International Politics, 2008, 45, (720–746) r 2008 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 1384-5748/08 www.palgrave-journals.


From Wendt to Kuhn: Reviving the ‘Third Debate’ in International Relations
Tanja E. Aalbertsa and Rens van Munsterb
a Department of Political Science, Leiden University, Postbus 9555, Leiden 2300 RB, The Netherlands. E-mail: b Department of Political Science, University of Southern Denmark, Campusvej 55, Odense C 5000, Denmark. E-mail:

Constructivism is often identified as the legitimate occupant of the middle ground between rationalism and reflectivism that emerged from the Third Debate in international relations (IR) theory. Indeed, the rationalist–constructivist debate is already being framed as the next dominant debate with the IR community. This paper evaluates the bridge-building project as initiated by Alexander Wendt, and takes issue with the via media as proposed by the so-called conventional constructivists. It is claimed that the rationalist–constructivist debate has been limited to a discussion of ontology, which has brought about a contradiction between ontology and epistemology. Returning to the pressing epistemological issues that were put on the table by reflectivist scholars, this article refocuses the current debate by taking up the Kuhnian link between substance and science. It elaborates a view of science as a communal practice built on intersubjective conventions and argumentative procedures. This leads to an alternative conception of the middle ground as a communicative space. International Politics (2008) 45, 720–746. doi:10.1057/ip.2008.26; published online 1 August 2008 Keywords: constructivism; epistemology; Kuhn; Third Debate; rationalism; reflectivism

In international relations (IR) academia, constructivism has, amongst others, been claimed to be ‘one of the most important theoretical developments of the last decades,’ an ‘inescapable phenomenon,’ the ‘major points of contestation for IR scholarship’ and ‘the officially accredited contender to the established core of the discipline’ (Katzenstein et al., 1998, 646; Guzzini, 2000, 147; Smith, 2001, 226; Zehfuss, 2002, 2; for similar claims, see Walt, 1998; Adler, 1997, 2002; Fearon and Wendt, 2002; Ba and Hoffman, 2003).1 No doubt constructivism owes much of its current appeal to its promise to provide a ‘middle ground,’ ‘via media,’ or to ‘bridge the gap’ between rationalist and

Tanja E. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn


reflectivist approaches to world politics (Adler, 1997; Wendt, 1999, 40, 47; 2000; Smith, 2001, 242). Yet, constructivism in its main variant has not lived up to its original promise to bridge these two sides. Instead, in the course of positioning constructivism within IR theory, the bridge-building project has moved its focus to the debate between rationalist and constructivists. Many now frame the rationalist–constructivist debate as the dominant debate within the IR community (see e.g. Katzenstein et al., 1998; Price and Reus-Smit, 1998; Fierke and Jørgensen, 2001; Reus-Smit, 2001), and even refer to it as the Fourth Debate (Fearon and Wendt, 2002, 129). However, while Fearon and Wendt take these approaches to be at the center of the discipline, they present a sceptical view about the idea of rationalism vs constructivism, and claim that more than a debate there is (the beginning of) a synthesis at hand.2 In this paper it is argued that the shift of the middle ground in the direction of the rationalist side has had serious implications for the content of the debate. More specifically, it is claimed that the rationalist–constructivist debate has been limited to a discussion of ontology that, we argue, has moved too fast beyond the pressing epistemological issues that were put on the table by the reflectivist scholars of the Third Debate. Mainly concentrating on the rationalist side of the theoretical spectrum, constructivism gives the wrong impression that the yawning gap between rationalism and reflectivism can be reduced to a cleft between rationalism and constructivism that hardly needs a bridge in order to be crossed. This can be illustrated as shown in Figure 1. We want it to be clear from the outset that we do not claim that all constructivists are part of the current middle ground. We are well aware of the lines of contestation that divide constructivists themselves.3 Our point is rather that the most dominant position currently identified as the middle ground is constructivist scholarship that lies closest to rationalism — hence the popular label of conventional constructivism (Hopf, 1998, see also Katzenstein et al., 1998, Price and Reus-Smit, 1998). Indeed, our aim is to point out that constructivist epistemological insights that are closer to reflectivism are sidestepped in the current rationalist–constructivist debate, and that this is not without consequences. Returning to the issues of the Third Debate, this paper seeks to refocus the current debate, firstly, by showing the inconsistencies of conventional constructivism as the alleged bridge between these poles and, secondly, by

