Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 June 2014
In this forum five scholars bring their particular postcolonial perspectives to bear upon the constructivist concept of norms. Charlotte Epstein introduces the forum by considering what it means to theorise international politics from a postcolonial perspective, understood not as a unified body of thought or a new ‘ism’ for IR, but as a ‘situated perspective’; and how this casts a different light upon the makings of international orders and key epistemological schemes with which these have been studied in International Relations (IR), such as norms. In her contribution Ayze Zarakol argues that the constructivist paradigm of ‘norm diffusion’ commits two fallacies: first, it mishandles the causal explanation because it conflates internalisation, socialisation and compliance. Second it reproduces existing international social hierarchies by treating (bad) non-compliance by non-Western actors as endogenously driven, and (good) compliance as the result of external Western stimuli. She uses Erving Goffman’s concept of stigmatisation to show how our understanding of norm diffusion in the international order – or lack thereof – can be improved. Julia Gallagher’s article examines the norm of good governance as acted out by the World Bank in its policies towards African countries. She uses psychoanalytic object relations theory to show how the Bank employs good governance to structure the world into good and bad objects, thereby overcoming internal ambiguity and creating an idealised self-image. Robbie Shlliam’s contribution challenges constructivism to attend to calls for epistemic justice regarding the delineation of interpretive communities to the ostensibly “moderns”. He does so by explicating the understandings of slavery provided by knowledge traditions inhabited by descendants of enslaved Africans. Vivienne Jabri’s article mobilises Homi Bhabha and Frantz Fanon in a critical engagement with constructivist readings of postcolonial agency in the normative ordering of the international. She argues that a postcolonial reading of the international must account for both the discursive and material presence of the postcolonial subject, a presence at once both constituted and constituting of the international.