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Constructivism: Challenging International Relations Challenges

Constructivism: Challenging International Relations Challenges

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"The Position of Constructivism in International Relations Theory"
"The Position of Constructivism in International Relations Theory"

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Published by: Andhyta Firselly Utami on May 31, 2011
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Advanced International Relations Theory - 1
st
Review Assignment
 Name : Andhyta Firselly UtamiDepartment /NPM : International Relations / 0906550373Resource : Fierke, K. M., ³Constructivism´ in Dunne, Kurke, and Smith,
 International Relations Theories,
(Oxf 
ord:
Oxf 
ord University Press,2010), pp. 178-195
Constructivism: Challenging Challenges of International Relations
For decades, traditional scholars o
international relations are grati
ied to have championed theoriesand concepts e
x
 plaining states¶ behavior which used to remain as unanswered questions. As the Berlin Wall
elland Cold War ended, however, there are tremendous changes in the shape o
world¶s structure. Security andeconomic issues are now challenged by value-saturated, non-conventional problems such as human rights andthe role o
civil society in
orming a country¶s policy. This phenomenon oppugns prevailing approaches
(
i.e.rationalism, post-structuralism) and raises new inquiries. How would international relations scholars e
x
 plicatetransnational and social dimension o
the science? More importantly, is objective reality socially constructed?Fierke in his work ³Constructivism´ tries to elucidate the emergence o
constructivists, the grand picture o
constructivism shaped by debates within IR, as well as War on Terror as its study case. This article isgoing to review his work, portray several comparisons o
understanding with Emanuel Adler¶s ³Seizing theMiddle Ground´, and in the end root it back to Ale
x
ander Wendt¶s ideals in ³Anarchy Is What States Make o
 It´. Broadly de
ined, according to Fierke, constructivists shared a critique on static material assumption o
 traditional theories and emphasize the possibility o
change.Fierke commenced his assessment on constructivism by bringing
orward the idea that internationalrelations is a social construction, under three themes:
(
1) it is across conte
x
t rather than a single objective reality,
(
2) norms, rules, and language become very important as the emphasize goes to its social dimension, and
(
3)international politics is a world o
our making.
1
Under these conditions, the possibility o
agency with highlighton processes o
interactions is introduced. Thus, constructivism is mainly a critique to rationalism, although itdoes not involve a wholesale rejection to the scienti
ic method and rather argues towards the nature o
being,structures-agents relationship, constitution o
material world, as well as the role o
cognition as its central points.In this sense, the individualist ontology o
rationalism is questioned and thoughts
or social ontologyare presented. As
undamentally social beings, individuals or states cannot be separated
rom normativemeaning which shapes their identity and thus options available
or them. Structures, which in rationalism areseen as
unction
or competition o
power distribution, constrain and constitute the characteristics o
actors. Thisleaves more space
or agency, in terms o
how states and environment in
luence each other. Rather than limited,choices in constructivism are said to be mutually constituted. Constructivists also see that material objects andinstitutions are but a product o
social
acts. Lastly, they suggest that intersubjective understanding or reasoningis not merely aggregation o
individual belie
s but has independent status as collective knowledge.
1
Fierke, K. M., ³Constructivism´ in Dunne, Kurke, and Smith,
 International Relations Theories,
(Oxf 
ord:
Oxf 
ord University Press, 2010), page 180
 
In the ne
x
t section Fierke tries to depict the position o
constructivism in the science o
internationalrelations. He comes to a conclusion that, instead o
placing it equivalent to poststructuralism as an opponent o
 rationalism, constructivism should be located as the middle ground between both. Although it con
rontsontological assumptions o
rationalism, constructivism does not de
y any epistemological views in positivism
(
i.e. hypothesis testing, causality, and e
x
 planation). Constructivists are interested in providing a better e
x
 planation, rather than emancipation
 p
er se.
2
 
