Meta-Theory: Thinking about knowledge
Ontology has to do with what exists in the world, what matters or what „is the case‟
Epistemology has to do with how we know what we know, and how sure we can be
Explains how we can be sure and how we know at the end of the day we think our
claims about science and truth can be found and how we would explain those reasons
If the state exists and it exists in a certain sense, how do we know that anarchy could
never be escaped
o Realism – Anarchy is the way it is. It will always be because of the logic of
the way the world works
o Critical approaches – Asks realists, how are you so certain and how do you
know? Challenges in oncological claims, with epistemology.
o Realists – Human nature, classical realism‟s ontological claim
o Neo-realists and said that although we agree with your conclusions, you
cannot prove human nature. Can‟t prove the ontological claim, can‟t prove
what human nature is really like. Focus on role of the state system and
importance of anarchy.
A central concern of contemporary social theory is asking: Are our fact-claims about the world
Natural world Vs. Social World
Varieties of fact – distinction between natural versus social worlds
Brute Fact Social Fact
A fact that is objectively true no matter what A fact that is „true‟ because people‟s combined
people think or argue about it, because its thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and
factuality is „out there‟ completely separable performances help to make it keep being true
from us „intersubjectively‟
Social facts are true because they use people‟s combined ideas to make them true.
An epistemic community is a network of „experts‟ who share approaches to
„knowledge production‟ including ideas about things like cause and effect, best
practices, the important problems worth addressing, what is normatively good and
bad, and how we can be sure about what we believe is true.
A concept that helps to mediate the „objectivity‟ VS „subjectivity‟ debate by
suggesting that many social facts are taken to be true by social communities who
share beliefs that, in effect, seems objectively „true‟, for them, in their social context.
Human rights don‟t exist and believing them is like believing in witches and unicorns
Something is „contingent‟ if it is dependent on certain factors: in the context of social
theory, calling something „contingent‟ often means that something doesn‟t
necessarily have to be the way it is, and could be otherwise
One thing „constitutes‟ another thing if it helps to make it what it is When we argue that things are contingent, their contingency depends on someone
making the case.
o Making it „up‟
o The 50 states of the US constitutes, the United States America
o Different cells in a body make up the entire body
o Different attitudes of people constitute something
o We work together to make time and chronology and the division of hours and
minutes into something that is real
o Practices and ideas work together to constitute truths and facts
Discussion: where are we going with this?
Consider for a moment these new terms:
o Ontological claims – assertion about what exists
o Epistemological claims – assertions about how we can know
o Epistemic community – Network of experts sharing ideas
o Intersubjective – being considered „true‟ or „factual‟ by a group
o Contingency – Being not inevitable; dependent on certain factors
o To constitute – To contribute to making something what it is
o Brute facts – facts that are „objectively‟ true or „out there‟
o Social facts – facts that are intersubjectively true
How do you think these apply to IR or IR theory?
o Anarchy might be Intersubjective, it‟s true but it‟s not true in its permanent sense
Could it be true that many of the main facts, units and processes central to the
ontology of traditional international relations are socially constructed?
State, egoism, sovereignty, interests, human rights, anarchy, nation, balance of
power, justice, existential threats, statesmanship, justice, superiority.
The Berlin Wall Falls (1989)
Decline of the Soviet Union
Structure & Agency
Agents are the actors who make choices and take action to have an effect on their
social world (IE they exercise „agency‟), often by engaging in resistance
Structures are the lasting social arrangements that provide the context in which
agents act, and which place limitations on the choices available to them
o Human beings make their own history but not under their conditions
o In struggle to make differences will have limitations
Alexander Wendt – Wendt’s Constructivism
Anarchy is what states make of it (1992)
Social theory of International Politics (1999)
“There is no logic of anarchy apart from the practices that create and instantiate one
structure of identities and interests rather than another” (1992)
Even though these structures are out there and post limits, those structures are
contingent and depend on practices
Self-help and power politics are institutions and not essential features of anarchy!
Anarchy is what states make of it How states behave is not determined by how realists say, distribution of power, this
is not what explains things, but how particular states view and approach and deal
with anarchy. It is their responses to anarchy and how they respond to it.
Wendtian constructivism is often seen as an attempt to build a constructivist “Grand
Theory” of IR
Shares with the neo/neo approaches a „systemist‟ and „statist‟ approach to global
Focuses on how state identities and interests can change as a result of interactions
within the international system of nation states
The other theories tended to view interests and identities as pre-given, static, and
exogenous to the system (I.E we don‟t need to care how the billiard ball gets created,
what we need to know is what to do with it once its on the table)
Don‟t look for explanations and solutions as to why states, are the way they are.
Don‟t look for it in Global Politics, look for it in domestic politics.
We should look precisely at global politics to see how states are?
International relations should help explain why interests shift and identities change.
Rational choice directs us to ask some questions and not others, treating the identities and
interests of agents as exogenously given, and focusing on how the behavior of agents generates
Neo-realism (Billiard Model)
Problem with these theories is that treats identities as exogenously.
As different actors move across the cobweb that these ideas will shift
Suggestion To think in terms of a FEEDBACK LOOP.
o When states show up to play in the game of International Politics, might start off
with certain ideas, but once confronted with ANARCHY and other STATES,
might start to rethink about their ideas
Something that evolves through cycles of action and re-action
States as shifting and constantly adjusting to new stimuli and responses
Constructivism focuses on the ways in which many of the actors, „facts‟ and
processes in global politics are not objectively given but are contingent upon social
The Wendtian type of constructivism proposes a complex „high theory‟ of IR that
trades parsimony for detail
Constructivism focuses on the ways in which interests and identities can change as a
result of social interactions between states within the international system
FROM BOOK – Chapter 9
A common concern with how ideas define the international structure; how this
structure shapes the identities, interests, and foreign policies of states; and how state
and non-state actors reproduce that structure and at times transform it.
o TWO features of Constructivism 1. The convergence by states around similar ways for organizing their domestic
and international life
2. How norms becom