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‘Freedom’ through repression: epistemic closure in agricultural trade negotiations

  • JULIAN GRUIN
Abstract

A central concern of critical theory is that of how the forces of Modern reason cause certain logics to become reified in the name of rational progress. Two such logics – the ongoing spread of liberal capitalism, and territorial particularism – are simultaneously embodied within social institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) that regulate the global economy, a phenomenon that occurs on the premise of maximising global welfare. Building upon a critical reading of Jürgen Habermas' theory of communicative action, this article undertakes an empirical immanent critique of the extent to which such logics repress the possibility of normative imperatives being considered within agricultural trade negotiations. Specifically, it argues that the dialectic of functionalist and communicative rationality, operating as a theoretical heuristic, reveals that the DDA is susceptible to an ethical indictment that arises from its inability to countenance the alternatives to the dual logics of neo-liberalism and state-interest that could otherwise emerge from a free and rational discussion. The nature of the WTO as a site of social action is revealed to be that of a closed epistemic community in which important normative claims are repressed, and as such, one in which the underlying rational bases for communication are fundamentally distorted.

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3 Habermas, Jürgen, Communication and the Evolution of Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979) .

4 Habermas, Jürgen, ‘Some Distinctions in Universal Pragmatics’, Theory and Society, 1 (1976), pp. 156157 .

5 Habermas, Jürgen, On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction: Preliminiary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action (Cambridge: Polity, 2001), pp. 8283 .

6 Edgar, Andrew, The Philosophy of Habermas (Chesham: Acumen, 2005), p. 147 .

7 Habermas, , Communication and the Evolution of Society, p. 68 .

8 Habermas, Jürgen, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1990), p. 138 .

9 Habermas, , On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction: Preliminiary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action, p. 89 .

10 Cooke, Maeve, Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1994), p. 143 .

11 Cooke, , Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics, p. 143 .

12 Rehg, William, Insight and Solidarity: A Study in the Discourse Ethics of Jürgen Habermas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), p. 212 .

13 Habermas, Jürgen, ‘Die Krise Des Wohlfahrtsstaates Und Die Erschöpfung Utopischer Energien’, Die Neue Unübersichtlichkeit (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1985), p. 158 ., cited in Cooke, , Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics, p. 144 .

14 Cooke, , Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics, p. 144 .

15 Deitelhoff, N. and Müller, H., ‘Theoretical Paradise – Empirically Lost? Arguing with Habermas’, Review of International Studies, 31 (2005), p. 169 ; Müller, H., ‘Vom Dissensrisiko Zur Ordnung Der Internationalen Staatenwelt’, Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen, 3 (1996) .

16 Deitelhoff and Müller, ‘Theoretical Paradise – Empirically Lost? Arguing with Habermas’, p. 179.

17 Risse, Thomas, ‘“Let's Argue”: Communicative Action in World Politics’, International Organization, 54 (2000) .

18 Linklater, Andrew, ‘The Changing Contours of Critical International Relations Theory’, in Jones, Wyn (ed.), Critical Theory and World Politics (Boulder: Lynne Rienner 2001) .

19 Cooke, , Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics, p. 13 .

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22 Immanent critique is a method which seeks, ‘by revealing the contradictions of claim and context, to transform legitimations into emancipatory weapons’. Antonio, Robert, ‘Immanent Critique as the Core of Critical Theory: Its Origins and Development in Hegel, Marx and Contemporary Thought’, British Journal of Sociology, 32:3 (1982), pp. 330345, 338 . See also Schroyer, Trent, The Critique of Domination (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), pp. 3031 .

23 ‘Structural’ insofar as such conditions, being those that underlie communication, form the principles presupposing its social relevance and thus the possibility of socialisation.

24 How, Alan, Critical Theory (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003), p. 54 .

25 As such a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ becomes a basic methodological principle for the critical analysis of texts. See Josselson, Ruthellen, ‘The Hermeneutics of Faith and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion’, Narrative Inquiry, 14:1 (2004), pp. 128 ; Ricoeur, Paul, The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974) .

