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Shiva P.

MIRD-Tribhuvan University
Constructivism : why ?
Main Tenets of Constructivism
Differences : Constructivism and Rational Choice
Methodology of Constructivism
Constructivism : Key Points and Conclusion
Constructivism: why we need it?
Constructivism rose very quickly to become one of the
leading schools in International Relations.

Constructivism ranks among top three perspectives on

international politics , joining realism and liberalism.
Although there are various versions of constructivism,
they share 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.
Constructivism : Some Features
The concern with the making and remaking of world
politics underscores Constructivisms strong interest in
global change.

Constructivism views the world and world politics as

always in the making rather than being there
unchanged and static
Why Constructivism ?
Inability of other theories to analyze such peaceful
end to cold war
Decline in sovereignty and humanitarian intervention
Globalization the intensification of economic ,
political , social and cultural relations across borders .
Constructivism : Main Tenets

Constructivism is a social theory and not a substantive

theory of international politics. Social theory is
broadly concerned with how to conceptualize the
relationship between agents and structures;
for example how should we think about relationship
between states and structure of international politics?
Constructivism and Rational Choice
Constructivism is best compared to rational
choice . Rational choice is a social theory that
offers a framework for understanding how
actors operate with fixed preferences which
they attempt to maximize under a set of
Like rational choice , Constructivism is a social
theory that is broadly concerned with the
relationship between agents and structures.
Rational Choice : Materialism
A contrasting approach to social construction in
world politics is the position known as materialism
which suggests that material objects (bombs,
mountains , people, oil and so on) have direct effect on
outcomes that is unmediated by the ideas people bring
to them.
Neorealism and neoliberalism are explicitly
materialist approaches to world politics.
Comparing Rational Choice
Theories with Constructivism
Features Rational Choice Constructivism
Actors Pre-Social Social
Interests Fixed Constructed by
environment and
Effect of Environment Constrain and Regulate Can construct the actors
the actions of already identities and interests
constituted actors