This, however, does not guarantee that there is a uni
iedconsensus as today¶s constructivists are developed into conventional and critical ones. The subsequent inquirywould be constructivism¶s status. Distinct scholars argue di
ff 
erently that it should be accepted as either a way o
 study, theory, or approach. Marrying constructivist ontology with positivist epistemology is as inconsistent as building a constructivist theory on it. There
ore, the most common way to designate constructivism is to acceptit as a middle-ground approach which was introduced by Emanuel Adler in a
riendlier manner.Emanuel Adler¶s piece on µconstructivism in world politics¶ injects an acceptably
resh point o
viewon how international relations science should place and see constructivism. According to him, a great dealarguing that international reality is socially constructed by cognitive structures has been written. However,
inter alia,
most o
the epistemological, theoretical, empirical, as well as methodological
oundations o
the approachremain unclear. Its aim
or bigger contribution to establish a better understanding o
the science is also notwidely appreciated. This is because constructivism opens areas
or empirical investigation which did not e
x
ist
or realists, overlooked by liberals, and unimportant to psychological approaches. In that article, he concludesthat constructivism may hold the key
or developing dynamic theories about the trans
ormation o
internationalactors, institutionalized patterns, system o
governance, as well as new political identities and interests.
3
The lasttwo
amous µi¶s, identity and interest, are given e
x
ogenously by structure and process is reduced to interactions between those parameters.This theme and spirit is similar to one that was brought by Fierke. As non-traditional scholars, bothFierke and Adler try to help their broader audience to really comprehend what this approach aspires
or. Whilethe latter convinces that it is imperative to attempt µto pull together the pieces and provide synthetic e
x
 planationo
the constructivist approach¶, the
irst answers it by relating the problem to United States-led War on Terror.Through such case study, he a
ff 
irms that the attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon on 11 September 2001 and War on Terror policy have called the µtimeless¶ realist assumption into question. For e
x
ample on howrealism has a little say on µterrorists¶ as non-state actors. Constructivism would, instead, be able to e
x
 plore howidentities, actions, and human su
ff 
ering o
those terrorists are constructed through a process o
interaction.
4
As aresult, he says, War on Terror has produced a multidimensional reality which composes o
meanings that thetwo actors brought to their encounters. Constructivists¶ perception on how language creates certaincomprehension and causing is direly important also becomes certain impacts in analyzing the situation.
2
Emanuel Adler, ³Seizing the Middle Ground´ in
 Eu
ro
 p
ean Jo
u
rnal of International Relations,
(
London: Sage Publication, 1997; 3), accessed
romhttp://ejt.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/3/3/319 on February 8th, 2011, page 30
3
 
 Ibid.,
 page 31
 
4
 
O
 p
Cit 
., K.M. Fierke, page 190
 
Another way to distinguish rationalism and constructivist could be seen
rom theories that each covers.Political realist and liberal theories, as well as most Mar 
x
ist theories, are generally understood as rationalist,while re
lectivist, interpretivist, postmodern and poststructural theories are usually regarded as constructivist.
5
 At the same time, there are particular scholars who believe that constructivism is a midpoint between politicalrealism and liberal institutionalism.
6
 Ale
x
ander Wendt, in his incredibly
amous work ³Anarchy Is What States Make o
It´ upholds theidea that the basic ground o
all international relations theories is the relationship between actors, process, andstructure.
7
Consequently, debates between realists and liberals arise on the
undamental motion o
whether actions o
a state are mostly in
luenced by either one o
them. Wendt¶s assessment goes back to the pro
ounddebates and need to justi
y international relations theories. Social dimension still stands as the core
or anyinternational relations theorizing and states decide what anarchy will be like, either con
lictual or cooperative,depending on their identity and interest.Apparently, this notion leads to another perception on the basis
or systemic theories o
world politicswhich was one o
Wendt¶s
ocuses in his writing. First, the level o
importance o
interaction among states
or the constitution o
their identities and interests might be slightly di
ff 
erent, considering the e
x
istence o
domesticas well as genetic
actors. Second, the possibility o
change would also impact and shape these theories. Thewriter believes that this ground idea plays and becomes the backbone o
all discourses upon constructivism. In
act, Fierke¶s µclassic constructivists¶ title shall be rooted to Ale
x
ander Wendt himsel
.Building on Wendt¶s concept, we may conclude that there are three bases
or constructivism which aresocial knowledge, social practice, as well as social identities and interests. First, ³people act toward objects,including other actors, on the basis o
the meanings that the objects have
or them. Second, ³the meanings interms o
which action is organized arise out o
interaction´. Third, ³identities
(
and interests) are produced in andthrough µsituated activity¶.The writer believes that all uncertainties regarding the signi
icance o
each o
these pillars o
 understanding as well as the scoop in which more inquiries are addressed might depend on how interaction areconducted by international relations actors themselves. Wendt¶s concept bridges the assumption o
neorealist
(
logic o
anarchy is structural and leads to con
lict) to that o
neoliberalist
(
logic o
anarchy is a process that canlead to cooperation) by proposing the idea that µthere is no logic to anarchy¶. Cynthia Weber,
or instance, callsµanarchy is the permissive cause o
war¶ as a myth because the anarchy is neither necessarily con
lictual nor cooperative
or there is no µnature¶ to international anarchy.
8
Hence, constructivism argues that identities andinterests in international politics are not stable²they have no pre-given nature.
5
Fred Cherno
ff 
,
The Power of International Relations Theory: Reforging The Link to Foreign-
 p
olicy Making Thro
u
 gh Scientific
 E 
nq
u
iry,
(
London:Routledge, 2005), page 20
 
6
 
 Ibid.
7
Ale
x
ander Wendt, ³Anarchy Is What States Make o
It: The Social Construction o
Power Politics´ in
 International Organization,
8
Cythia Weber,
 International Relations Theory: A Critical Introd 
u
ction, 2
nd 
ed., (New York: Ro
u
tledge, 2005),
 p
age 60

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