Conventional Constructivism

Original Middle Ground

Figure 1 The Third Debate
International Politics 2008 45

the third section sets out to evaluate their claim to provide a viable middle ground between rationalism and reflectivism. the fourth section will return to some of the metatheoretical issues of the Third Debate theorists by arguing that we need to refocus our attention to epistemological issues. Apart from the question whether it is correct to conceive of the discipline as evolving through a succession of Great Debates in the first place. is International Politics 2008 45 . Whether or not there ever was such a debate. 1989). 1970) and in addition elaborate science as a scholarly practice which stresses the importance of communicative competence. we argue that ‘substance’ and ‘science’ are interrelated (Kuhn. Pointing out that some of the better-known constructivists saw in constructivism a potential to resolve the issues of the Third Debate. and acknowledges the role of persuasion and argumentation as important factors in deciding on competing knowledge claims. While being sympathetic towards reflectivist objections against epistemology. The middle ground the way we conceive it rejects the either/or choice of positivism vs absolute relativism. 1996. George and Campbell. delivered at the 29th Annual Convention in 1988. The Science and Substance of the Third Debate In the historiography of the discipline of IR theory there is some controversy about the so-called Third Debate. Schmidt. This set the stage for the notorious Third Debate in IR theory as discussed by Lapid (1989. He juxtaposed what he labelled rationalism (entailing both neorealism and neoliberalism) to reflectivism and claimed the need to explore possibilities for a synthesis in research programs.4 In this account we take issue with both poles of the original debate. To avoid ambiguity about which Third Debate we are talking. Wæver. Whereas the latter implies a third way or synthesis between two extremes. 2003). Wight. Recontemplating Kratochwil and Ruggie’s (1986) warning about contradictory ontologies and epistemologies within IR theory. 2002). The story of its origin is renowned and dates back to Robert Keohane’s presidential speech to the International Studies Association. whether the two sides indeed ever got talking. the picture of the middle ground as a communicative space has a different aim and favors open dialogue and reflectivity (see also Lapid. the Third Debate causes a problem in particular as it is unclear what the opposite sides of this debate exactly are (Maghroori and Ramberg. 1990. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 722 proposing an alternative conception of the middle ground as an communicative space rather than a bridge.Tanja E. 1982. that is. The next section will briefly discuss the Third Debate in order to recall the main issues at stake in that debate. Our argument proceeds in three stages. see also Ashley and Walker. 1990). we will frame our discussion in the rationalism vs reflectivism dichotomy (Lapid. 2002.

5 the discipline got involved in a discussion about positivism vs post-positivism. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 723 a question we will not address here in detail. to apply absolute objectivism as advocated by positivism. the wager is ‘trailblazing ideas about the nature and progression of knowledge’ (Lapid. Second. 1987). in principle. the main point of contention is a fundamental distinction between natural and social sciences. Thus the principle of unity of science (or naturalism) was called into question by reflectivist scholars. reflectivism claims that it is problematic. This rejection of naturalism in turn bears upon the adherence to (other aspects of) positivism in IR theory. For the insight had gained momentum that the very intersubjective nature of the social realm renders it problematic to adopt methodologies of natural science to explain the social world. which illustrates the high stakes involved with the debate. Indeed. positivism can be characterized by three additional assumptions: (i) a belief in nature-like regularities in the social realm. 1989. 1989). Following from the unified view of science. Lapid (1989) states that the Third Debate emerged in the late 1980s. that this reflexivity was of such disposition that it entailed something akin to Kuhn’s notion of paradigms — that is. it includes both substance and science (see also Walker. that the bare middle ground in between the opponents of the debate was cultivated by constructivism in the bridge-building project initiated by Alexander Wendt (1992. that in the 1980s critical reflections on mainstream IR theory emerged. which introduced important and pressing metatheoretical issues into IR theory (second-order theorising). which led a substantial part of the IR community to a critical re-examination of the ontological and epistemological foundations of their scientific endeavors. Whereas the picket lines of this debate might not be as apparent as in the earlier Great Debates (Puchala. which is accessible and can serve as the ultimate Archimedean point for the appraisal of research. if not utterly impossible. As such it was more fundamental than any of the previous Great Debates as. 238). First. see also Wendt. 1999. as this metatheoretical stance stems directly from natural science. 2000).6 (ii) a distinction between facts and values and belief in theory-neutrality of facts. parallel to the trend to move away from empiricist–positivist orthodoxy in the social sciences in general. 1996.Tanja E. Facts do not speak for International Politics 2008 45 . (iii) empirical validation or falsification as certification of real enquiry (empiricism) (Smith. Contrary to the celebrated objectivism as one of the hallmarks of scientific research. These latter two points concern the existence of an objective truth. Three points are crucial for our discussion. And finally. 2000) as it concerns a basket of (metatheoretical) issues. it touched upon the identity of the academic field of IR (Puchala. Ultimately this relates to the demarcation of science and non-science. Whereas IR theory had been charged for remaining an intellectual backwater of the main approaches of Western social theory. 16). which can be studied along deductive-nomological and inductive statistical models.