26 Diez, Thomas and Steans, Jill, ‘A Useful Dialogue? Habermas and International Relations’, Review of International Studies, 31:1 (2005), pp. 127140, 128 . However, it is important to also note the possibility of forms of instrumental action further then being required in order to manifest this emancipatory intent as political praxis. See Rengger, Nicholas, ‘Negative Dialectic? The Two Modes of Critical Theory in World Politics’, in Wynn Jones, Richard (ed.), Critical Theory and World Politics (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner, 2001) .

27 The WTO document database provided the full minutes of the formal meetings of each committee, as well as the full text of the majority of addresses made by individual representatives at each meeting. Speech acts were selected for inclusion (although all documents within the empirical research parameters were read) within the analysis on the basis of their embodiment of the tension between the systemic imperatives of functionalist rationality, and the possibilities for understanding afforded by communicative action. In keeping with its post-positivist epistemological standpoint, this empirical analysis makes no claim to verifiable truth, but merely posits the empirical evidence of the dialectic within agricultural trade negotiations and highlights its ethically troublesome implications.

28 Habermas, Jürgen, The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason (Cambridge: Polity, 1987), pp. 153155 .

29 How, , Critical Theory, pp. 134135 .

30 Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, p. 120 .

31 Habermas, , Communication and the Evolution of Society, p. 77 .

32 Habermas, Jürgen, The Philosophical Discourses of Modernity: Twelve Lectures (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987), p. 343 .

33 Habermas, , The Philosophical Discourses of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, p. 343 .

34 Habermas, , The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, p. 140 .

35 Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, p. 172 .

36 Ruggie, John G., ‘International Regimes, Transactions and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order’, International Organization, 36 (1982) .

37 Ruggie, John G., ‘At Home Abroad, Abroad at Home: International Liberalisation and Domestic Stability in the New World Economy’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 24 (1994) .

38 Linklater, Andrew, ‘Towards a Critical Historical Sociology of Transnational Harm’, in Hobden, and Hobson, (eds), Historical Sociology of International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 165 .

39 See Ferguson, Yale H. and Mansbach, Richard W., Remapping Global Politics: History's Revenge and Future Shock (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) ; Linklater, Andrew, The Transformation of Political Community: Ethical Foundations of the Post-Westphalian Era (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998) .

40 Cooke, , Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics, p. 133 .

41 Habermas, , The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, p. 77ff .

42 Cooke, , Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics, p. 134 .

43 Habermas, , The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, p. 146 .

44 Habermas, Jürgen, ‘Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the Future of Europe’, Praxis International, 12 (1992), p. 10 .

45 Lengyel, Miguel F. and Tussie, Diana, ‘Developing Countries’, Making Global Trade a Tool for Development (Geneva: World Bank, 2002) .

46 Lengyel and Tussie, ‘Developing Countries’, p. 491.

47 At this stage it is not an ontological difference, but rather a difference in what Habermas calls their ‘depth of field’. Habermas, Jürgen, ‘A Reply’, in Honneth, and Joas, (eds), Communicative Action: Essays on Jürgen Habermas's the Theory of Communicative Action (Cambridge: Polity, 1993), p. 253 .

48 Habermas, , The Philosophical Discourses of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, p. 353 ; Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, p. 176 .

49 Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, p. 179 .

50 Albert, Mathias, ‘On the Modern Systems Theory of Society and IR: Contacts and Disjunctures between Different Kinds of Theorizing’, in Albert, M. and Hilkermeier, L. (eds), Observing International Relations: Niklas Luhmann and World Politics (London: Routledge, 2004) .

51 This notion of self-maintaining social systems stems from Weber's original observation that social institutions can ‘take on a life of their own’. Held, David, Models of Democracy (Cambridge: Polity, 2006), p. 157 .

