Trauma and the ethical in international relations
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The suffering that initially prompts ethical reflection is frequently forgotten in the generalised rational response of much contemporary International Relations theory. This thesis draws on Theodor W. Adorno and Gillian Rose to propose an alternative approach to suffering in world politics. Adorno argues suffering and trauma play a key role in the task of enlightening Enlightenment. They emphasise the concrete particularity of human existence in a way that is radically challenging to Enlightenment thought. Understanding suffering helps to drive a negative dialectics that preserves the non-identical (that which cannot be understood, manipulated or controlled by reason), holding it up against the instrumentalism and abstraction that have prevented Enlightenment thought from fulfilling its promise. Part One reviews contemporary approaches to international ethics in a way that draws out their affinity with the Enlightenment thought Adorno criticises. Despite their variety, liberal and Habermasian approaches to international ethics tend to be rational and problem-solving, to assume moral progress, to underestimate the importance of history and culture, and to neglect inner lives. They approach ethics in a way that pays too little attention to the social, historical, and cultural antecedents of suffering and therefore promotes solutions that, whilst in some ways inspiring, are too disconnected from the suffering they seek to address to be effective in practice. Part Two deepens the critique of modern ethics through an exposition of Adorno's work. It then draws on Adorno's conception of promise, Rose's writing on mourning and political risk, and a broader literature on ways of working through trauma to propose an alternative way of being in the world with ethical and political implications. I advocate a neo-Hegelian work of mourning, which deepens understanding of the complexities of violence and informs a difficult, tentative, anxiety-ridden taking of political risk in pursuit of a good enough justice.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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