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Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Concept Construction  

Louis Bélanger Pierre-Marc Daigneault

This chapter highlights concept construction. All social sciences research projects, be they qualitative or quantitative, are dependent on concepts. The chapter first explains what concepts are and why social scientists should be self-conscious in the way they use them. It then describes the methodology of concept construction and presents three different ways to structure a concept. Finally, the chapter provides criteria to evaluate the quality of the concepts we have built ourselves or borrowed from others. Concept construction involves two basic operations beyond choosing a term to designate the concept: identifying the fundamental characteristics of the phenomenon of interest, and logically connecting these characteristics.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Discourse Analysis  

Breaking Down Ideational Boundaries in the Social Sciences

Elisa Narminio and Caterina Carta

This chapter describes discourse analysis. In linguistics, discourse is generally defined as a continuous expression of connected written or spoken language that is larger than a sentence. However, as a method in the social sciences, discourse analysis (DA) gave rise to diatribes about where to set the borders of discourse. As language constitutes the very entry point to the world, some discourse analysts argue that all that exists acquires meaning through language. Does this mean that discourse constitutes reality? Is there anything outside text and discourse? Or is discourse one among many means of social construction? The evolution of DA in social science unearths an ontological debate between ‘realists’ and ‘nominalists’, which eventually reverberates in epistemological strategies.

Chapter

Cover US Foreign Policy

11. Identities and US foreign policy  

Christina Rowley and Jutta Weldes

This chapter examines the role of identity in constructing U.S. foreign policy. Using a critical social constructivist approach, it argues that particular conceptions of U.S. identity constitute U.S. interests, thus providing the foundations for foreign policy. After providing an overview of the influence of interests on foreign policy, the chapter considers the basic assumptions of critical social constructivism, taking into account the social construction of reality and the concepts of discourse and articulation. It then analyses discourses as sites of power, identity, and representation, along with the importance of identity in U.S. foreign policy. It also looks at U.S. presidents’ articulations of state identity and foreign policy over the last six decades.

Chapter

Cover Human Rights

The Social Life of Human Rights  

Damien Short

This chapter looks into the development of sociological approaches to the study of human rights. It explains how sociology covered the ride of human rights through shared human vulnerability and collective sympathy, institutional threats, and assertion of powerful class interests, while anthropology deepened the understanding of socially constructed rights. Sociologists tend to view rights as inventions or products of human social interaction and power relations. The chapter then expounds on the concept of social constructionism in relation to power and social structure. It also explains that an ethnographic approach to human rights showcases how human rights function and their meaning to different social actors in varying social contexts.

Chapter

Cover International Relations Theories

9. Constructivism  

K. M. Fierke

This chapter examines the key debates that have shaped the development of constructivism in International Relations (IR). It first considers the idea that international relations is a social construction, as it emerged from the critique of more traditional theories of IR. It then explores the distinctions among various constructivisms, with particular emphasis on the contrast between those who seek a ‘better’ social science, and hence better theory, versus those who argue that constructivism is an approach that rests on assumptions at odds with those of positivist method. The chapter proceeds by discussing constructivists’ critique of rationalism, along with constructivism as a ‘middle ground’ between rationalist and poststructuralist approaches to IR. It also analyses the role of language and causality in the debate between rationalists and constructivists. Finally, it links all these insights to the War on Terror and the war on Covid-19.

Chapter

Cover The Globalization of World Politics

13. Social constructivism  

Michael Barnett

This chapter examines constructivist approaches to international relations theory. It explores whether there is a possibility of moral progress in world politics, whether some cultures and countries are more (or less) inherently violent, and whether states are motivated by power or by ideas. The chapter also discusses the rise of constructivism and some key concepts of constructivism, including the agent–structure problem, holism, idealism, individualism, materialism, and rational choice. It concludes with an analysis of constructivist assumptions about global change. Two case studies are presented, one relating to social construction of refugees and the 2015 European migration crisis, and the other considers what it means to be a ‘victim’.

Chapter

Cover Foreign Policy

4. Constructivism and foreign policy  

Trine Flockhart

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

Cover Human Rights: Politics and Practice

6. Sociological and Anthropological Approaches  

Damien Short

This chapter explores sociological and anthropological approaches to the study of human rights. Anthropologists and sociologists have typically been either positivists or relativists. Consequently they have been slow to develop an analysis of justice and rights, thus lagging behind other disciplines in analysing the growth of universal human rights. This chapter shows how sociology and anthropology finally engaged with the concept of universal human rights after a long disciplinary focus on cultural relativism and legal positivism. It considers how sociology expanded its analysis of citizenship rights to that of human rights and how anthropology turned its ethnographic methodology towards an examination of the ‘social life of rights’. It also describes ‘social constructionism’ as a common bond between sociology and anthropology, laying emphasis on the importance of sociological and anthropological perspectives to the study of human rights.

Chapter

Cover The Globalization of World Politics

12. Social constructivism  

Michael Barnett

This chapter examines constructivist approaches to international relations theory. It explores whether there is a possibility of moral progress in world politics, whether some cultures and countries are more (or less) inherently violent, and whether states are motivated by power or by ideas. The chapter also discusses the rise of constructivism and some key concepts of constructivism, including the agent–structure problem, holism, idealism, individualism, materialism, and rational choice. It concludes with an analysis of constructivist assumptions about global change. Two case studies are presented, one relating to social construction of refugees and the 2015 European migration crisis, and the other to the ‘human rights revolution’ and torture. There is also an Opposing Opinions box that asks whether the laws of war have made war less horrific.