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Discourse, Power, and Subjectivity in Global Politics

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Courtesy KKatek8/Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 18 November 2016.

How are some discourses more powerful than others? Why do some kinds of discourses resonate more widely than others? One need only look around at recent politics in the US and the UK, for example, to see the crucial importance of these questions. With the British public recently voting for “Brexit,” and considerable numbers of Americans reacting favorably to Donald Trump, it is imperative that International Relations (IR) scholars develop frameworks that are able to grapple with the complex politics of language, affect/emotion, and subjectivity. As the public debate surrounding “Brexit” often revolved around contestations over British national identity, and Trump’s heated rhetoric taps into strands of American nationalism, these and other contemporary debates often hinge on the processes through which collective subjects – the collective “us” – are produced through eliciting particular kinds of emotional responses. People become affectively attached and invested in the images of the national “we” that are presented to them.

Who we are – our identities as subjects – is intimately bound to the power of language. Although the study of identity and discourse has been a part of IR for some time (Campbell 1998; Hansen 2006), their relationship to emotional factors such as desire has largely been downplayed. This is key because desire is the basic dynamic driving the social construction process in general and the social construction of subjectivity in particular. In my book, The Politics of Subjectivity in American Foreign Policy Discourses, I develop a framework that analyzes how these factors interweave to produce political subjects – the collective us. Consequently, these factors underpin the power and effectiveness of political language. In doing so, the framework takes a useful step forward in IR theory because it helps to analytically pinpoint why certain kinds of narratives are more likely sources of emotional investment – and therefore more likely to be politically efficacious – than others. Consequently, the framework unpacks the key elements that sustain political notions that are taken to be “common sense.” That is, the framework highlights the emotional investments of desire in the constructs of identity that narratives of political “common sense” often offer.

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Myths, Falsehoods and Misrepresentations About Iran

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of Iran. Photo: بنیاد حفظ آثار و نشر ارزش های دفاع مقدس/Wikimedia Commons.

Chapter seven of ‘A Dangerous Delusion: why the west is wrong about nuclear Iran’ by Peter Oborne and David Morrison, takes up the basic facts in the public domain regarding Iranian possession and planning for nuclear weapons which – as the authors argue – mainstream media ignore, and asks why they do this. 

At this point it may be helpful to state the basic facts about Iran’s nuclear activities:

  • Iran has no nuclear weapons.
  • Since 2007, US intelligence has held the opinion that Iran hasn’t got a programme to develop nuclear weapons and has regularly stated this opinion in public to the US Congress.
  • The IAEA does not assert that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons programme.
  • Iran does have uranium-enrichment facilities. But as a party to the NPT, Iran has a right to engage in uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. Other parties to the NPT, for example, Argentina and Brazil, do so. Iran is not in breach of any of its obligations under the NPT.
  • As required by the NPT, Iran’s enrichment facilities are open to inspection by the IAEA, as are its other nuclear facilities. Over many years, the IAEA has verified that no nuclear material has been diverted from these facilities for possible military purposes. Iran is enriching uranium up to 5% U-235, which is appropriate for fuelling nuclear power reactors for generating electricity, and up to 20% U-235, which is required for fuelling the Tehran Research Reactor.
  • While Iran’s nuclear facilities are open to IAEA inspection, those of Israel and India (allies of the United States) are almost entirely closed to the IAEA. Yet Iran, which has no nuclear weapons, is the object of ferocious economic sanctions and threats of military action. By contrast, Israel (with perhaps as many as 400 nuclear bombs, and the capacity to deliver them anywhere in the Middle East) is the object of more than $3 billion a year of US military aid. » More