‘Truth’ can. This is further reinforced by International Politics 2008 45 . 1998. We are always inside our discursive frameworks. to argue that reality is only accessible through linguistic categories (theories) equals the idealist claim that there is no world external to thought (Wight. we test only theories against other theories. one which involves recognizing both that something is and what something is’ (Kuhn. In their view. This is nicely captured by Kratochwil: y different from empiricism. we have to realize that ‘nature’ cannot answer because it needs a language to communicate. A second objection to Kratochwil’s statement has been formulated by critical realists. then. which makes the discovery of a new fact ‘necessarily a complex event. 1970. no longer be a property of the ‘world out there’ but has to be one of ‘statements about the world. Consequently. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 724 themselves. 1989.Tanja E.’ Such knowledge means that we cannot test our ideas against reality as all our questions to nature are already phrased in a theory (or language). and the value-neutrality of the observer. 2003. 271) and objective reality is an oxymoron (Puchala. is misleading and wrongly reduces reflectivism to idealism. 2000. As objects of knowledge. it merely adds that this world cannot be known without our intersubjective frameworks and interference. but are always theory-laden. brute facts depend upon discursive practices. 1999. 2000. which assumes that ‘things’ show themselves in an unadulterated fashion because experiments are conceptualized as pointed questions posed to nature to which the latter has to respond. 139). Or as Onuf aptly summarizes the relationship between brute facts (‘things’) and discursive practices: ‘We construct worlds we know in a world we do not’ (Onuf. italics in original). 38). 55. (Kratochwil. we cannot escape the interpretive moment (Price and Reus-Smit.7 Yet. it could be objected that empiricism is better understood as a sceptical epistemology that starts from observables rather than theoretical assumptions about reality that may appear dogmatic because they escape direct experience (the existence of God. they mistakenly assume that when it comes to theory-testing facts actually do speak for themselves (cf. Guzzini. This in turn renders problematic both the absolute distinction between object and subject. 217). reflectivism does not deny that a material world exists outside our heads. however. for example). Yet. 157). Such a critique. 2000. Patoma ¨ ki and Wight. while empiricists accept that facts are theory laden when it comes to theory-building (which is why they generally prefer induction over deduction). All of this makes theories extremely powerful as they delineate both what can be known and what is sensible to discuss. 124) In response to Kratochwil’s depiction of empiricism as a somewhat naı¨ ve position. which shape us and which are shaped by our practices. who lament the purportedly anti-realist ontology of reflectivism.

‘paradigms provide scientists not only with a map but also with some of the directions essential for map-making’ (Kuhn. 2007). Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 725 the positivist commitment to empirical validation.Tanja E. such a positivist–empiricist stance runs the risk of resulting in a vicious circle. entailing both substance and science: y paradigms differ in more than substance. (Kuhn. the post-positivist project appreciates how the very nature of the social realm as consisting of ‘facts that are only facts by human agreement’ (institutional facts. In this context it is important to note that a paradigm links questions about the fundamental entities in the universe (ontology) to epistemological and methodological concerns with regard to which questions can be legitimately asked about these entities and what techniques can be employed in seeking solutions. It should be noted that the close relationship (interdependency) of ontology and epistemology counts for natural (‘brute’) and institutional facts alike. Given that data are only data within a certain theoretical framework. 103. and standards of solution accepted by any mature scientific community at any given time. By their very nature they have to be described (can only be) within a framework of shared representations. 109). 1970. 1970. However. problem-field. the term paradigm is deployed here as a heuristic tool that can shed some light on current developments and controversies within the IR discipline. italics added) Since Kuhn was mainly writing about scientific progress in the natural sciences. the problems are most manifest and particularly acute when the objects of study are facts by human agreement. As Kuhn argues. Because of this emphasis on the intimate relationship between substance International Politics 2008 45 . 17). In this context post-positivism stresses that epistemology and ontology are interlinked and inseparable. the reception of a new paradigm often necessitates a redefinition of the corresponding science. as that limits at forehand what the discipline should and can study. They are the source of the methods. Searle. for they are directed not only to nature but also back upon the science that produced them. 11–16. tied to an empiricist epistemology: together these result in a very restricted range of permissible ontological claims y [namely] only in so far as they are empirically warranted’ (Smith. Positivism presents a rather straightforward picture of what kind of stuff exists (hence can be studied) in IR and what not: ‘positivism in international relations y has essentially been a methodological commitment. which can hardly claimed to be productive to our scientific endeavor. As a result. 1996. Hence. 1995. This runs parallel to Kuhn’s notion of a paradigm as an encompassing notion. 12) impinges upon methodologies and epistemologies of science (see Hopf. Some old problems may be relegated to another science or declared entirely ‘unscientific’yThe normal-scientific tradition that emerges from a scientific revolution is not only incompatible but often actually incommensurable with that which has gone before.