52 Luhmann, Niklas, ‘Modern Systems Theory and the Theory of Society’, in Meja, V., Misgeld, D. and Stehr, N. (eds), Modern German Sociology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), p. 176 .

53 Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, p. 176 .

54 See O'Rourke, Kevin (ed.), The International Trading System, Globalization, and History (London: Edward Elgar, 2005) .

55 Ruggie, ‘International Regimes, Transactions and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order’, p. 399.

56 Luhmann, Niklas, ‘Operational Closure and Structural Coupling: The Differentiation of the Legal System’, Cardozo Law Review, 13 (1992) . In the context of empirical research in IR, see Albert, Mathias, ‘Governance and Democracy in European Systems: On Systems Theory and European Integration’, Review of International Studies, 28 (2002), p. 197 .

57 See Strange, Susan, The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 3 ; Ferguson, and Mansbach, , Remapping Global Politics: History's Revenge and Future Shock, p. 23 .

58 Habermas, Jürgen, Legitimation Crisis (London: Heinemann, 1976), pp. 2224 .

59 As Hont observes, territorial states have evolved historically to become ‘international commercial agents in their own right’. Hont, Istvan, Jealousy of Trade: International Competition and the Nation-State in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 186 .

60 Habermas, ‘Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the Future of Europe’, p. 2.

61 Cutler, A. C., ‘Global Capitalism and Liberal Myths: Dispute Settlement in Private International Trade Relations’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 24 (1995) ; Rupert, Mark, Producing Hegemony: The Politics of Mass Production and American Global Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) .

62 Haacke, Jürgen, ‘The Frankfurt School and International Relations: On the Centrality of Recognition’, Review of International Studies, 31 (2005), pp. 183184 .

63 Habermas, , The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, pp. 365367 .

64 Habermas, ‘Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the Future of Europe’, p. 10.

65 Habermas, ‘A Reply’, p. 250f.

66 Shiva, Vandana, in Khan, Aga (ed.), Policing the Global Economy (London: Cameron May, 1998), p. 106 .

67 Ruggie, ‘At Home Abroad, Abroad at Home: International Liberalisation and Domestic Stability in the New World Economy’.

68 Ruggie, ‘International Regimes, Transactions and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order’.

69 See Linklater, Andrew, Men and Citizens in the Theory of International Relations (London: MacMillan Press, 1990) .

70 Habermas, Jürgen, ‘A Reply to My Critics’, in Thompson, and Held, (eds), Habermas: Critical Debates (London: MacMillan, 1982), p. 272 .

71 Habermas, , Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, p. 89 ; Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, p. 158 .

72 Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, p. 163 .

73 Habermas, , Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, p. 63 . It is in this important respect that a Habermasian discourse ethics sustains its critical purchase, as a normative perspective concerned with procedures, not substantive results. As Claus Offe states, its goal is ‘not the positive determination of the “good”, but the negative elimination of particularistic tendencies, preoccupation with strategic interests, and cognitive narrow-mindedness form practical discourse’. See Offe, Claus, Modernity and the State: East and West (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996), p. 35 .

74 Habermas, , ‘On Systematically Distorted Communication’, Inquiry, 13 (1970), p. 206 ; Habermas, ‘A Reply to My Critics’.

75 For Habermas' views concerning Adorno's performative contradiction, see Habermas, Jürgen, ‘The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Re-Reading Dialectic of Enlightenment’, New German Critique, 26 (1982) .

76 Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, pp. 155156 .

77 Habermas, , On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction: Preliminiary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action, pp. 159164 .

78 Honneth, Axel, Critique of Power: Reflective Stages in a Critical Social Theory (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1991) .

79 World Trade Organization, ‘Doha Ministerial Declaration’, WTO Document WT/MIN(01)/DEC/1 (2001).

80 Deardorff, Alex V. and Stern, Robert M., ‘Enhancing the Benefits for Developing Countries in the Doha Development Agenda Negotiations’, Research Seminar in International Economics: Discussion Paper No. 498 (2003), p. 1 ; Dijck, and Faber, , ‘The Doha Development Agenda: Ambitions and Achievement’, in Dijck, R. and Faber, K. N. (eds), Developing Countries and the Doha Development Agenda of the WTO (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), p. 1 .

