the dominant liberal discourse of globalisation. Using Isaac Asimov's Foundation series as an exemplar, I then show that these tropes and narratives are also central features of 1950s American utopian science fiction. In the fourth section, I argue not only that the narratives and tropes are similar across these two sets of texts, but also that they are animated by a similar problematic, one based on order and stability and legitimating authoritarianism.