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International Foundations Programme

Matthew Funaiole

on 20 April 2015

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Transcript of Constructivism

IR Theories: Constructivism

Dr. Matthew P. Funaiole

Social Constructivism
Lecture 1: The Tradition of Realism
Lecture 2: Liberalism and the Democratic Peace
Lecture 3: Norms, Identity, and Constructivism
Recap From Previous Weeks
Having reviewed some core IR concepts and international history, we will begin a 3 week discussion of theoretical approaches within international relations.
The Construction of Ideas
Overview of Today
Key items that will be discussed:
Construction in Action
Social Constructivism, Cont'd
So We Aren't in the Matrix?
Impact on IR, Cont'd
Expand our discussion of theory in IR
Social constructivism focuses on human awareness
or consciousness and its place in world affairs.
Okay, no. Constructivists aren't arguing that reality is an illusion. They are, however, drawing attention to the fact that our perception matters.
If that is the case, then our understanding of power, states, and the international system is beholden to
. The rules that make up these constructs are now laws like gravity. They depend upon ideas and ideologies.
What Does this Mean for IR?
This is because the international system does not exist outside of human interaction.
Power is essential to
, but how we understand power is depends on our perception.
As a "theory" of IR
Constructivism is not so much a "theory" in the ways we discussed realism and liberalism. Research founded on constructivism elicits a thorough ontological explanation of the social elements that collectively comprise international relations.
Other Key Terms
Ideas that individuals hold about themselves and the groups in which they belong. How you define yourself.

What is it good for?
In the words of Ian S. Lustick and Dan Miodownik:
Introduction to social constructivism
Social constructivism applied to IR
How important are ideas?
How powerful are the "stories" we agree to tell each other? How are these stories constructed?
What else is constructed?
What is the actual value of money?
Construction in Action
What about flags?
What meaning are you applying to these images?
The IR-theories are often
. Focus on material forces, such as resources, militaries and geography. From this perspective power and national interest are the driving forces of international politics.
Social constructivists challenge this assumption by arguing that the most important aspect of international relations is
, not material.
The international system is not something that simply exists. It is not a material object. It is a construct. It exists only as an intersubjective awareness among people.
In that sense the system is constituted by ideas, not by material forces.
The IS is created through human interaction. It is a set of ideas or a system of norms that have been arranged by certain people at a particular time and place. Eg. WWI.
Observable external features. Gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces, etc. These are laws of nature that are not dependent on human existence.
From this perspective, the world around us not not simply a
a product of purely objective (or material) forces, but is also a product of our shared perceptions, values, ideas, and practices.
Constructivists are particularly interested in how structures and agents/actors interact. They argue that there is a mutually constitutive or interactive relationship between structures and agents. They create and reinforce one another.
Remember when we talked about
But these states are

They don't exist in nature.
If states are man-made then the
between states is man-made.
That interaction
international system
This doesn't mean that wishful thinking can make everything better. Ideas and the structures built around those ideas are powerful and can be dangerous.
Think about the Cold War. Why did American leaders determine that communism was a fundamental threat to the US?
Alexander Wendt
notes that constructivism reveals two things about the international system.
the fundamental structures of international
politics are
rather than strictly material (cf. materialism)
these structures
shape actors’ identities
and interests
, rather than just their behavior (cf. rationalism)
Constructivists investigate pivotal factors of international relations that exist beyond the scope of traditional IR theories.
Wendt utilizes these constructivist ideas to contest the structural realist assumption that anarchy is an inherent feature of the international system.
Wendt argues that anarchy, while one possible outcome, is social constructed through the interaction of states/actors.
Other systems?
This interaction is dependent upon the
of those actors, out of which certain assumptions are derived.
Robert Axelrod
discusses norms as standards of behavior governing cooperation and reciprocity between actors. In other words, norms are rules which govern behavior and ideology.
Everyone has multiple identities. These identities change depending upon context, as individuals they define their interests through defining situations.
Feedback loop. Self-other complex.

norms define standards of appropriate behavior that shape interests and help coordinate the behavior of political actors.
Peter J. Katzenstein
divides norms into two categories:

norms express actor identities that also define interests and thus shape behavior’
The fundamental insight [of constructivism] is that the social world is not given to us as pre-organized in some immutable fashion, but that the categories of action and interpretation that help us produce and reproduce a familiar world are themselves constructed out of processes in which we participate, but which we may or may not understand.
Axelrod, R. (2009). The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition, Basic Books.

Jackson, R. H., R. Jackson and G. Sørensen (2012). Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches, OUP Oxford.

Katzenstein, P. J. (1996). The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics. New York, Columbia University Press.

Lustick, I. S. and D. Miodownik (2002). "The institutionalization of identity: Micro adaptation, macro effects, and collective consequences." Studies in Comparative International Development (SCID) 37(2): 24-53.

Wendt, A. (1992). "Anarchy is what states make of it: the social construction of power politics." International Organization 46(2): 391-425.

: Neorealism = structural realism.
Both agree the international system is
. Neoliberals claim neorealists minimize the importance of
, globalization, and regimes in managing the restrictions of anarchy. Neorealists respond by stating that neoliberals
the impact of regimes or institutions.
Neorealists believe states must force international cooperation (
) Neoliberals believe mutual interests of states will result in
Neorealists focus on
relative gains
- with a particular interest in power, security, and survival. Neoliberals focus on
absolute gains
- with a particular interest in economic welfare and non-security concerns like the environment.
Watch a few Batman clips. :)
: No IPE (for now)
Democracy defines or
part of the American identity. Democracy also
behavior. The US is unlikely to go to war with another democracy.
Full transcript