Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2010

Discourse, Meanings and IR Studies: Taking the Rhetoric of "Axis of Evil" As a Case

Liu Yongtao

February 2010

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Using “speech act” theory as its starting point, the article ponders the sources of hostility and conflict in global politics, arguing that discourse as a social practice is an increasingly crucial but a more or less neglected source of (in)security culture, postuating that greater attention should be taken to it in international relations studies. The article states that the politics of (in)security, conventionally accepted as “objective” and “natural”, are in fact a socially, politically and lexically (re)constructed and (re)interpreted by Nation-States. Discourse and meanings, in turn, can help (re)produce the effects of hostility and conflict between Nation-States. This article illustrates the importance of designing a language policy in international relations by taking U.S. president George W. Bush’s rhetoric of “axis of evil” as an example and thus revealing the extents of causal links between the improper use of language and the construction of antagonistic tensions between the U.S. and its lexically targeted counter-parts.