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Rethinking agency & responsibility in contemporary international political theory

Ainley, Kirsten (2006) Rethinking agency & responsibility in contemporary international political theory. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The core argument of this work is that the individualist conceptions of agency and responsibility inherent in the contemporary ethical structure of international relations are highly problematic, serve political purposes which are often unacknowledged, and have led to the establishment of an international institutional regime which is limited in the kind of justice it can bring to international affairs. Cosmopolitan liberalism has led to the privileging of the discourse of rights over that of responsibility, through its emphasis on legality and the role of the individual as the agent and subject of ethics; this has culminated in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC, described by its supporters as the missing link in human rights enforcement, is a result of changing conceptions of agency and responsibility beyond borders – normative discourse has moved from state to individual, from politics and ethics to law, and from peace to justice, but I argue that it has not yet moved beyond the dichotomy of cosmopolitan and communitarian thinking. I contend that neither of these two positions can offer us a satisfactory way forward, so new thinking is required. The core of the thesis therefore explores alternative views of agency and responsibility – concepts which are central to international political theory, but not systematically theorized within the discipline. I outline models of agency as sociality and responsibility as a social practice, arguing that these models both better describe the way we talk about and experience our social lives, and also offer significant possibilities to broaden the scope of international justice and enable human flourishing. I end the research by considering the implications of these more nuanced accounts of agency and responsibility for ongoing theorising and practice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2009 Kirsten Ainley
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Brown, Chris

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