What can international relations contribute to the understanding of science and policymaking? This is a section that needs to get written, for my introduction, and its one that involves a bit of fundamental contemplation of the discipline.
Last night, I got into a discussion with the warden of Wadham College and a trio of fellows about my lack of faith in the concept of ‘social science.’ In essence, this is a lack of faith in the possibility of approaching truth, in the study of politics and related fields. One can become convincing and powerful, but one can never be authoritatively ‘right’ when speaking about morality in warfare, the consequences of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, or the economic effects of NAFTA. Importantly, one also cannot be qualitatively as ‘right’ when answering such questions as one can when dealing with properly scientific ones.
I don’t know if it is a reflection of the kind of people the discipline attracts, or whether there is some other explanation, but it seems to me that IR is more concerned with action than with understanding. Interaction with knowledge is certainly important, but that is largely because such interaction is a necessary part of empowerment. Perhaps the reason for which we are given such impossibly long reading lists to skim is because we are just picking out those bits that will sharpen our ability to do whatever it is we wish to do in the world.
[Update: 1:30am] Perhaps I should be clear: this is one of those “use of the blog as a place for speculative thinking that might generate interesting responses” kind of post. Purposive, rather than simply analytic in itself, that is.