'A Return to the World': Diffraction and Truth-telling in Post-Cartesian IR

Research output: Working paperAcademic


This paper presents an ethics premised on a post-Cartesian ontology: that what we know is how we know and vice-versa. The acknowledgment of the IR scholar’s constitutive relation to the world she seeks to describe, and of which she is a part, entails an ethics that is also a practice and an agency. I build on the notion of diffraction in Karen Barad’s quantum theory and on Foucault’s notion of parrhesia. In place of reflection, Barad offers diffraction as a nonrepresentationalist methodology which attends to the difference knowledge can make rather than the accuracy of our representations. Parrhesia is the ‘third hermeneutic’ which problematizes our relationship with the activity of knowing itself. In the pragmatist sense, we are asked not only to be of use to our communities, but to be mindful of who we are and what kind of subject we become in our inscriptions of the world. This diffractive research ethics addresses two problems in IR theory as they present in the conduct of fieldwork – the limits of reflexivity, notably the impossibility of objectively representing ourselves to ourselves, and the critique that the pragmatist concerns in the ‘doing’ of science pays insufficient attention to how power conditions knowledge production. I suggest that this ethic, which is a performance of our relation to truth, allows us to better realize the pragmatist ideal of a democratic social science by allowing us to resist the centripetal force of epistemic sovereignty.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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