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This chapter discusses the different theories and approaches that characterize the study of international relations. Mainstream theories focus on the ways that states interact with one another in circumstances where no overarching authority governs their behavior — in other words, under conditions of anarchy. These theories include structural realism, neoliberal institutionalism, and the scholarship on relational contracting. An important alternative perspective — the English School — argues that, even under anarchic conditions, there is a high degree of orderliness in world affairs. Meanwhile, proponents of constructivism assert that states take shape in specific historical contexts, and that the conditions under which states coalesce and become socialized to one another play a crucial role in determining how they conceive of themselves and formulate their basic interests. Scholars of the Middle East have so far addressed only a fraction of the many theoretical debates and controversies that energize the field of international relations.

Chapter

Christine Agius

This chapter examines the impact of social constructivism on Security Studies as well as its critique of the assumed orthodoxy of rationalist approaches to security and the international system. In particular, it considers the manner that social constructivists address the question of how security and security threats are ‘socially constructed’. The chapter first provides an overview of definitions and key concepts relating to constructivism, such as its emphasis on the importance of ideas, identity, and interaction, along with its alternative approach to thinking about security. It then explores Alexander Wendt’s three cultures of anarchy and compares conventional constructivism with critical constructivism. Finally, it analyses rationalist and poststructuralist critiques of constructivism.

Chapter

This chapter examines the basic assumptions and foreign policy relevance of constructivism. Using European security as an illustrative example, it shows that constructivism is a valuable tool not only for understanding foreign policy, but also as a guide for prescribing foreign policy. The chapter first explains what constructivism is, outlining the constructivist view that anarchy exists in different forms with major implications for how agents act. It then considers some of the main propositions and conceptual tools of constructivism, with particular emphasis on its arguments regarding identity, social construction, rules, and practice. It also analyses constructivism’s alternative understandings of NATO’s role after the end of the Cold War and in present-day European security. It asserts that theory is important in foreign policy making — including constructivism — because different theories imply different policies and may make alternative policy options visible which would otherwise easily have been overlooked.

Chapter

This chapter examines the social constructivist theory of IR. It first discusses the rise of social constructivism and why it has established itself as an important approach in IR. It then considers constructivism as social theory, and more specifically as both a meta-theory about the nature of the social world and as a set of substantial theories of IR. Several examples of constructivist IR theory are presented, followed by reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of the constructivist approach. The chapter proceeds by exploring constructivist theories of international relations, focusing on cultures of anarchy, norms of International Society, the power of international organizations, a constructivist approach to European cooperation, and domestic formation of identity and norms. The chapter concludes with an analysis of some of the major criticisms of constructivism and by emphasizing internal debates within constructivism.

Chapter

This chapter examines the social constructivist theory of International Political Economy (IPE). It first discusses the rise of social constructivism and why it has established itself as an important approach in IR. It then considers constructivism as social theory, and more specifically as both a meta-theory about the nature of the social world and as a set of substantial theories of IR. Several examples of constructivist IR theory are presented, followed by reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of the constructivist approach. The chapter proceeds by exploring constructivist theories of international relations, focusing on cultures of anarchy, norms of International Society, the power of international organizations, a constructivist approach to European cooperation, and domestic formation of identity and norms. The chapter concludes with an analysis of some of the major criticisms of constructivism and by emphasising internal debates within constructivism.