International Relations:  Constructivism pt1
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International Relations: Constructivism pt1

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International Relations Lecture...

International Relations Lecture

Theory in International Relations: Constructivism

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  • 1. 1
  • 2. introduction “the focus of social constructivism … is on human awareness or consciousness and its place in world affairs. much IR-theory, and especially neorealism is materialist; it focuses on how the distribution of material power … defines balances of power between states and explains the behaviour of states. constructivists reject such a one-sided material focus. . They argue that the most important aspect of international relations is social, not material.” does this make any sense? before we discuss this, let’s consider what else the author tells us 2
  • 3. introduction “The international system is not something ‘out there’ like the solar system. It does not exist on its own. It exists only as an intersubjective awareness among people; in that sense the system is constituted by ideas, not by material forces. It [the international system] is a human invention or creation not of a physical or material kind but of a purely intellectual and ideational kind. It is a set of ideas, a body of thought, a system of norms, which has been arranged by certain people at a particular time and place.” does the author make more or less sense now? 3
  • 4. introduction key point. constructivists are not arguing that “reality” is an illusion; rather, they are arguing that the reality that surrounds us is not merely a product of purely objective (or material) forces, but is essentially a product of our shared perceptions, values, ideas, and understanding moreover, constructivists argue that there is a mutually constitutive or interactive relationship between structures and actors (and with the reality this interaction creates): this is referred to as structuration (a concept coined by anthony giddens) 4
  • 5. introduction consider these examples … states and the interstate system: both are artificial or human-made constructs (that is they are decidedly not the product of God or nature): if states and the interstate system are made by men and women, moreover, then they can be changed and developed in new ways later, we will discuss two other examples: anarchy and the security dilemma 5
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  • 7. the bigger picture: constructivism as social theory basic points (and some repetition) social theory tells us that the social world (that is, the world defined by politics, economic, history, culture, institutions, and so on) is not defined by nature, but by human beings it tells us that, as a world defined by human beings, it is inherently a world based on human consciousness: of thoughts and beliefs, of ideas and concepts, of languages and discourses, of norms and practices, of perceptions and misperceptions … 7
  • 8. the bigger picture: constructivism as social theory basic points at the same time, social theory tells us the social world is in part constructed of physical entities, but it is the ideas and beliefs concerning those entities that are most important in other words, physical elements are secondary to the intellectual element which infuses it with meaning, plans it, organizes it and guides it agree? disagree? understand? 8
  • 9. the bigger picture: constructivism as social theory example. we all know that this is a gun, but what does this physical entity represent or mean? does it represent: danger or safety? repression or freedom? fun or destruction? power or impotency? order or chaos? key point. as a physical object, a gun’s “meaning” is dependent on our interpretation
  • 10. the bigger picture: constructivism as social theory basic points constructivism as social theory rests on an ideational view “The core ideational element upon which constructivists focus is intersubjective beliefs (and ideas, conceptions and assumptions) that are widely shared among people. Ideas must be widely shared to matter; nonetheless they can be held by different groups, such as organizations, policymakers, social groups or society).” 10
  • 11. the bigger picture: constructivism as social theory basic points: four types of ideas 1 ideologies: a systemic set of doctrines or beliefs 2 normative (or principled) beliefs: beliefs about right and wrong; values and standards of behavior or conduct 3 causal beliefs: beliefs are about cause-effect relationships (often expressed in theories) 4 policy prescriptions: specific programmatic ideas that facilitate policymaking by specifying how to solve a particular problem 11
  • 12. the bigger picture: constructivism as social theory additional points constructivists are not naïve: they understand the the “current reality” has real, often deadly consequences, and that threats and dangers cannot simply be ignored or dealt with through wishful thinking socially constructed realities, in short, are powerful structures that have real consequences—constructivists also understand that, once created, social structures can be extraordinarily difficult to change 12
  • 13. constructivist theories of international relations constructivism as a social theory operates at a high level of abstraction: it tells something about international relations, but it is not concerned with IR specifically constructivist theories of international relations, by contrast, focus specifically on how a constructivist framework can be used to better understand or explain the substance of iR one of the most well known IR constructivists in alexander wendt 13
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  • 15. constructivist theories of international relations basic point. anarchy is a social construction. it is not inherently dangerous, unstable, or scary; instead, it becomes so only when states interpret it as such however, it is not just interpretation that matters, but also interaction with others that “create and instantiate one structure of identities and interests rather than another; structure has no existence or causal power apart from process”
  • 16. constructivist theories of international relations
  • 17. constructivist theories of international relations in concrete terms, “if the United States and the Soviet Union decide that they are no longer enemies, ‘the cold war is over.’” of course, this is largely what happened: the soviet union decided the united states was no longer a vital threat. and, once the soviets did this, the US no longer felt (as) threatened by the former soviet union. the relationship underwent and major transformation, which preceded any changes in the structure of the international system!
  • 18. constructivist theories of international relations more formally, wendt argued that there are at least three different types or cultures of anarchies, each of which can be internalized by different actors to different degrees (see chart on following slide, reproduced from reading) key point. the fundamental nature of international relations—the significance of anarchy, in particular—is determined by the prevailing interpretation and the degree of internalization
  • 19. era of european imperialism union post-1945 interstate system (among lib. democracies) pre-1945 interstate system state of nature social contract idealism “anarchy of “anarchy of enemies”; friends”; lots self-help of help from “friends”
  • 20. constructivist theories of international relations a constructivist video break the following video—an excerpt from canadian bacon—helps illustrate the ideas of social constructivism,
  • 21. check coursesite for video excerpt from canadian bacon (1995) 21