A world of their making: an evaluation of the constructivist critique in international relations

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Palan, Ronen (2000)
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press

IR constructivism maintain that a proper understanding of the way subjects interact with the world and with each other alerts us to the fallacy of conventional IR theory. And yet, for a theory that is so obviously dependent upon a rigorous working of the relationship between social theory and its IR variant, it is curious that, with one or two exceptions, IR constructivists often advance incompatible theories. I argue that the confused manner by which, in particular, ‘soft’ constructivism relates to social theory is not accidental but a necessary component of a theory that asserts, but never proves, the primacy of norms and laws over material considerations, in domestic and international politics.
  • References (54)
    54 references, page 1 of 6

    6 See John G. Ruggie, 'What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-Utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge', International Organization, 52:4 (1998), pp. 855-85; Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). In fact constructivism can be equated with to what Silverman calls, 'the continental tradition'. See Hugh J. Silverman, Inscriptions: After Phenomenology and Structuralism (Northwestern University Press, 1997); Gerard Delanty, for instance, includes under the category of constructivism, hermeneutics, the neo-Marxism of the Frankfurt school, communication theory, deconstruction and postmodernism. See Gerard Delanty, Social Science: Beyond Constructivism and Realism (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1997). This view also seems to have been adopted by Richard Price and Christian Reus-Smit, 'Dangerous Liaisons? Critical International Theory and Constructivism', European Journal of International Relations, 4:3 (1998), pp. 259-94.

    7 Wendt, Social Theory, p. 1. See also Ronald L. Jepperson, Alexander Wendt and Peter J. Katzenstein, 'Norm, Identity, and Culture in National Security', in Peter Katzenstein, (ed.), The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); and Martha Finnemore, 'Constructing Norms of Humanitarian Intervention', in the same volume.

    8 Wendt, Social Theory, p. 1.

    9 Ray Koslowski and Friedrich V. Kratochwil, 'Understanding Change in International Politics: The Soviet Empire's Demise and the International System', International Organization, 48:2 (1994), pp. 215-47, esp. p. 222.

    10 Ibid., p. 223.

    11 See, for instance, Price and Reus-Smit, 'Dangerous Liaisons?' Wendt now counts members of the English school and many prominent foreign policy authors among the list of IR constructivists.

    12 For discussion see: Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990); and Anthony Wilden, System and Structure: Essays in Communication and Exchange (London: Tavistock, 1972).

    13 Wendt, Social Theory, p. 2.

    14 Ruggie, 'What Makes the World Hang Together'? Ruggie clearly draws on James Bernard Murphy 'Rational Choice Theory as Social Physics', in Jeffrey Friedman (ed.), The Rational Choice Controversy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996).

    15 Wendt, Social Theory, p. 2.

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