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POLSCI 2I03 (101)
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Lecture 5

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McMaster University
Political Science
Andrew Lui

Lecture 5 Constructivism is an approach that emphasizes empiricism and theory. It has constructed a model to at least explain as to why states behave the way they do. Waltz says that his theory does not adequately state how states behave, doesn’t really try to explain reality. Constructivism says we do try to model on reality; we try to explain how states behave in certain areas like human rights etc., in those institutions that they have an identical behaviour. They look at the ways in which other actors can apply pressure on states to ensure they behave in particular ways, they ensure they adhere to things like genocide convention, certain things about the environment etc. in other words, they try to do that (spiral model) by affecting the identity structure of the state: what that state actually is. From failure of other theories to try to even think about the end of cold war, constructivism came in and went back to try to explain why Soviet Union demised, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. They looked within the Union itself, culture, individual leadership, the new thinking, and they came to conclusion that they were what Waltz would say reductionist factors that made it change on the system level. The units were making those grand changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union. However some say it was transnational advocacy networks, some argue that it was a key in the unraveling of the cold war. With new technologies, new European states could no longer suffocate, which demanded greater rights and freedom. So there was an internal loop hole attached to it due to the transnational advocacy groups. Three baskets: high power, trade (two sides could begin to trade, around that time Canada had started to trade wheat with US), human rights and democracy. They got together and reached no compromise for basket 1 and 2, but reached an agreement with the 3 basket. Because both wanted to outdo each other. The west thought they had more hand in the 3 basket, while the Soviet Union thought they had an upper hand in the economic and social area. These watch were pre-cursor to what we have now is the UN Human Rights watch. These changes are explained quiet well under constructivism, it problematize change while other theories ignore change or don’t explain it at all. Constructivism brings in other actors that one may think actually matter in IR, while other theories may think don’t matter. Or bring in other issues like culture, ideas, human rights, normative issues, etc. it also explains that because they focus on other issues, they explain regional organizations better than others. Neo-liberal institutions explain Europe quiet well. But they cannot explain why certain other regions have not gotten along, not to the extent to which EU has gone. Where does constructivism fail? Some argued that constructivist over emphasize change, look at changes that are warm and fuzzy (human rights) but disregard the primacy of guns (hard things). With regards to change constructivists say that change may not be easy, certain actors may have certain identities and will have interest in keeping that identity. Identities are relatively stable, certain actors like to maintain it. many of these empirical studies, that model looks at human rights, specifically at how certain countries have changed with their identity make –up and have come to respect human rights. Particular case studies, look at post-authoritarian weaker studies, like Philippines, certain Latin American countries. But not at China, Russia, etc. trying to change China’s identity that their respect to human rights is better, is hard to do. This is what constructivists have failed to do so with powerful countries. Also how non-states actors can bring about the changes. Alexander has challenged Waltz, constructivist as a whole has challenged liberalism and its theories. You cannot ignore constructivism today. Critical theory: Some have argued that constructivism can be used as critical theory because it is critical of some things. Some critical theorists like to themselves as being part of a particular approach in contradiction to what is called problem solving theorists. Much of this was depicted by the scholar Robert Cox; theory can be categorized broadly in problem solving theory and critical theory. Problem-solving theory: takes the world as it finds it, the way things are. The purpose of the theory is to straight out the wrinkles, and to overcome the new problems that may arise, why states go to war, why can’t they trade. Neo-realism and liberalism fits nicely in this theory. Critical theory: tries to look at how the world came to be as it is, in the first place. Rather than assuming that all states go to war, war has always occurred; they try to problematize the institution of war itself. The way to do it is to problematize power structures and how it came to be. Cox is known for, ‘theory is always f
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