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Constructivism Notes

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* Cross-reference - PO219 Transgressing IR; Realism & Neorealism // PO201 Approaches to Political Theory


1. Is anarchy 'what states make of it?' [2016]
Critically assess the contribution of Constructivism to our understanding of international relations. [2014]

2. To what extent is it possible to talk about constructivism as a single coherent school of thought? [2017]
'Constructivism is too broad a school of thought to be usefully referred to as either a coherent theory or a useful methodology'. Discuss.
Assess the claim that Constructivism can act as a 'bridge' between orthodox and critical theory.

The unforeseen end of the Cold War in 1991 ushered a new era of critical theorizations to compensate for the 'poverties' of neorealism and neoliberalism. One such theory was constructivism, which emphasized the ontological priority of identities,
paradigms and norms 'constructed' through sustained practices of interaction and socialization among actors. Political reality is not objective but 'intersubjective' and affects how states perceive, create and respond to emergent features of international politics. Particular discourses of identity underpin particular demarcations of 'threat' and 'ally' in foreign policy-making, which in turn impacts predispositions towards conflict or involvement in collective security arrangements that institutionalize norms of cooperation and interdependence such as the UN and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Anarchy, characterized by the absence of an overarching, centralized authority to enforce global order, is a common denominator in IR theory. Rooted in constructivist premises, Alexander Wendt's groundbreaking article entitled Anarchy is
What States Make of It problematizes the dominant 'logics of anarchy' posited by structural realists* and neoliberal institutionalists. This essay explores the theoretical components and implications of Wendt's dictum in contrast to Waltzian neorealism, as well as highlights the various merits and limitations of his reasoning.
For Wendt, the 'nature' of international anarchy as inherently conflictual or cooperative is not exogenously given, but the product of intersubjective identities - 'relatively stable, role-specific understandings and expectations about self' - and meanings forged by dynamic state interactions. He dismisses the realist assumption that self-help and relative power politics are inevitable/causal institutions of anarchy as logically incoherent. Anarchy is an empty vessel with no determinant logic exempt from 'what states make of it'.
To reinforce this point, Wendt presents a hypothetical situation in which two actors, 'Alter' and 'Ego', with no prior contact meet fortuitously. Both seek survival and possess certain material structures (e.g. military capability) but given their nonexistent history of (in)security and fearful dispositions, it is highly improbable that actors would automatically engage a priori in a hostile security dilemma 'to avoid making an enemy out of what may be a dangerous adversary' . Conversely, Alter's decision to behave conflictually or cooperatively is contingent on the diplomatic gestures and inferred motives of Ego.
Although attribution errors and misinterpretations may occur, an a priori casting of Ego as 'threat' and the dysfunctional spirals of animosity, arms-racing and war that might subsequently ensue (as purported by neorealist scholars) is a self-fulfilling prophecy that reflects/reproduces the realpolitik practices of Alter.
In propounding that ideational structures exert causal forces distinct from material structures, Wendt conceptualizes three different security environments, or 'cultures of anarchy', that have historically mediated states' behaviour: Hobbesian, Lockean and Kantian.

1. In Hobbesian culture, actors employ 'projective identification' which displaces undesirable attributes of the Self,
constructing the Other as 'enemy' and legitimizing confrontational foreign policies.

2. In Lockean culture, rivalry dominates enmity due to a mutual recognition of Westphalian sovereignty.

3. In Kantian culture, the Other is viewed as 'friend' and cooperative efforts are the preferred strategy against security threats. An 'anarchy of friends' is thus very different from an 'anarchy of enemies'.

Wendt argues, therefore, that the internalization of particular anarchic cultures is susceptible to endogenous change; a marked departure from neorealist theorizations. Constructivists optimistically believe that even if states find themselves in a socially constructed self-help system, actors can reconstitute their past realpolitik paradigms by instantiating new gestures of

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