History, action and identity: revisiting the 'second' great debate and assessing its importance for social theory
Title: History, action and identity: revisiting the 'second' great debate and assessing its importance for social theory
Author: KRATOCHWIL, Friedrich
Citation: European journal of international relations, 2006, 12, 1, 5-29
This article raises the issue about the nature of knowledge in practical matters. Traditionally this question has been answered by pointing to 'theory-building' and to field independent epistemological criteria that are supposed to provide the knowledge warrants for the assertions made within a theoretical framework. In this context universality, i.e. generality and trans-historical reliability of the 'data', are particularly powerful criteria that establish the `truth' of theoretical propositions through 'tests' and thus contribute to cumulative 'knowledge'. But this ideal of 'theoretical' knowledge significantly misunderstands both the type of knowledge we need when we make practical choices and that of 'history' in constituting us as agents. In using Bull's argument in the second debate as a foil, and in revisiting also the controversies concerning the democratic peace and the role of macro-historical studies I first elaborate on the nature of the 'historicity' and situatedness of all practical knowledge. In a second step, I attempt to clarify how the knowledge of the past relates to practical choices in that 'history' is not simply a storehouse of fixed data, but a product of memory, which in turn is deeply involved in our constructions of identity and of the political projects we pursue. In a third step I adumbrate the criteria for knowledge generation that are more appropriate when we face practical problems.
Subject: Social theory; Knowledge; Epistemology; Agency; Conflict theory; Memory; History; Identity formation
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