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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 Foreign Policy

6. Actors, structures, and foreign policy analysis  

Walter Carlsnaes

This chapter examines how actors and structures make foreign policy an extremely complicated field of study and how, in view of this complexity, these actors and structures have been treated in the literature on foreign policy analysis. It first provides a historical background on the field of foreign policy before discussing the role of actors and structures in ‘process’ and ‘policy’ approaches to foreign policy. In particular, it describes approaches to foreign policy based on a structural perspective, namely: realism, neoliberal institutionalism, and social constructivism. It then considers evaluates approaches from an actor-based perspective: cognitive and psychological approaches, bureaucratic politics approach, new liberalism, and interpretative actor perspective. The chapter also looks at the agency–structure problem and asks whether an integrated framework is feasible before concluding with a recommendation of how to resolve the former in terms of a constructive answer to the latter.

Chapter

Cover Contemporary Security Studies

6. Social Constructivism  

Christine Agius

This chapter examines the impact of social constructivism on Security Studies, and how it calls into question the assumed orthodoxy of rationalist approaches to security and the international system by asking how security and security threats are ‘socially constructed’. It focuses on the importance of social relations and why identity, norms, and culture matter. Whereas rationalist approaches focus on material forces to understand and theorize security, social constructivism argues that ideational as well as material factors construct the world around us and the meanings we give to it. Therefore, its significance for Security Studies is crucial in terms not only of conceptualizing security but of providing alternative readings of security. However, constructivism is not a uniform approach. As this chapter demonstrates, it is broadly divided into two camps, which differ on questions of methodology and particular aspects of how knowledge and identity are interrogated. Throughout this chapter case studies of constructivist approaches to security questions will be discussed, and the chapter concludes with a consideration of critiques of constructivism.

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 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 Global Politics

4. Critical Approaches to Global Politics  

This chapter investigates critical approaches to global politics. While liberal and realist theorists probe each other’s ideas for faults and weaknesses, neither have challenged capitalism and its implications for social, economic, and political order. Marxism, on the other hand, which developed around the mid-nineteenth century, has provided very different perspectives and presents a significant challenge for mainstream approaches to global order in both theory and practice. Post-Marxist Critical Theory, along with historical sociology and world-systems theory, emerged in the twentieth century, giving rise to schools of thought which continue the critique of capitalism and the social and political forces underpinning it. Meanwhile, ideas arising from social theory, such as the extent to which perceptions of reality are socially conditioned and indeed ‘constructed’, achieved greater prominence following the end of the Cold War, an event which prompted many scholars to start asking new questions about global politics and the assumptions on which traditional theories rested. Constructivism, postmodernism, and poststructuralism remain concerned with issues of power and justice but provide different lenses through which these issues may be viewed in the sphere of global politics.

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 The Globalization of World Politics

1. Introduction: from international politics to world politics  

John Baylis, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens

This chapter introduces the text which offers a comprehensive analysis of world politics in a global era. The text examines the main theories of world politics— realism, liberalism, Marxism, social constructivism, poststructuralism, post-colonialism, and feminism. It reviews the main structures and processes that shape contemporary world politics, such as global political economy, international security, war, gender, and race. Furthermore, it addresses some of the main policy issues in the globalized world, including poverty, human rights, health (with particular emphasis on the recent global pandemic), and the environment. This introduction offers some arguments both for and against seeing globalization as an important new development in world politics. It also explains the various terms used to describe world politics and the academic field, particularly the use of ‘world politics’ rather than ‘international politics’ or ‘international relations’. Finally, it summarizes the main assumptions underlying realism, liberalism, Marxism, social constructivism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism, and feminism.

Chapter

Cover Human Rights: Politics and Practice

17. Children’s Human Rights Advocacy  

Vanessa Pupavac

This chapter examines some theoretical and practical problems in global children's rights advocacy. It begins with a discussion of the novelty of children's rights and the problem of identifying the moral agent of children's rights. It then considers the tensions between the universalism of human rights advocacy and the relativism of development advocacy. It shows that children's rights research is influenced by social constructivism, which highlights the history of childhood and childhood norms. Early social constructivist approaches identified the concept of childhood underpinning the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a Western construction based on Western experiences and its exclusion of the experience of childhood in developing countries. The chapter proceeds by looking at a case study involving attempts to eradicate corporal punishment of children globally. It suggests that there are social and political problems with attempting to globalize childhood norms without globalizing material development.