involving talking and listening’ on the basis of arguments (Lapid. 1988. as there are no a priori vantage points from which the truth can be known. The issues reflected upon were often dismissed as metatheoretical diversions and the majority of the discipline continued with business as usual. Hence. George and Campbell. these are dependent upon a particular predominant paradigm. which indeed hooks up with the self-designation of the reflectivist side (see Ashley and Walker. we find his notion of paradigms useful to discuss what we take to be the crux of the Third Debate: the interrelatedness between ontology and epistemology (Kratochwil and Ruggie. anti-objectivism. cf. Any other arguments were deemed non-scientific and hence could not even be considered to be persuasive in the first place (on the basis of their science rather than their substance so to speak). inclusive notion of science and substance in paradigms nicely captures the high stakes involved with the Third Debate. 392–293). In contrast to Lapid’s overly optimistic representation of the endorsement of ‘a more reflexive intellectual environment.e. 1990. As such.8 From their side.. Keohane. mainstream theorists continued to emphasize positivist criteria as a precondition for a dialogue. Alexander Wendt took up the International Politics 2008 45 . the debate might be more aptly described as one between mainstream vs dissidents (Puchala. that is defined by its ‘anti’s’ (i. 1970. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 726 and science. while in principle the stakes were so high as to touch upon the very identity of IR as a discipline. reflectivism is often merely defined in terms of its critique of the mainstream. and it is precisely that paradigm which is put into question. 1986).9 Such are then the contours of the middle ground in which constructivism is operating and the gap it sets out to bridge. Because of the linkage between substance and science. in practice the effect was less dramatic. 269). 250–251). After all. let alone persuasion. anti-naturalism. reflectivists were in turn predisposed to reject any sort of criteria. 1988. Kuhn (1970. Rather than leading to a genuine debate with an open attitude. it had to be on the terms of the positivist orthodoxy (Keohane. Kuhn rejects a notion of scientific progress on the basis of independent checks against (given) reality (Archimedean points of reference). cf. 1989. 1989. 1998).Tanja E. in practice the Third Debate resulted in fence building from both sides of the debate. 94). in case of a revolution the choice between competing paradigms cannot be settled by the evaluative procedures and criteria of normal science. Hence. 246). 2000). Consequently. Hence. ‘there is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community’ (Kuhn. arguing that in the final analysis. 93) claims that there is no supra-institutional framework to settle revolutionary differences. Indeed. Katzenstein et al. Keohane made very clear that if there was any room for dialogue. far from the depiction of a ‘neutralisation of the once intimidating bite of the positivist ‘‘anti-scientific’’ label’ (Lapid. anti-empiricism. 1990. 1990. etcetera) and refusal of dominant positivist commitments (George and Campbell. This dual.

conventional constructivism does exactly this. but because I do not think an idealist ontology implies a post-positivist epistemology y Rather than reduce ontological differences to epistemological ones. Katzenstein et al. too. Delinking Substance and Science: The False Promise of the Current Middle Ground If the debate between rationalism and conventional constructivism is the (depleted) successor of the Third Debate between rationalism and reflectivism. not because I want to find an eclectic epistemology. with its commitment to a positivist epistemology of social sciences. independent axis of the debate.’ and as such shares a positivist epistemology with rationalism. Arguably. Given the move away from its critical roots. 1999.Tanja E. 2002. The epistemological stance of Wendt’s constructivism can be determined by examining two epistemological questions: (i) whether it is possible to develop causal laws about social reality. 57). to develop a research program that can endorse a synthesis with rationalistic and reflective approaches.10 He has set the tone in the sense that constructivism is now often interpreted in terms of Wendt’s reading of the approach (Klotz. the bridge-building project had clear boundaries from the outset. Wendt. as a result of which constructivism has not fully lived up to its promise to provide a viable via media.’ that is. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 727 challenge to find a via media between rationalist and reflectivist approaches and became the pioneer of the bridge-building project. Hopf (1998) labels this type conventional constructivism (see also Price and Reus-Smit. Wendt answers both these questions with ‘yes. 1998). According to Checkel (1998. (Wendt. not so much in its epistemological and empirical research strategies (see also Checkel. However. Keohane should be pleased with the outcome of the challenge he posed to ‘middle ground academics.. 40. intersubjectivity of social reality). 1998. as we will argue in this section. which I do not. in my view the latter should be seen as a third. and (ii) whether there is an objective basis for knowledge claims (Fearon and Wendt. italics added) We rebut and argue instead that it in fact constitutes an erroneous demarcation with regard to substance and science. this delinking of substance from science does not come without costs. 327) the very combination of an intersubjective ontology with a mainstream epistemology makes (conventional) constructivism the obvious tenant of the middle ground. In addition. 2001). addresses the separation between ontology and epistemology explicitly: In some sense this [strong belief in science] puts me in the middle of the Third Debate. For Wendt the distinctiveness of constructivism is considered to lie in its theoretical approach (centrality of norms and ideas. 1998). International Politics 2008 45 .

2007)... 1996. and at times more explicitly. The point is that positivists (both of the rationalist and conventional constructivist kind) do not regard these critical viewpoints as part of the academic spectrum. They seek to design testable theories (and as such live up to Keohane’s challenge). 1998. What is at stake here. On the one hand. but explicitly take post-positivist approaches to lie outside the boundaries of (normal) science.Tanja E. of course. but ultimately these tests do not fit their own constructivist commands.. 2002. contributed to sustaining the polemic fences between rationalists and reflectivists by defining positivism as an essential value shared by the scientific community of IR theorists (cf. which can only be interpreted in relation to our practices. Adler. Thus. Jepperson et al. they claim that this ontological stance still fits within the positivist criteria of science. Thus. in the conventional reading a constructivist ontology is arguably compatible with so-called ‘normal science’ of rationalist approaches to IR (cf. 255). Katzenstein et al. 2001. it is maintained that the world is socially constructed. With epistemological differences controlled for. 2002. Katzenstein et al. they seem unable to stick to their innovative insights about the construction of social reality. despite the normative overtones of the notion of the middle ground which indicates a more reflexive environment involving bridge-building rather than fence-building (Reus-Smit. 1997. Jepperson et al. When taken on its own terms. constructivists are unable to answer the questions they ask in an internally consistent way (Pennings et al.. 223). the conventional constructivist project has implicitly. 1996. Hence insofar as their research design does not follow logically from their research question. 2002). Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 728 The separation of ontology from epistemology is not an innocent move and we would claim that such a belief in positivism and the concomitant bracketing of epistemology actually puts conventional constructivists out of (or at least at the outer boundary of ) rather than at the via media between rationalism and reflectivism. 1999). the conventional constructivist embracement of the positivist practices of social science suffers from internal contradictions and conundrums. While the adherence of conventional constructivists to a social ontology differs significantly from mainstream conceptions of politics in substance. conventional constructivist analyses take a certain ‘reality’ as given from which their inquiries start. The openness of a social ontology is confronted by an epistemological and methodological closure that privileges the status quo as the benchmark against which theoretical assumptions and claims can be checked (see for instance Zehfuss. on the other hand. International Politics 2008 45 . Hopf. is that conventional constructivism — given its commitment to a positivist science — cannot deal properly with the fact that actors are always already part of a reality. which in turn help constituting that reality (Zehfuss. whenever these conventional constructivists go empirical. 1998). moreover..

