Who speaks? Discourse, the subject and the study of identity in international politics
This article aims to show the theoretical added value of focussing on discourse to study identity in international relations (IR). I argue that the discourse approach offers a more theoretically parsimonious and empirically grounded way of studying identity than approaches developed in the wake of both constructivism and the broader ‘psychological turn’. My starting point is a critique of the discipline’s understanding of the ‘self’ uncritically borrowed from psychology. Jacques Lacan’s ‘speaking subject’ offers instead a non-essentialist basis for theorizing about identity that has been largely overlooked. To tailor these insights to concerns specific to the discipline I then flesh out the distinction between subject-positions and subjectivities. This crucial distinction is what enables the discourse approach to travel the different levels of analyses, from the individual to the state, in a way that steers clear of the field’s fallacy of composition, which has been perpetuated by the assumption that what applies to individuals applies to states as well. Discourse thus offers a way of studying state identities without presuming that the state has a self. I illustrate this empirically with regards to the international politics of whaling.