POLI 244 Lecture Notes - Unthinkable, Prospect Theory, Information Processing
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THURSDAY, JULY 12, 2012: Constructivism and Cognitivism
Constructivism (more established and known than cognitivism):
IR is a society that is socially constructed. It is not just a system of units bumping
into each other. States are acting according to fundamental rules, norms and
expectations, which they develop over time. These certain patterns of behaviour
sustain the society.
Those who violate these norms become social outcasts.
Constructivists are interested in the specific roles that states have
The core of constructivism is the argument that the social interaction that the
states have shape the state itself (their identity and interests).
Emphasis is placed on agents, not on structure. They criticize realism and
liberalism for stress on the system. Constructivists believe the structure does
not completely constrain the actors. Wendt points out when the US and the
USSR decided they weren’t enemies at the end of the Cold War, an enmity
disappeared—the structure changed (this points out the problem of realism,
which cannot explain change—Constructivism points out the actors make the
system so they can change the system).
Constructivism focuses on the social, not the material. They believe ideas shape
material factors. Ex) The concern is not just a country having a bomb, it is based
on the actor holding it and your relationship, identities, etc. the fear about Iran
having nuclear weapons is not about the weapons itself, it is about how we
understand Iran- and this is different for different countries (ex. Syria is probably
less worried about Iran have a nuclear weapon than they are about Israel’s
Identities and interests are intersubjective, and agents who are active in the
system construct them. Nothing exists without meaning given to it through our
collective understanding. This implies states can change this reality if they want
Implications for anarchy:
o Anarchy is self-help only because states act as if this were so—anarchy is
what states make of it. It is dangerous and conflictual because states
make it like this. There are other options if states were to act like that.
o There are other kinds of anarchy, when there are other regarding units
instead of self-regarding units (if the norm in the international system
was to watch over other states), autistic units (unaware of others), or
cooperative security (anarchy could be characterized as cooperation
among states where everyone associates their own security with the
security of others).
o Interactions create identities, interests, institutions, which then shape
o States can decide how they want it to be
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