see Wittgenstein. 1985). 1999). Causality implies a one-way relationship between an objectively given cause (reality out there) and some measurable effect. 1998. however. 2001). Laclau and Mouffe. However. the empirical conception of norms as causes for behavior is inconsistent with the intersubjective underpinnings of constructivism (in all its variants) as it reduces norms to objective. In practice. Jupille et al. but are construed within our theoretical and discursive frameworks. The fact that constitutive processes cannot be satisfactorily dealt with in a positivist fashion bears upon the possibility for causal reasoning. agency) and vice versa. Thus. in the course of their empirical analyses some conventional constructivists end up providing cognitive explanations for certain actions (to put it more bluntly. however. Fierke. structure). they seek to disclose intersubjective realities by ‘looking inside people’s heads’). 1953. rather than intersubjective constraints for social behavior. while starting from an intersubjective framework.13 As such it differs little from more idealist forms of rationalism that add some ideational assumptions to the utility functions of individual actors (cf. 1998). Facts do not speak for themselves. From the ontological commandments of constructivism. 1996.g. Goldstein and Keohane. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 729 The fact that conventional constructivists have a hard time dealing with this is a direct consequence of a positivist notion of a ‘correspondence theory of truth. if they bracket agency. structural.’ That is. 2003).11 On the one hand. and language is not a neutral medium to mirror the independent reality (cf.g. they assume truth to be out there in the world. As such these statements are to be tested against reality. on the other hand. and it is the job of scholars to discover theories that correspond with that world.Tanja E. Fierke. This is also reflected in the standard conventional constructivist solution for operationalizing mutual constitution: double bracketing (see for instance Finnemore. 1998. This of course is problematic when that reality is socially constructed and reconstructed by our very practices and language. as reflectivists and critical constructivists have convincingly claimed. such individualist conceptions of social action should International Politics 2008 45 .. while holding the other constant (e. It entails that one first considers the impact of one level (e. 1993. whereas a constructivist ontology of mutual constitution between structures and agents would in fact defy the articulation of monological causal relationships. this is an unsatisfactory way out as it reduces constitution to causation and contributes to a distorted view of agency and/or structure.12 Agency-based interpretations. Checkel. 2002. have a propensity to treat agents as being under-socialized in the sense that these neglect the constitutive effects of structures on actors’ identities (Campbell. constructivists risk ending up with a structural determinist notion of action where the causal logic of mainstream approaches is simply replaced or complemented with explanations that start from ideas rather than material factors (see also Finnemore and Sikkink. Barnett and Finnemore.

Its explicit commitment to a positivist epistemology does not only marginalize other critical scholarship. In the next section. are of our making. public language). but as publicly available mentalities of thought and action that have evolved over time through interaction and socialization. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 730 be avoided. 2001. too. however. constructivism deals with the intersubjective rather than subjective structures of reality. constructivists should not conceptualize ideas and beliefs as something private or individual. it also is an inherently unstable position on its own terms as it results in a contradiction or clash between ontology and epistemology (Kratochwil and Ruggie. 2007b). both rationalism and reflectivism are based upon an anti-realist ontology in which ontological arguments are derived from epistemological ones. 1986.e. Contrary to Wendt’s suggestions. Consequently. 6).Tanja E. private language) is not independent from historical contexts (i. To sum up.e. But because every theory of knowledge presumes a theory of the world about which knowledge can be gained. we will consider how a reformulation of the middle ground can contribute to a more reflexive IR environment free from paradigmatic exclusions. the middle ground project should focus on an approach to science that explicitly acknowledges that scientific standards. Patoma ¨ ki and Wight (2000) have tried to solve the dilemma of the middle ground by displacing the debate between rationalism and reflectivism in favor of a critical realist problem-field. its narrow definition and metatheoretical choices preclude conventional constructivism from the ability to live up to its promises. We are not the first to propose to refocus the debate. this section seeks to refocus the meaning of the middle ground project. although the impact of intentions is an empirical question that cannot be assumed away. In their view. science and substance are interrelated indeed. Hence we need to refocus the debate and practice what we preach by taking seriously the consequences of a socially constructed reality on the level of methodology and epistemology (Hopf. see also Kratochwil. Thus. A genuine constructivist approach acknowledges that what ‘goes on inside heads’ (i. Refocusing the Debate: Exploring the Communicative Middle Ground Bearing in mind the failed attempt of conventional constructivism to reconcile rationalism and reflectivism. Patoma ¨ ki and Wight suggest that it would be more fruitful to start from ontology rather than epistemology: ‘In International Politics 2008 45 . The result is some ‘diluted constructivism’ (Fierke and Jørgensen. Rather than seeking to provide a synthesis between rationalism and reflectivism and rejecting both the positivist notion of objectivism and the alleged relativism of reflectivists. In a thought-provoking article. and metatheory is not mere diversion. 2007).