Chapter

Cover Contemporary Security Studies

4. Historical Materialism  

Eric Herring

This chapter begins with an overview of the social scientific, philosophical, and political dimensions of historical materialism (HM). This overview is followed by an elaboration of what HM involves, including its diversity, value, and potential but avoidable pitfalls. Key HM concepts are set out and used to show how capitalism generally and in its recent neoliberal form aims to generate insecurity for labour and security for capital. Rather than being a narrow approach to security that focuses on economics, at its best, HM is a holistic approach that provides a way of putting into perspective and relating the many components of security. It goes on to explore the relationships between HM and approaches to security in wider contexts (realism, liberalism, social constructivism, and gender) and then to various perspectives on security (securitization and the sectoral approach, peace studies, Critical Security Studies, and human security). Accompanying the text are Think Point 4.1 on using HM to understand arms production and the arms trade, and Think Point 4.2 on using HM to understand the connections between development and security. The conclusion provides an overall assessment of the contribution of HM to the scholarship and politics of security and insecurity.

Chapter

Cover Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches

1. Why Study IR?  

Introduction to International Relations provides a concise introduction to the principal international relations theories and approaches, and explores how theory can be used to analyse contemporary issues. Throughout the text, the chapters encourage readers to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the theories presented, and the major points of contention between them. In so doing, the text helps you to build a clear understanding of how major theoretical debates link up with each other, and how the structure of the discipline of international relations is established. The book places a strong emphasis throughout on the relationship between theory and practice, carefully explaining how theories organise and shape our view of the world. It also shows how a historical perspective can often refine theories and provide a frame of reference for contemporary problems of international relations. Topics include realism, liberalism, International Society, International Political Economy, social constructivism, post-positivism in international relations, major issues in IPE and IR, and foreign policy. Each chapter ends by discussing how different theories have attempted to integrate or combine international and domestic factors in their explanatory frameworks. The final chapter is dedicated to discussing the state of the world: are we seeing world chaos or world order? The text is accompanied by an Online Resource Centre, which includes: short case studies, review questions, annotated web links, and a flashcard glossary.

Chapter

Cover The Globalization of World Politics

Introduction  

From international politics to world politics

Patricia Owens, John Baylis, and Steve Smith

This text offers a comprehensive analysis of world politics in a global era. It examines the main theories of world politics—realism, liberalism, Marxism, social constructivism, poststructuralism, post-colonialism, and feminism. It reviews the main structures and processes that shape contemporary world politics, such as global political economy, international security, war, gender, and race. Furthermore, it addresses some of the main policy issues in the globalized world, including poverty, human rights, and the environment. This introduction offers some arguments both for and against seeing globalization as an important new development in world politics. It also explains the various terms used to describe world politics and the academic field, particularly the use of ‘world politics’ rather than ‘international politics’ or ‘international relations’. Finally, it summarizes the main assumptions underlying realism, liberalism, Marxism, social constructivism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism, and feminism.

Book

Cover Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches

Georg Sørensen, Jørgen Møller, and Robert Jackson

Introduction to International Relations provides a concise introduction to the principal international relations theories and approaches, and explores how theory can be used to analyse contemporary issues. Throughout the text, the chapters encourage readers to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the theories presented, and the major points of contention between them. In so doing, the text helps the reader to build a clear understanding of how major theoretical debates link up with each other, and how the structure of the discipline of international relations is established. The book places a strong emphasis throughout on the relationship between theory and practice, carefully explaining how theories organize and shape our view of the world. It also shows how a historical perspective can often refine theories and provide a frame of reference for contemporary problems of international relations. Topics include realism, liberalism, International Society, International Political Economy, social constructivism, post-positivism in international relations, major issues in IPE and IR, foreign policy, and world order. Each chapter ends by discussing how different theories have attempted to integrate or combine international and domfactors in their explanatory frameworks. The final part of the book is dedicated to major global issues and how theory can be used as a tool to analyse and interpret these issues. The text is accompanied by online resources, which include: short case studies, review questions, annotated web links, and a flashcard glossary.

Chapter

Cover Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches

7. Social Constructivism  

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

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.

Chapter

Cover Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches

2. IR as an Academic Subject  

This chapter examines how thinking about international relations (IR) has evolved since IR became an academic subject around the time of the First World War. The focus is on four established IR traditions: realism, liberalism, International Society, and International Political Economy (IPE). The chapter first considers three major debates that have arisen since IR became an academic subject at the end of the First World War: the first was between utopian liberalism and realism; the second between traditional approaches and behaviouralism; the third between neorealism/neoliberalism and neo-Marxism. There is an emerging fourth debate, that between established traditions and post-positivist alternatives. The chapter concludes with an analysis of alternative approaches that challenge the established traditions of IR, and with a discussion about criteria for good theory in IR.