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The Power of Words in International Relations: Birth of an Anti-Whaling Discourse

Author

Listed:
  • Charlotte Epstein

    () (University of Sydney)

Abstract

In the second half of the twentieth century, worldwide attitudes toward whaling shifted from widespread acceptance to moral censure. Why? Whaling, once as important to the global economy as oil is now, had long been uneconomical. Major species were long known to be endangered. Yet nations had continued to support whaling. In The Power of Words in International Relations, Charlotte Epstein argues that the change was brought about not by changing material interests but by a powerful anti-whaling discourse that successfully recast whales as extraordinary and intelligent endangered mammals that needed to be saved. Epstein views whaling both as an object of analysis in its own right and as a lens for examining discursive power, and how language, materiality, and action interact to shape international relations. By focusing on discourse, she develops an approach to the study of agency and the construction of interests that brings non-state actors and individuals into the analysis of international politics. Epstein analyzes the "society of whaling states" as a set of historical practices where the dominant discourse of the day legitimated the killing of whales rather than their protection. She then looks at this whaling world's mirror image: the rise from the political margins of an anti-whaling discourse, which orchestrated one of the first successful global environmental campaigns, in which saving the whales ultimately became shorthand for saving the planet. Finally, she considers the continued dominance of a now taken-for-granted anti-whaling discourse, including its creation of identity categories that align with and sustain the existing international political order. Epstein's synthesis of discourse, power, and identity politics brings the fields of international relations theory and global environmental politics into a fruitful dialogue that benefits both.

Suggested Citation

  • Charlotte Epstein, 2008. "The Power of Words in International Relations: Birth of an Anti-Whaling Discourse," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262550695, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:mtp:titles:0262550695
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Campbell-Verduyn Malcolm, 2016. "Merely TINCering around: the shifting private authority of technology, information and news corporations," Business and Politics, De Gruyter, vol. 18(2), pages 143-170, August.
    2. Andrew Hindmoor & Allan McConnell, 2013. "Why Didn't They See it Coming? Warning Signs, Acceptable Risks and the Global Financial Crisis," Political Studies, Political Studies Association, vol. 61(3), pages 543-560, October.
    3. Mark Bevir & Oliver Daddow & Pauline Schnapper, 2015. "JCMS Special Issue 2015: Interpreting British European Policy. Guest Editors: Mark Bevir, Oliver Daddow and Pauline Schnapper," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 53(1), pages 1-17, January.
    4. repec:tpr:glenvp:v:17:y:2017:i:2:p:125-143 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Schmidt, Vivien A., 2013. "Does discourse matter in the politics of building social pacts on social protection?: international experiences," Políticas Sociales 178, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL).
    6. Tobias Nielsen, 2014. "The role of discourses in governing forests to combat climate change," International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 265-280, September.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    anti-whaling discourse; international relations; society of whaling states;

    JEL classification:

    • F53 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - International Agreements and Observance; International Organizations
    • Q57 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Ecological Economics
    • Q38 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy (includes OPEC Policy)

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