In order to further elaborate this. we propose to conceive of the middle ground as a communicative space (Lapid. But neither does the absence of a common epistemology necessarily need to devolve into defensive and polemical stances between different paradigmatic camps. 2000. to provide justifiable grounds for preferring one theory over another). and tendencies that exist. or build the bridge. whether or not detected or known through experience and/or discourse’ (Patoma ¨ ki and Wight. we take up on Lapid’s plea for engaged pluralism (see also Kratochwil. they claim that research should depart from the assumption of an underlying material reality with causal effects that are intransitive to those who would like to know and study them (Patoma ¨ ki and Wight. objects. powers. which is differentiated. namely that reflectivism is anti-realist. and science as a communal and conversational practice on the other. the critical realist argument derives much of its force from a wrong assumption. 2003). From this ontological commitment. 130–131). and independent of mind). this erroneously reduces reflectivism to a branch of idealism and rejects it on those terms. (Patoma ¨ ki and Wight.Tanja E. 224). Concentrating on the link between science and substance on the one hand. Hence. turning to critical realist philosophy. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 731 this respect we want to reverse a long-standing Western philosophical dogma. 215). 2000. critical realism seems to adhere. at least implicitly. First of all. and judgmental rationalism (that despite epistemological relativism.14 Rather than looking for an approach (conventional constructivism. in principle. they argue. it is still possible. critical realism) that can fill the gap. we focus on rules of conduct. Its notion of ontology as existing of ‘underlying structures. 223) somehow assumes that the quality and identity of things. As we argued above. 2000. which are analysed along two dimensions: International Politics 2008 45 .’ we disagree that this could or should be based on a critical realist ontology. that of the privileging of epistemological questions over ontological ones’ (Patoma ¨ ki and Wight. epistemological relativism (that all beliefs are socially produced and hence potentially fallible). put forward a single epistemology as the basis for synthesis between different approaches. as conventional constructivism. 2003. As such. A more important point perhaps is that a critical realist ontology is not without problems either. 224) While we agree with the critical realist notion of ‘epistemological relativism’ and ‘judgmental rationalism. a critical realist problem-field of a pluralist science free of paradigmatic boundaries can emerge: In summary the critical realist ‘problem-field’ we advocate can be said to be committed to ontological realism (that there is a reality. 2000. The middle ground conceived as engaged pluralism does not. structured and layered. subjects and practices are given outside the interpretive practices through which we know them. to an essential view of the world that stands in sharp contrast to the insight that the world is socially constructed.

2003. this seems to be a valid point. he did not intend them to sit back and indulge in the safe environment where communication is ‘relatively full. 1975.Tanja E. 143). With Keohane’s address still in mind. 1980. these not only constitute the necessary conditions to enable genuine discussions and effective communication across paradigmatic boundaries. Together. Wight. rather. according to Lapid (2003) is the outcome of the Third Debate so far). Kuhn conceives of academia as a layered community of which paradigms constitute the most inner layer. his own little practice.’ and ‘competition y usually quickly ended’ (Kuhn. 2002). 177). it is a thin borderline between the plea for self-assessment on the one hand and self-referentialism on the other (cf. the standards for assessment can only be within a particular research tradition. As such it can guard against the danger that approaches are excluded because they have an alternative epistemology from the mainstream (Smith. Because science and substance come in an inextricable mix. which is a form of association in which the members do not relate to each other so much in terms of common actions and goals but. Taken to the extreme. but exist as part of a larger scientific community. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 732 (i) (communicative) dispositions and (ii) (scientific) conventions. In reply to the prevalent misinterpretation of his incommensurability thesis (see Wight. allowing ‘everyone to construct his own little whole — his own little paradigm. the notion of a communicative middle ground between paradigmatic communities seems to run counter to Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis. 1970. 2003. While it is true that paradigmatic communities were Kuhn’s main units of analysis. anything-goes pluralism’ or ‘fortress-like. 2002). then. 201–203). Self-assessment could lead to the protection of theories from fundamental criticisms that originate in other research traditions.’ professional judgement ‘relatively unanimous. But while it may protect against epistemological gatekeeping. either in terms of ‘flabby. 126).15 Communicative Dispositions At first sight. This resembles Oakeshott’s notion of societas. 317). his own little language-game — and then crawl into it’ (Rorty. However.16 Hence Kuhn International Politics 2008 45 . Kuhn never intended his incommensurability thesis to serve as a straw man for an isolated science. the incommensurability thesis appears to suggest that the only alternative to a dominant epistemology is that of endless paradigms that live together in a situation of indifferent tolerance between isolated islands of paradigmatic communities (Kratochwil. they are also constitutive of IR scholars’ identity as part of the wider social scientific community. incommensurable pluralism’ (which. in terms of their loyalty towards one another and in terms of their recognition of certain conditions that regulate their intercourse (Oakeshott.