Use of logic Logic of Consequences Logic of Appropriateness

Many Constructivisms ?
There are many different types of Constructivism.
Some draw from the insights of John Meyer and
organizational theory and others form Michel
Foucault and discourse analysis.
There are proliferating number of labels. Neoclassical,
Modernist, Post Modern , Naturalistic, Thick , Thin ,
Linguistic, Narrative, Weak , Strong , Systemic ,
holistic etc.
This development should not be surprising because all
schools have internal rivalries.
Unity within Diversity in
Still there is unity within such diversity
Constructivism is about human consciousness and its
role in international life.
This focus on human consciousness suggests a
commitment to Idealism and holism , which according
to Wendt (1999) represents the core of Constructivism.
Core of Constructivism : Idealism
Idealism demands that we take seriously role of ideas
in the world politics .
The World is defined by material and ideational
forces. But these ideas are not akin to beliefs or
psychological states that reside inside are heads.
Instead these ideas are social. Our mental maps are
shaped by collectively held ideas and interpretation.
Eg. Balance of power, money
Core of Constructivism : Holism or
Constructivism also accepts some form of
holism or structuralism.
The emphasis on holism does not deny agency
but instead recognizes that agents have some
autonomy and their interactions help to
construct, reproduce and transform those
Example of Constructivisms
Explanatory Power
Example ; although the structure of the cold war
seemingly locked the United States and the Soviet
Union into a fight to the death , leaders on both sides
creatively transformed their relations and with it the
very structure of the global politics.
Social Construction of Reality
The core observation of constructivism is social
construction of reality.
Emphasis is on socially constructed nature of actors
and their identities and interests. Actors are not born
outside and prior to society as individualism claims.
Instead actors are produced and created by their
cultural environment.
The Role of Knowledge
Another element is how knowledge , that is
symbols , rules ,concepts and categories , shapes
how individuals construct and interpret their
For example what makes an Arab state an Arab
State is Arab States identity , interests and foreign
policies that are deemed legitimate and
Social Construction of Reality
Reality does not exist out there to be discovered ;
instead historically produced and culturally bound
knowledge enables individuals to construct and give
meaning to reality.
This socially constructed reality frequently appears to
us an objective reality which relates to the concept of
social facts.
Social Construction of Reality
Brute facts such as rocks , flowers , gravity an oceans ,
exist independent of human agreement and will
continue to exist even if humans disappear or deny
their existence.
Social facts are dependent on human agreement and
are taken for granted . Money , refugees , terrorism,
human rights and sovereignty are social facts. Their
existence depends on human agreement.
Social Construction of Reality and
Implications in World Politics
About alternative pathways : Although history is path
dependent there are contingencies, historical
Alexander Wendts (1992) claim. that anarchy is what
states make of it calls an attention to how different
beliefs and practices will generate divergent patterns
and organization of world politics.
Anarchy among friends is different from anarchy
among enemies
500 nuclear bombs of Britain are less threatening to
the US than 5 North Korean bombs
Features of Constructivism
Constructivists also examine how actors make their
activities meaningful. Constructivists attempt to
recover the meanings that actors give to their practices
and the objects that they construct.
Constructivists argue that culture informs the
meanings that people give to their action.
Constructivists have presumed that such meanings
derive from a hardened culture.
Constructivists do no take concepts
for granted
Development, human rights, security , humanitarian
intervention, sovereignty are all important orienting
concepts that can have any number of meanings. .
Power ; Legitimacy, Hard Power, Soft Power , Smart
Power , Power of Discourse
Constructivism : Methodology
They reject the unity of science thesis , that
is that the methods of natural sciences are
appropriate for understanding the social
Instead they argue that the objects of
natural world and the social world are
Constructivism : Methodology
Constructivists use a variety of methods.
They adopt ethnographic and interpretative
techniques in order to recreate the meanings that
actors bring to their practices and how these practices
related to social world.
They use large-n quantitative studies in order to
demonstrate the emergence of a world culture that
spreads specific practices, values and models.
Constructivism : Methodology
They utilize structured focused comparison in order to
better understand the conditions under which norms
diffuse from one context to another .
They even use computer simulations to model the
emergent properties of world politics.
Logic of Consequence AND logic
of Appropriateness

Logic of Consequence: It sees actions as driven by

actors rationally rank ordering their preferences or
interests ,while being aware that other actors are
doing the same.
Neorealists and neoliberals exemplify this approach.
What is missing in the logic of consequences is an
appreciation of how norms ,rules and shared
understanding of legitimate behavior can also shape
actors behaviors .
Logic of Appropriateness

The logic of appropriateness assumes human actors

follow norms and rules that associate particular
identities to particular situations.
Key Points

Constructivists are concerned with human

consciousness, treat ideas as structural factors ,
consider the dynamic relationship between ideas and
material forces as consequences of how actors
interpret their material reality and are interested in
how agents produce structure and how structure
produce agents.
Knowledge shapes how actors interpret and construct
their social reality.
Key Points
The ideas that give shape to international politics are
more than just the beliefs of individuals.
They include ideas that are intersubjective (that is
shared among people) and institutionalized (that is
expressed in practices and identities ). Intersubjective
and institutionalized forms of ideas are not reducible
to individual minds(Wendt).
Key Points
The normative structures shapes the identity and
interests of actors such as states
Social facts such as sovereignty and human rights exist
because of human agreement , while brute facts such
as mountains are independent of such agreements.
Social rules are regulative , regulating already existing
activities and constitutive , making possible and
defining those very activities.
Key Points
Social Construction denaturalizes what is taken for
granted , asks questions about the origins of what is
now accepted as fact of life and considers the
alternative pathways that might have produced and
can produce alternative worlds.
Although the meanings that actors bring their
activities are shaped by the underlying culture ,
meanings are not always fixed and fixing of meanings
is central feature of politics.
Constructivism and World Politics
Construction of State Interest
Mutual Constitution of Structures and Agents
Multiple Logics of Anarchy

(Constructivism in Education as opposed to

behaviorism )
To be a constructive in international relations means
looking at international relations with an eye open to
the social construction of actors , institutions and