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Chapter 9&10

International Relations Notes ch. 9 & 10

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International Relations
CAS IR 271
Michael Corgan

1 COHEN International Relations Notes Chapter 9: Social Constructivism Guide: o Chapter is an overview of constructivist approaches to IR theory o Constructivism originated in the 1980s o Critical reaction to neo-liberalism and neo-realism  Emphasized the distribution of power and pursuit by states of power and wealth and minimized the power of ideas o Constructivism countered these ideas by highlighting how ideas:  Define and transform the organization of world politics  Shape identities and interests of states  Determine what counts as legitimate action o Initially poorly received, gained credibility in the 90s due to the end of the cold war I. Introduction o Constructivism is widely recognized for its ability to capture important features of global politics o Critics drew from sociological and critical theory to argue that social forces such as ideas, knowledge, norms and rules influence states’ identities, interests, and the organization of world politics o American context influenced constructivism’s evolution – highlights how constructivism’s conceptual contours and research agenda have profoundly been shaped by its struggle for acceptance in an American disciplinary context o Various versions of constructivism, but a common concern with how ideas define the international structure  How this structure shapes identities, interests, and definition of world politics  How state and non-state actors reproduce that structure  And how is it transformed? o The concern with the making and re-making of world politics underscores constructivism’s strong interest in global change o Focus of this chapter:  The convergence by states (organizing their domestic and international life)  How norms become internationalized and institutionalized (globally accepted, etc.)  Constructivist arguments help us understand elementary features of the globalization of world politics II. In the beginning… o Waltz aspired to make realism more rigorous, scientific, and amenable to hypothesis testing  Did so by specifying the nature of the units and their preferences and how the structure of the international system constrains those preferences o Most important actors: STATES  Kenneth Waltz was unclear whether they pursued survival, security or power, and whether they maximized or satisficed  Clear that these interests suffocated any possible that ideas, norms, and values might shape state behavior  Argued that the structure of the international system had three elements: i. Anarchy ii. Functional non-differentiation of the units (because anarchy created a self-help system) iii. Distribution of power  Because the world has always been anarchy and states have always obsessed over their survival; to understand enduring tendencies in world politics required scholars to focus only on the position of the state in international hierarchy and dist. Of power  Waltz depicted a dreary world in which states were suspicious, misanthropic, and aggressive because the society would punish anything else 2 COHEN o Neo-liberal institutionalism responded to neo-realism’s pessimistic view of international politics by demonstrating that states had the capacity to cooperate on a range of issues o A primary obstacle to cooperation: States did not trust one another to abide by their agreements o Individualism: view that actors have fixed interests and that structure that constrains their behavior derives from the aggregation of the properties of actors o Materialism: view that structure that constrains behavior is defined by distribution of power, technology, and geography o Neo-realism denies that ideas and norms can trump interests o Neo-liberal institutionalism recognizes that states might willingly construct norms and institutions to regulate their behavior b/c doing so will enhance their long-term interests o NEITHER theory contemplates that ideas and norms might define their interests o 1980s were characterized by the dominance of neo-realism and neo-liberal institutionalism, but ALSO a growing interest in social theory:  How to conceptualize the structure and its organizing principles- the actors and the rules that regulate their relations and relationship between the structure and actors o Challenged the theories of individualism and materialism o Many important contributions in the 1980s, but the most influential for establishing constructivism’s theoretical orientation and conceptual vocabulary:  John Ruggie’s review essay of Waltz’s Theory of International Politics (helped establish a countermovement) -Attacks Waltz’s structure (anarchy, functional non-differentiation b/w states, and distribution of power) -Ruggie argued that we should pay more attention to the second element -The states-system, he observed, has been organized according to alternative principles -EXAMPLE: the modern international system begins with the end of feudalism and emergence of sovereignty with a shift from heteronomy and overlapping authorities