precisely because they are involved in an enterprise that overrides paradigmatic boundaries! In an attempt to make these ‘conditions of intercourse’ across paradigmatic boundaries more concrete. neutral language. one you previously thought you understood. then you may find that more central passages. and hence loyalty to a larger community (that of the IR discipline as a whole). rationalism or reflectivism) does not exclude membership of. in terms of (i) communicative dispositions (conduct as ‘behavior’) and (ii) scientific conventions (conduct as ‘instruction’). 323) Hence the presence of difference need not and should not lead to indifference. and against the dubious upshot that the impossibility of a universal language licenses scholars to ‘have their paradigm and eat it. is a fundamental premise for a communicative ground and engaged pluralism. the existence of hidden colleges. 1977: xii. the final part of this article elaborates rules of conduct. This non-exclusionary notion of layered communities. to facilitate communication across paradigmatic boundaries. In a helpful analogy. where membership of one research community (e. Translation shifts most of the burden to the audience and undervalues the crucial interactive dimension of engaged pluralism.’ Kuhn appeals directly to the disposition of scholars as participants in the scientific community.Tanja E.g. In itself translation is thus International Politics 2008 45 . When you find an answer. Kuhn. look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask yourself how a sensible person could have written them. it risks imposing a one-dimensional picture of communication. citation cartels and the hard competition for research funding and tenure — it is also the case that specific researchers do not only argue their own position. but also pass informed judgement on other positions. Hence. he argues that participants must become translators in order to ‘experience vicariously something of the merits and defects of each other’s points of view’ (Kuhn. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 733 speaks of these conditions as values that supersede paradigmatic ties and ‘do much to provide a sense of community to y scientists as a whole’ (Kuhn. The Essential Tension. although the metaphor of translation is a useful image to start from. 184). In his rejoinder to the misuse of his incommensurability thesis. 1970. 1970. While the idea of engaged pluralism may sound somewhat idealistic — in view of the gate-keeping role of editorial boards. he likens research traditions to language communities. The directions to his students for their introduction to academia are instructive: When reading the works of an important thinker. have change their meaning’ (Thomas S. he maintains that discussion about paradigmatic viewpoints to some degree is always possible because of a possibility of translation. quoted in Rorty.17 While perfect communication does not exist by lack of a universal. y when these passages make sense. 1980. At the same time. 201–202). Chicago.

rather than exogenous standards (Archimedean points) and given principles to validate truth claims. 234). 1987. 1977. 1998). albeit partial and imperfect. that is. while the different parties are considered in all their differences. which are of equal or greater validity’ (Shapcott. 89. 2007).18 A communicative attitude of a social scientist in terms of a readiness to translate and constructively engage with incompatible worldviews is thus an important rule of conduct for a flourishing academic community and a prerequisite for a pluralist middle ground. question-driven research on the basis of engaged pluralism simply lays bare what has been general practice all along: that science is a communal enterprise with agreement or consensus as the only ‘standard’ to evaluate conflicting knowledge claims (Kuhn. one should be able to ‘put on different hats. This includes an open attitude towards the possibility that the other may reveal limitations and possible distortions of our analyses and perspectives. Even Popper acknowledged that rules for rational appraisal depend on shared norms that guide social interaction between scientists (see Stokes. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 734 not enough but needs to be complemented with that of dialogue. Instead.’ that is. between a claimant and its audience. in order to make genuine engagement possible: ‘The moment of equality in conversation occurs at the point in which a participant acknowledges not only the limits of their own knowledge. an attitude of critical self-reflection (Kratochwil. there has to be some common frame of reference. and (any) standards can only be defined within a research tradition. the acceptance of the other as being different and equal at the same time. as Smith (2003) wants to argue. This in turn feeds back into Kuhn’s idea of translation. With regard to (constructively) criticising each other’s work. Kratochwil.Tanja E. However. That is. be able to take another’s perspective and as such judge an analysis/theory on its own premises. but also and foremost to the acknowledgement that International Politics 2008 45 .19 Neither does this entail that ‘rationality’ can only be defined within paradigms. 126). though. that this does not entail an attempt to reintroduce foundationalism through the back door: the focus is on intersubjectively shared conventions. communication requires certain openness to the other and her/his viewpoints. 2000. Pollins. As such we need to move beyond the stereotypes that blind us (Hermann. but also the possibility that the other participant(s) may be able to bring to light new ways of seeing or understanding. Arguing that there is a common framework for reference is not the same as claiming a given rationality on which communication can be grounded. 2001. 1970. 1998). It is important to notice. 2003. that is. Rouse.20 In this sense the understanding of science as a social and communicative practice does not only refer to the fact that interaction should be at the center of the scientific enterprise. This in turn requires an open attitude. for genuine and effective communication to take place and not lapse into a plurality of monologues where people talk across each other.

