The International Relations field dates back to the post-First World War and has been characterized by Western predominant worldviews, which are based upon positivist assumptions. This perception of reality was sold as the only possible truth, and resulted in the exclusion of different ontologies, as the ones of indigenous peoples. Although recent developments have brought about distinct frameworks to IR studies – such as post-positivist approaches, like critical theory, feminism, post-colonialism and post-structuralism – other narratives are still being neglected. Moreover, hitherto this openness has often been narrowed to contributions in the realm of epistemology or methodology, thus not reaching ontological questions of what the world actually is.
The article Encountering the Pluriverse: Looking for Alternatives in Other Worlds published at the special issue Many Worlds, Many Theories? of Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (Volume 59, N. 2) aims to address this lack of ontological pluralism in the scope of International Relations discipline. In this way, professor Amaya Querejazu, from the Universidad de los Andes, proposes to encompass multiple worlds in IR theory. The concept of “pluriverse” is used to demonstrate how the modern theorization of one reality and one universe are myths. The author claims that several worlds coexist in time and space and they lead to multiple realities. Thereby, the one-world thinking is insufficient to explain international phenomena, which comprises more than what has usually been acknowledged by Western mainstream theorization.
Querejazu brings forth awareness about the frameworks used in the IR field, as they are neither neutral nor universal. She advocates for a more comprehensive knowledge which includes diverse ontological positions, especially relational cosmovisions like the Andean worldview. Professor Amaya has kindly agreed to answer a few inquiries about her distinctive perception of the IR and the concepts presented in her article. The short interview was done by Natalia Coelho, from the editorial board of the RBPI.
- You have a background in law and your previous works focused on specific issues, such as Bolivian foreign policy, human rights, global governance and International Organizations. However, in this article you discuss the need for a new ontology for International Relations. What has caused this shift of interest and perspective?
My previous work was somehow determined by several interests I have. In some cases it represents a research result, in others it is about some reflexions about topics related to the classes I teach or to conferences I attended. The interest about a different (not necessarily new) ontological approach to IR reflects deep concern I have had for a long time now. It has a lot to do with the fact that traditional and even critical IR approaches and theories were not enough or did not help me to answer some questions, particularly about difference in IR. As Bolivian and doing IR from the “Third World”, I can see people commonly coexist and dwell in between worlds, and our traditional way of approaching social sciences does not fully account for that. In that sense, I also think that we not only need other theoretical tools for better understanding our context and our role in the globe, but I also think that the Global South and local worldviews have a lot to say when it comes to understanding the global and being in the globe differently.
- You state that relational cosmovisions like the Andean worldview perceive the world as the junction of three different worlds: spiritual, human and natural. Can you explain, in brief, the importance of integrating indigenous ontologies to the field of International Relations?
Grasping relational ontologies matter, not only because millions of people in the world make sense of their realities in relational terms, but also because relational ontologies show the fictional or constructed division between culture and nature that today is so naturalized in the way we assume reality. If we recognize that reality can be constituted by many (not only those three) different, independent yet interconnected worlds our political arrangements to the way we manage global politics can be different. It is not about giving space for indigenous cosmovisions in a Western disciplinary field, it is about actually questioning the ways the field has developed by neglecting other worldviews (indigenous or not). Accepting that the Western worldview is just one of many authorized voices for explaining realities, makes us better equipped to understand the ontological complexity of doing IR. In order to do so, one must defend the fact that the spaces for difference have to be recreated, not just adapted from a western perspective to a more encompassing one.
- You argue that the “truth” of one-world, one reality and one universe are myths, as there are hidden worlds and realities, which need to be recognized and accepted by IR scholarship. How would the many worlds be incorporated into the academic sphere?
I think that instead of an incorporation of many worlds to an academic sphere we should talk about the adaptation of academic work to a much complex and pluriversal realities. Our intellectual work should aim at apprehending that complexity of “reals” instead or reducing the possibilities of what can or cannot be real so that they can “fit” a discipline. It is, as I state in the text, a rather challenging intellectual endeavor, it demands mental flexibility, disposition and versatility.
- According to your paper, knowledge is not only rational but also affective, emotional, bodily, mystic and can have origin in experience, memory, and suffering. Could IR theory integrate non-rational knowledge and still have a sense of unity and coherence? How to avoid falling into a spiral of epistemological relativism?
Confirming this question will lead us to accept that only rational knowledge prevents us from relativism. I think that this other ways of knowing are far from taking us to an epistemological relativism. Instead, we could talk about an epistemic pluralism that completes, assesses, counterbalances our rational ways of knowing. If knowledge can be constructed drawing from many epistemological tools this can only build more coherence and unity within a plural context.
- I found very interesting your argument that non-humans are also entitled to political agency, thus they can be considered full subjects with rights and responsibilities. How could IR mainstream thinking be brought closer to this holistic approach? What would be the benefits and the downsides, if any?
I think that one of the biggest lessons one could learn from Andean cosmovision is that of awareness, of being alert of what goes on around us. Maybe IR mainstream thinking should start listening better to other possible explanations, other epistemological standpoints. There are of course some downsides, one for instance is the problem of translation. In order to mainstream IR to understand what other worldviews are saying we still need to translate complex puriversal realities to terms that the modern West can understand; there is also the question of power, in this case, the power of habilitating other voices or of keeping them silent. Our goal should be to imagine an encounter, a dialogue, where the categories of one worldview are not the ones to measure the other´s but to develop spaces for other categories to be as valid as the ones we already use. Once we accomplish that the benefits should be many.
Read the article:
Querejazu, Amaya. (2016). Encountering the Pluriverse: Looking for Alternatives in Other Worlds. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 59(2), e007.
Amaya Querejazu is a professor at the Faculty of Law and Political Science of the Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia (.email@example.com).
Natália Coelho, a member of the editorial team of the Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, is a PhD candidate at the Institute of International Relations of the University of Brasília – iREL-UnB (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mundorama. "Encountering the Pluriverse: Looking for Alternatives in Other Worlds – an interview with Amaya Querejazu, by Natália Coelho". Mundorama - Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais, [acessado em 30/11/2016]. Disponível em: <http://www.mundorama.net/2016/11/30/encountering-the-pluriverse-looking-for-alternatives-in-other-worlds-an-interview-with-amaya-querejazu-by-natalia-coelho/>.