to state sovereignty and centralization of authority in the modern state -Waltz neglected sovereignty- the defining organizing principle of the modern states system  Richard Ashley (1984): -Immensely influential critique of neo-realism -Draws from post-structural and critical theory -His view: neo-realism is so fixated on the state that it cannot see a world populated by non-state actors -Treats states as having fixed interests thus cannot see how their interests are created, constructed, and transformed by global-historical forces. -So committed to individualism- can’t see how societies shape individuals and how global-historical forces create identities, interests, and capacities of states -So committed to materialism- constructs an artificial view of society; completely devoid of ideas, beliefs and rules -ESSENTIALLY treats aspects of IR (such as sovereignty) as though they’re natural, thus incapable of seeing the social and cultural construction within a historical context -His critique revealed both neo-realism’s limitations and the power of post structural and critical theory  Alexander Wundt introduced the agent-structure problem to international relations scholars : -How to conceptualize the relationship between agents (states) and structures (the international structure) -Argues that Waltz’s argument about states’ capabilities is problematic b/c structures do more than constrain agents; they also construct/ constitute their identities and interests 3 COHEN -Employing Anthony Giddens’s concept of structuration, Wendt argued that international normative structure shapes identities and interests of states and through their interactions states re-create that very structure -This approach regenerates a more complete understanding of the relationship b/w states (actors) and the international system (normative system) -Actors are constrained by underlying structure  Friedrich Kratochwil (1991): -One of the first systematic treatments of rules and norms in IR - Regulative Rules: regulates pre-existing activities (i.e. RULES OF THE ROAD, World Trade Organization now regulates trade) -Constitutive Rules: create the very possibility for these activities (i.e. rules of Rugby) -RULES ARE NOT STATIC- rather, revised through practice, reflection, and argument -Kratochwil insisted that scholars adopt interpretive methods to understand the true meanings of rules o RESULT: the mainstream responded coolly to these challenges to the dominating theories, demanded that critics demonstrate superiority of alternative claims through empirical research III. The Rise of Constructivism o CONSTRUCTIVISM: term coined by Nicholas Onuf in his book, The World of Our Making (1989) o Four background factors sponsored his rise; mainly, the end of the cold war  Meant there was new intellectual space for scholars to challenge existing theories of international politics o Constructivists drew from established sociological theory to demonstrate how social science could help international relations scholars understand the importance of identities and norms in world politics o Constructivists demonstrated how attention to norms and states’ identities could help uncover important issues neglected by neo-realism and neo-liberalism IV. Constructivism o Constructivism is a social theory, not a substantive theory of international politics o Social theory is broadly concerned with how to conceptualize the relationship between agents and structures (example: how should we think about state and structure of international politics?) o Substantive theory offers specific claims and hypotheses about patterns in world politics (example: how do we explain democratic peace theory?) o Constructivism is best compared with rational choice:  A social theory that offers a framework for understanding how actors operate with fixed preferences that they attempt to maximize under a set of constraints  Makes ZERO claims about the content of said preferences (they could be anything from wealth to religious salvation)  Does not assume anything about the content of these constraints (could be guns or ideas)  RATIONAL CHOICE OFFERS NO CLAIMS ABOUT THE ACTUAL PATTERNS OF WORLD POLITICS (unlike constructivism)  Neo-realism and neo-liberalism both subscribe to rational choice, but arrive at rival claims about patterns of conflict and cooperation in world politics b/c they make different assumptions about the effects of anarchy  Like rational choice, constructivism is a social theory that is broadly concerned with the relationship b/w agents and structures, but is not substantive  FOR INSTANCE: Constructivists have different arguments regarding the rise of sovereignty and the impact of human rights norms on states  In order to generate substantive claims, scholars must delineate who are the principal actors, their interests, capacities and what is the content of said normative structure o “Constructivism is about human consciousness and its role in international life” –Ruggie 4 COHEN o Focus on human consciousness suggests a commitment to idealism and holism (“represent the core of constructivis
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