Thursday, July 09, 2009

Political Constructivism and Biological Determinism

Is it a case of ne'er the twain shall meet?

My lack of blogging in part reflects an attempt to focus on my research paper and an ongoing struggle to resolve my preferences within the existing schools of international theory. I am, as far as project 'Gnac is concerned, caught between competing ontologies (Or it is epistemologies? I find the precise demarcation of these tortuous expressions sometimes hard to pin point.).

The problem is that after years of encountering theory in an on-off way through studies in literature, psychology, law and international relations, I haven't found a home. In a nutshell, positivism seems to me extremely simplistic, and the methods of critical theory have plenty of value. However I do not share what I call automatic hypothesis-conclusion reasoning, what I see as a seamless (and in turn uncritical) shift from using critical methods to 'uncover' an alternative reading (or hypothesis) to instantly adopting that reading as a 'true' conclusion. And, to put it simply, I believe a significant portion (though far less than the total) of our personas is biologically shaped, if not quite determined.

At the political level, and even more so at the international political level, I lean towards the existing framework being constructed, something that can be re-thought and changed, while also being convinced that at least some of those constructs, and behaviours of actors within them, may be influenced from the biological level onwards.

The behaviour of supra-societal individuals like Putin, Hussein or Bush JR, for example is not always rational in a sense that fits easily within positivist doctrine. Yet while there is ample room to build theories around how national and international structures, including ideology and social pressures, may have an influence on such behaviour, there seems also to me to be room for considering how inherent factors gone wrong, perhaps even skewed by social or ideological pressures, have also played a role.

Dear blogestrians, do you have a view? And even if you disagree, if you are familiar with academic texts in the realm of post-positivist theory (as I'm sure some of you are), can you point me towards work that seeks to deal with conflicts and potential agreements between these two broad schools of thought?


Mindy said...

Sorry mate I think you're going to have to write your own book. Or at least formulate your own theory. You could be even more famous!

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

There's an argument that biology and culture mutually construct each other. Here's Christopher Wills: "there are also plausible ways in which culture itself could be driving natural selection ... there has been, and still is, positive feedback between our culture and our genes that led to the rapid evolution of the most characteristic human attribute, the mind" (New Scientist, 11 March 2006: 32). If you buy this (and I do), then you might indeed see human institutions as a product of human biology, but biology as partly a product of culture.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with that Mr Armagnac. Personally i have been arguing that we are all biologically determined, but not in cultures of our own choosing for a while, with my tongue only a little in cheek and thanks to an German philosopher of some repute. Mostly as i have a distrust of paradigmatic approaches to the study of these kinds of complex human interaction.

As far as texts are concerned, when these q's were important to me i found R.J. Walker's 'one world, many worlds', Holsti's 'divided discipline' and E.H. Carr's 'What is History' lots of fun. but you have prob read all them.

timing is kind of funny as we are rationalising at the mo and i recently gave all my lovingly photocopied IR articles and chapters to the HBomb for scribble paper