• Created by: KDallers-
  • Created on: 15-05-19 11:47

Introduction to Constructivism

Constructivism is a POST-POSITIVIST critical theory; challenges existing structures - however, it is 'a brige' or the 'middle ground' (Adler) - route between mainstrem and critical

- Still accepts state-centrism and anarchy; however challenges the NATURE OF ANARCHY

- Based around Wendt's idea - "ANARCHY IS WHAT STATES MAKE OF IT"

- The 'nature of anarchy' is based around social identities, interersts and institutions - these can change, meaning the nature of anarchy is not SET

- States can still be viewed as the authors of international anarchy

- Provides a balance between STRUCTURE AND AGENCY (based around Giddens' structuration theory) - these are MUTUALLY CONSTITUTED, meaning that you can't have one without the other - Wendt: "transformations of identity and interest through process are transformations of structure"

- Conflict is a possibility, but cooperation is as well as everything inbetween - "ANARCHY IS WHAT STATES MAKE OF IT" - an ANTI-RATIONALIST THEORY with changing interests.

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Interests, Identities, Institutions

A state can forge its OWN identity, and this is important as IDENTITY is the guiding principle for a state's interests - these are developed through SOCIAL INTERACTION

- Result - institutions; sets of interests that GUIDE BEHAVIOUR; for example, if self-help is considered important by the state, the state will help itself

- "SOCIAL THREATS ARE CONSTRUCTED, NOT NATURAL" - Wendt - believes that through discourse and interaction, the 'nature of anarchy' is determined

- A common-sense approach; argues there is a reason to behave conflictually - makes no sense to do this for no reason, i.e - no need for a security dilemma without state interaction first


- Ideas - these can constrain or enable behaviour, and are guided by structures (Onuf + Kratochwil); structures are created by actions of individuals - a RECIPROCAL ARRANGEMENT

- A state's definition of itself/identity leads to a FORMATION OF THEIR INTERNATIONAL INTEREST - this is what determines the 'nature of anarchy'

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Forms of Constructivism

Post Cold-War, the reshaping of the global order led to some interests OUTSIDE of liberal/realist though - as identities changed to go against war, war ended

- ANTI-RATIONALIST IDEA; identities and interests CAN change, as they did post-Cold War

SYSTEMIC CONSTRUCTIVISM; belief that interactions between states INTERNATIONALLY determine their interests and identities - the state and international levels are MUTUALLY CONSTITUTED (Wendt)

UNIT-LEVEL CONSTRUCTIVISM; looking at the state INTERNALLY and the 'socio-legal debates' within the state to form interests - DOMESTIC level approach (Katzenstein)

HOLISTIC - a BRIDGE between both approaches; due to GLOBALISATION, there is a merging of the two debates with international markets (Ruggie, Kratochwil)

Overall, a parallel is drawn between IDEATIONAL AND MATERIAL STRUCTURES - both things shape identities and interactions - what a state thinks and what is actually happening

Various type identities develop (Wendt) - personal, type (ie capitalist), role (ie exporter, superpower), collective (merging the 'self' and the 'other' to form alliances)

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Critical Constructivism

MAINSTREAM CONSTRUCTIVISTS like Wendt are criticised for accepting MAINSTREAM ASSUMPTIONS - like the centrality of the state and anarchy

- CRITICAL constructivism - more akin to 'poststructuralist thought'; challenges 'reality'; the state is also a social construct, so why do we accept this? Should seek to challenge power relations constituted by the state

- Benedict Anderson - nations are 'imagined communities', making the state a social construct - we should be challenging this view too rather than accepting it, according to CRITICAL CONSTRUCTIVISTS

- Jutta Weldes: what is the 'national interest' and how is this view 'constructed'? Based on the perception of threats - what is threatening you? What is the level of danger?

- This idea is dependent on SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION - see who you are, who the rival is, and judge how much of a threat they pose - IDENTITIES are crucial; these can be used to challenge POWER RELATIONS; - critical is about challenging the 'national' element of this - it is constructed

This strand challenges the concept of the 'STATE', and seeks to unpack its meaning.

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Criticisms of Constructivism

Various CRITICISMS of constructivism

MAINSTREAM: - accepts mainstream assumptions (reifies the state as the decision maker and unit; why not challenge this? C.Weber); - limitless possibilities (are states socially constructed? Where is the line for what is socially constructed - a critical constr. criticism); - anarchy (who constructs this? Accepted by Wendt regardless); - puts state over practice (this element is not focussed on enough by the theory - state is not always central to analysis)

CRITICAL: - not systematic enough (belief that things should be challenged, but what else?); - future view (how should we proceed according to critical constructivists? This is unknown); - historical view (states at centre since Westphalia 1648 - this is how the world operates, why should we throw it away?)


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Key Constructivist Thinkers

GENERAL: Onuf (seen as the founder), Wendt (anarchy is what states make of it), Kratochwil (is constructivism just a social theory?)

MAINSTREAM: Onuf, Wendt (systemic, int'l level constructivst), Kratochwil and Ruggie (a holistic level constructivist), Katzenstein (a unit-level, domestic constructivist)

CRITICAL CONSTRUCTIVIST: Weldes (national interest), Richard Ashely, Anderson (nation/state imagined commmunity)

- Also POSTSTRUCTURALISTS can be used like Foucault, Derrida (linguistic analysis), R.B.J Walker

OVERALL - anti-rational, structure and agency are mutually constituted, ideational = material, belief in identities and interests constructing social action, focussed on the state and anarchy

ADLER - "The middle ground in world politics"

WENDT - "Anarchy is what states make of it"

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