postmodernism international relations

Written by Maryam Yasmeen 7:40 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Published Content

Postmodernism in International Relations

Critical in nature and identified as a cultural movement against modernism, postmodernism rejects universal and definite truths, challenging reason itself. It views existence to be fragmented and irregular while condemning science and technology. Maryam Yasmeen unravels this complex theory and its application to the discipline of international relations.
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Maryam Yasmeen is a student of International Relations at Kinnaird College, Lahore. She has published multiple articles on various issues and topics related to global politics. She aims to achieve excellence as a writer, researcher, and academic in the field of International Relations and cyber security.


The sense of the world is perceived by us through different narratives. These narratives are created through words, structures, sentences, ideas, beliefs, and identities, all combining knowledge provided to us through different social interactions and exchanges between individuals.

After being widely accepted, these narratives shape into theories, but there can’t be a meta-theory or a meta-narrative with its totalizing essence, as the ideas and beliefs established are never eternal. They die and are altered with time, with individuals bringing in new ideas and narratives as a mode of progress on the basis of new social interactions. This is the deconstruction of ideas; ideas submerged in a never-ending loop of deconstruction and reconstruction. This is what we call the constructivist approach, quite similar in its dimensions to the theory of postmodernism.

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Critical in nature and identified as a cultural movement against modernism, postmodernism rejects the realization and the legacy of enlightenment by mounting powerful arguments against essential elements of modern philosophy. Popularly defined as the theory of ‘unbelief about metanarratives’, it is a theory tending to help make sense of the abstract identities of ideas, that through a deconstruction of existing thoughts and reconstruction of new ones, individuals can progress and evolve.

It is a theory that criticizes modernity and its dichotomies, a theory that debates essentially the concrete nature of scientific reasoning through its negation of absolute knowledge and meta-narratives. It is a theory regarded as widely popular in the discourse of politics and international relations, for what are the concepts of war and peace and security and alliance, if not abstract beliefs upon which the international system rests?

Postmodernism Theory

Initiated in the late 1960-70s by a group of French philosophers, notably including Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Lyotard, and others, the post-modern theory is a critical theory as it aims to provide a detailed and radical criticism of modern philosophy by finding roots in the ideas described by Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Marx.

It’s the theory that deconstructs the previous knowledge by criticizing it and then reconstructs new thoughts through new individual interactions. As the name suggests, it is the theory that came after the modernism theory and hence is regarded as the approach which heavily criticizes modern ideas and modern philosophy.

A Critique of Postmodernism

Postmodernism, in its essence, rejects the universal acceptance of modernism by rejecting the enlightenment with its criticism drawn upon the basis of the enlightenment’s modern universalism and objectivity of reason. Instead of modern objective truth, it encourages subjectivity in the interpretation of the truth.

It criticizes the ideas about reality and truth, reason and experience, equality and liberty, peace and justice, and beauty and progress by saying that ‘truth’ is just a myth and ‘reason’ is just a white male eurocentric construct. ‘Equality’ just serves as the mask for oppression. As for ‘peace’ and ‘progress’, they are, according to postmodernists, just reminders of power and exploitation.

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According to postmodernism, liberal capitalism is just another form of slavery in which the proletariats and the employees are the slaves. Similarly, the theory favors the idea of subjective interpretation over the idea of absolute knowledge, paving the way to Derrida’s thought of there being no ‘coherent center.’ 

Postmodernism in International Relations

The sphere of international relations has long been dominated by theories such as realism and liberalism which exert assumptions to make sense of the international system and to understand why states behave the way they do. With the passage of time, new debates came forward in this field such as the neo-neo debate and critical theories.

Postmodernism is among those debatable approaches but a new one that was initiated in the 1980s for critically analyzing the nature of the international world and relations which is solely based on ‘power’.

Being a radical critique of modern politics, the postmodern international theory rejects the brands of realism and liberalism and is skeptical of Marxism by criticizing their absolute reality-based agendas of peace, conflict, equality, and democracy. It has developed a critical attitude, fundamentally questioning the ways of representation of dominance.

Postmodernism sees the international system in the form of webbed power relations between the countries in the international arena. It rejects how modern power politics legitimatize marginalizing the knowledge of distinct ideas. Thus setting up a grand narrative upon which the whole system needs to forward.

Anti-capitalistic and against globalization, the postmodern theory provides a way for the dissolution of current social identities on the basis of which the international system is constructed and instead emphasizes the role of new identities in order to understand the nature of the global system outside the boundaries of the existing realistic and liberalistic narratives.

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Postmodernism theory further challenges international relations and the international system on central epistemological and ontological grounds of world politics. Prevailing theories and approaches tend to view the international arena as anarchical in nature with states as the major subjects concerned with sovereignty, violence, war, and conflicts. Postmodernism theory is bent on deconstructing the prevailing problematic socially constructed identities by re-conceptualizing the political imagery through alternative conceptual language in order to think beyond the ideas of sovereignty as well beyond the confines of modern philosophy.


The entire thesis of postmodernism is the antithesis of modernism. After the theological sun was blocked by the dark cloud of rationalistic philosophies, religious philosophy lost itself in science. Science declared itself as the be-all and end-all of knowledge thus overshadowing individual perspectives and leading to the objectivity of ideas.

Later, postmodernism was born, carrying the guilt of its ‘modern’ mother. So far, postmodernism has been successful in its mission embedded in the vision of identifying the flaws of the modern era and bringing them out on the table by providing criticism with much audacity.

Although its assumptions are not extensively accepted and adopted, it is a theory nonetheless, which has proven that no narrative, no theory is immune to criticism, not even the theory based on reason, facts and science. It is to be said that any theory or any narrative that claims to be universal i.e. outside the parameters of criticism automatically drills holes into itself.

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