81 South Centre, ‘State of Play in Agriculture Negotiations: Country Groupings' Positions', Export Competition Pillar, South Centre Document SC/AN/TCP/AG/1–3 (2006); South Centre, ‘State of Play in Agriculture Negotiations: Country Groupings’ Positions', Domestic Support Pillar, South Centre Document SC/AN/TCP/AG/1–2 (2006); South Centre, ‘State of Play in Agriculture Negotiations: Country Groupings’ Positions’, Market Access Pillar, South Centre Document SC/AN/TCP/AG/1–1 (2006).

82 World Trade Organization, ‘WTO Agriculture Negotiations: Backgrounder’ (Geneva: World Trade Organization, 2004), available at: {http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/agric_e/agnegs_bkgrnd_e.pdf}, pp. 11–2.

83 Jones, Grainger and Braga, Primo, ‘The Multilateral Trading System: Mid-Flight Turbulence or Systems Failure?’, in Newfarmer, R. (ed.), Trade, Doha and Development: A Window into the Issues (Washington: The World Bank, 2006), pp. 2829 .

84 See comments made by the Representative for Australia on 31 March 2003, the original deadline for agreement on modalities in agricultural negotiations. World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Eighteenth Meeting of the Committee on Agriculture Special Session Held on 31 March 2003’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/R/8 (2003), p. 2.

85 See statements by the representatives of Indonesia, Brazil, the EC and the US in World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Nineteenth Meeting of the Committee on Agriculture Special Session’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/R/9 (2003), pp. 1–7.

86 World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Fourteenth Meeting of the Committee on Agriculture Special Session Held on 27 September 2002’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/R/4 (2002), p. 2; World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Sixteenth Meeting of the Committee on Agriculture Special Session Held on 24 January 2003’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/R/6 (2003), pp. 2–3.

87 Ibid., ‘Summary Report on the Fifteenth Meeting of the Committee on Agriculture Special Session Held on 22 November 2002’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/R/5 (2002), p. 4.

88 Ibid., ‘Summary Report on the Seventeenth Meeting of the Committee on Agriculture Special Session Held on 28 February 2003’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/R/7 (2003), pp. 2–3.

89 For example, World Trade Organization, ‘Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries’ (1994).

90 See World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Twelfth Meeting of the Committee on Agriculture Special Session Held on 20 June 2002’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/R/2 (2002), pp. 5–6.

91 OECD, , Cotton in West Africa: The Economic and Social Stakes (Paris: OECD, 2006) .

92 World Trade Organization, ‘Poverty Reduction: Sectoral Initiative in Favour of Cotton’, WTO Document TN/AG/GEN/4 (2003), p. 4.

93 Ibid., ‘Poverty Reduction: Sectoral Initiative in Favour of Cotton’, p. 1.

94 Ibid., ‘Poverty Reduction: Sectoral Initiative on Cotton’, Wording of Paragraph 27 of the Revised Draft Cancún Ministerial Text, WTO Document WT/GC/W/516 (2003), p. 1.

95 Ibid., ‘Poverty Reduction: Sectoral Initiative on Cotton’.

96 Hoekman, Bernard M., ‘The WTO after Cancún’, Intereconomics, 38 (2003) .

97 World Trade Organization, ‘WTO African Regional Workshop on Cotton: Cotonou, Republic of Benin’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document WT/L/587 (2004), p. 3.

98 Ibid., ‘Doha Work Programme: Decision Adopted by the General Council on 1 August 2004’, WTO Document WT/L/579 (2004), p. A1.

99 Ibid., ‘Summary Report on the Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Cotton Held on 16 and 28 February 2005’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/SCC/R/1 (2005), p. 2.

