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Home arrow History arrow The Art of World-Making: Nicholas Greenwood Onuf and his Critics


  • 1 I am indebted to Nick Onuf, who advised me against taking a policy speech I wrote and turning it into a scholarly paper. Because I am a bit (OK - very) stubborn, the consequence of that advice is this chapter. Nick bears no responsibility for the results and, indeed, maintains the right to say that he told me so.
  • 2 To be fair, there is a strong stream of foreign policy literature that addresses how the limits of human cognition can have a deleterious effect on the ability of the state to act rationally. Classics such as Allison (1971) and Jervis (1976) are examples.
  • 3 I am drawing on several of Nicholas Onuf’s works (Onuf 1989; Kubalkova, Onuf, and Kowert 1998; Onuf 1998; Gould and Onuf 2009; Onuf 2013) and using them as if they were methods primers despite the fact that they are intended to be works of theory and Onuf has often claimed that he does not do empirical research. (To be fair, though, Onuf (1998) is very close to asserting itself as a methods primer.) In my view, the categorization of speech acts and rules has a close connection to how research ought to be done. The taxonomy, so to speak, is the basis of a codebook. The evidence - the data - to be analyzed comes in the form of utterances, texts that could be understood as utterances, and (drifting even further away from his intention) deeds that can be narrated as if they were utterances, as well.
  • 4 Onuf (1989) provides an extended discussion of abduction. Classic works include (James 1907 [2009]; Peirce 1960, 1966; Dewey 1993 [1919]; Johansen 2004); recent works include (Abadi 1999; Cochran 2002; Festenstein 2002; Bauer and Brighi 2009; Friedrichs 2009; Friedrichs and Kratochwil 2009; Gould and Onuf 2009; Hellman et al. 2009; Jackson 2009; Sil 2009). Other international relations works, notably those of Hayward Alker (1996) (see also Marlin-Bennett (2012) and Daniel Levine (2012), demonstrate a broad consistency with pragmatism even if they are not explicitly pragmatist. Pragmatism can be found in the field of political geography in the works of Barnett and Bridge (2013) and Bridge (2013)).
  • 5 This finding disagrees with Onuf’s assessment that rational agents order their preferences around “standing, security, and wealth,” understood broadly (1989, ch. 8).
  • 6 Other emotions such as pride and envy are articulated or implied, as well. I focus on the emotions that seem most important to the formation of national interest.
  • 7 Expressions of congratulations would be expressives in Onuf’s terms. These particular ones are specific to the commencement and are not particularly important for the analysis that follows.
  • 8 I have adopted a style of indenting and italicizing quotations from President Obama’s speech. The official transcript of the speech can be found online (Obama 2014).
  • 9 I am thankful to Daniel Levine for pointing out the work of Elisabeth Anker (2014), who explores the trope of freedom as a melodramatic response to the attacks of 9/11. The United States is cast doubly in the role of damsel in distress and victorious hero.
  • 10 An alternative interpretation would subsume security in freedom: to be killed would be a way to lose one’s freedom.
  • 11 I suspect, but have not found any empirical evidence to make a strong claim, that for Americans raised in the United States, the mention of freedom immediately links to memories of patriotic songs sung in elementary school and that the memories of the corporeal actions of singing (standing up straight, taking a breath, singing out) engage the body in the production of identity. “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” the poem by Samuel Francis Smith and set to the tune of “God Save the Queen” comes to my mind as productive of a certain embodied response. Katherine Meizel discusses the connection between patriotic songs and a civil religion (Meizel 2006); J. Macgregor Wise writes of territory and identity and mentions singing in the production of territorial identity. The reference that I have found that most closely captures the concept of singing, embodiment, and national identity is Kristen Kuutma and Helen Kastik’s (2014) examination of heritage singing in Estonia.
  • 12 In a later part of the speech, President Obama alludes to a lack of risk to America’s freedom. He says: “Think about it. Our military has no peer. The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.”
  • 13 I am reading the embodied practice of applauding as if it were a speech act. To the extent that the articulation of words and the act of applauding are both forms of communicating to a knowing recipient of the communication, I think applying this analysis to applause makes sense.
  • 14 The mention of the economic crisis in juxtaposition to soldiers’ sacrifice is doubly odd since soldiers are employed outside the market. (There is no competitive market for their soldiering skills; they have made an agreement to serve in the army that is harder to sever than an employment contact; what would be “quitting” in the market is “desertion” - and a crime - in the military; etc.)
  • 15 Another reading of this part of the speech would simply be that the words are a selfcongratulatory declaration by President Obama that his presidency has been successful. Such a conclusion would miss the ontological changes and the evocation of emotional response that can be seen by uncovering rules in the speech acts.
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