Handbook of Critical International Relations
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Handbook of Critical International Relations

Edited by Steven C. Roach

Comprising a plurality of perspectives, this timely Handbook is an essential resource for understanding past and current challenges to democracy, justice, social and gender equality, identity and freedom. It shows how critical international relations (IR) theory functions as a broad-based and diverse critique of society.
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Chapter 10: Instrumental reason

Matthew Fluck


This chapter aims to fill some of the gaps in International Relations’ engagement with the Frankfurt School critique of instrumental reason by presenting a detailed and sympathetic account. It starts by reconstructing the idea of instrumental reason from within the writings of Marx, Weber, Nietzsche, and Lukács. It then summarises the critique of instrumental reason as formulated by the early Frankfurt School, focusing on Horkheimer’s Eclipse of Reason and Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. Instrumental reason, it argues, is best understood not as the concern with technical thinking, or means–ends rationality (although it certainly encompasses these) but as a formalistic mode of thinking and acting which Critical Theorists believed to be hostile to (amongst other things) nature, the corporeal, the concrete, and the particular. The chapter then considers some of the criticisms that have been directed against the concept. The final section explores ways in which the concept has been used in international relations, paying particular attention to recent innovative uses and relatively unexplored possibilities.

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