100 Ibid., ‘Ougadougou Declaration on the Cotton Situation since the Adoption of the July 2004 Package’, Communication from Burkina Faso, WTO Document TN/AG/SCC/GEN/1 (2005), p. 1; World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Fifth Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Cotton Held on 18 July 2005’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/SCC/R/5 (2005), pp. 10–11; World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Second Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Cotton Held on the 21 April 2005’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/SCC/R/2 (2005), p. 16.

101 Ibid., ‘Summary Report on the Fourth Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Cotton Held on 22 June 2005’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/SCC/R/4 (2005), p. 13. A sample of the many economic analyses to the contrary include Daniel A. Sumner, ‘Reducing Cotton Subsidies: The Dda Cotton Initiative’, in Anderson, K. and Martin, W. (eds) Agricultural Trade Reform and the Doha Development Agenda (Geneva: World Bank Publications, 2006) ; Baffes, John, ‘Cotton and Developing Countries: Implications for Development’, in Newfarmer, R. (ed.), Trade, Doha and Development: A Window into the Issues (Washington DC: World Bank, 2006) ; Anderson, K. and Valenzuela, E., ‘The World Trade Organisation's Doha Cotton Initiative: A Tale of Two Issues’, The World Economy, 30 (2007) .

102 Charles E. Hanrahan, ‘CRS Report for Congress: The African Cotton Initiative and WTO Agriculture Negotiations’ (Washington: The Library of Congress, 2004), available at: {http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/crs/RS21712.pdf}.

103 World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Cotton Held on 16 and 28 February 2005’, p. 19. World Trade Organization, ‘Summary Report on the Ninth Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Cotton Held on 31 January 2006’, Note by the Secretariat, WTO Document TN/AG/SCC/R/9 (2006), p. 12.

104 Habermas, Jürgen, ‘The Public Sphere’, New German Critique, 3 (1974) .

105 Edgar, , The Philosophy of Habermas, p. 125 .

106 See Habermas, Jürgen, Toward a Rational Society: Student Protest, Science and Politics (London: Heinemann, 1971), pp. 82122 .

107 Roach, Steven C., ‘Communicative Action Theory: Hermeneutics and Recognition’, in Roach, (ed.), Critical Theory and International Relations (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 197 .

108 Linklater, Andrew, ‘Dialogic Politics and the Civilising Process’, Review of International Studies, 31 (2005) .

109 See Narlikar, Amrita and Wilkinson, Rorden, ‘Collapse at the WTO: A Cancún Post-Mortem’, Third World Quarterly, 25 (2004) ; Wolfe, Robert, ‘Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones: Where the WTO Is Going after Seattle, Doha and Cancún’, Review of International Political Economy, 11 (2004), p. 586 .

110 Charnovitz, Steve, ‘WTO Cosmopolitics’, New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, 34 (2002) .

111 Linklater, Andrew, Beyond Realism and Marxism: Critical Theory and International Relations (London: MacMillan Press, 1990), p. 26 . See also Jones, Barry, ‘Globalization and Change in the International Political Economy’, International Affairs, 75 (1999), p. 358 .

112 See Baynes, Kenneth, ‘Deliberative Politics, the Public Sphere, and Global Democracy’, in Jones, Wyn (ed.), Critical Theory and World Politics (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner, 2001) .

113 Cooke, , Language and Reason: A Study of Habermas's Pragmatics, p. 146 .

114 Weber, ‘The Critical Social Theory of the Frankfurt School, and the “Social Turn” in IR’, p. 203.

115 King, Michael and Thornhill, Chris, “Will the Real Niklas Luhmann Stand up, Please”. A Reply to John Mingers’, The Sociological Review, 51 (2003) ; King, Michael, ‘What's the Use of Luhmann's Theory?’ in King, M. and Thornhill, C. (eds), Luhmann on Law and Politics: Critical Appraisals and Applications (Oxford: Hart, 2006), pp. 3753 .

* I would like to thank Martin Weber, Richard Devetak and Samid Suliman for their intellectual stimulation and encouragement, as well as the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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