they are more or less correct depending on how well a scientist succeeds in arguing the validity of his argument to her or his audience. These conventions bear witness to the fact that validity is a communicative process that does not in the first place refer to the correspondence between theory and facts. 1977).Tanja E. knowledge of literature. For example. too. 2003. guided by the shared rules of academia. crucially. Indeed. Similarly objectivity is neither a feature of the world (given in facts). these rules are not less important as following these scientific conventions makes it possible for an argument to be recognized as a valid scientific argument by other members of the scientific community. but also against paradigmatic hiding and huddling (cf. innovation. Hence. cf. Kuhn. while they take issue with Steve Smith’s post-positivist rejections of ‘extra-paradigmatic’ standards. 2000. cf. 19–21). 37) explicitly appeals to himself (coherence. persuasiveness. 2007. truth claims are not right or wrong. Argumentative procedures or procedural rules open up the space for dialogue without requiring or claiming consensus and/or International Politics 2008 45 . 2007b. observations alone can never prove the invalidity of a truth claim and the process of validation is to a great extent something that takes place between the scholar and her/his audience (Pollins. and standards of writing) ‘are virtually identical to those that are widely accepted’ by the mainstream (Harvey and Cobb. 13). empirical evidence. Harvey and Cobb notice that the standards Smith (2002. rather it is an inherently social phenomenon. this brings us to the second dimension of rules of conduct that enable translation and effective communication: scientific conventions. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 735 scientific ‘standards’ are of our making — hence we refer to them as conventions. We argue that rather than a sole focus on ontological and/or epistemological consensus or synthesis. nor a characteristic of an individual researcher (his/her opinion). This not only should guard against epistemological gatekeeping. But while less abstract. 90. Kratochwil. Scientific Conventions At the risk of dropping too fast from a metatheoretical to a more practical. As facts are always theory-laden. it is such conventions that constitute our very identity as academics.21 These are not epistemological and not limited to paradigmatic communities as such and. applied level. while structuring the debate they are themselves not exempted from discussion. Or as Kratochwil argues: ‘Truth is y not only contingent on some theoretical framework and some taken-for-granted or background knowledge y but is also derived from argumentative procedures’ (Kratochwil. argumentation. the middle ground should consist of a communicative space where standards or conventions such as these are explicit part of the dialogue. 2007. 145). as it is these conventions that render us part of the wider community of social scientists. Lebow.

The final part of this section therefore takes up Kratochwil’s (2007b) call for investigating criteria that lend force to our assertions by preliminarily discussing three of such conventions. Questions of internal validity thus refer to the use of concepts and the linkage between question/theory and evidence. the rule of internal validity to a certain degree permits communication about persuasiveness of different accounts. 2007a. Such a view. 1994). the notion of retrace-ability rather seeks to engage scholars in a debate about the integrity of the research process itself.24 It enables a discussion about whether or not our claims are consistent with the evidence provided for these claims. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 736 synthesis on the level of ontology or epistemology.. rules of conduct — or whatever one wishes to call them — by which we can explore our identities as academics. In this way it is an attempt to move beyond the discussion about the importance of dialogue and open up the floor for a frank discussion about such values.22 A first rule that can enhance the validity of a particular truth claim is that of retrace-ability. but concerns the ways in which a scholar moves from a particular research question via a particular research design to the answers of this research question (Pennings et al. and in a sense denies the role (intervention) of the researcher. in the context of our argument ‘validity’ should not be conceived in terms of approaching the Archimedean point of objective truth. however. Comparative to the issue of retrace-ability. Rather. and hence are not limited to the rule ‘follow positivist principles in your research’ (Wight. 47). This criterion does not refer so much to the results of a particular research as the research process itself. In other words. The truth claim of an International Politics 2008 45 . the criterion of internal validity does not refer to some external reality. Accepting the existence of different epistemologies and aiming for open dialogue. is only possible if one accepts an epistemological stance that acknowledges the existence of an external reality that can be apprehended outside its discursive mediation. a question of transparency. it is ‘internal’ to the research (design) in as much as it requires that a researcher in fact measures what (s)he claims is being measured. 1999). it is important that a scientist publicly documents the crucial steps of the research project. it needs to be carefully distinguished from the criterion of reliability or replicability. Retrace-ability defined as the ability to follow the steps of a researcher thus enables effective communication about how a scholar logically proceeds and is. For translation and dialogue to be possible. In addition. As such.Tanja E. ultimately. The latter presume that the result of a research can always be replicated if the same procedure is applied again (see King et al.. standards.23 Hence retrace-ability is an important precondition for engaging in a discussion about any of the two following criteria: internal validity and scope conditions. but rather as valid argumentation in relation to the intersubjective scientific conventions.

1998. In addition.26 While it may be countered that genuine dialogue ultimately requires a sense of trust and bonding. see Hopf. 21). dialogue is a possibility. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 737 internally inconsistent. 275). Scope conditions are often taken to refer to the domains of application of a certain theory (Hermann. and academic community at large. The specification of scope conditions thus contributes to a communicative process between the researcher and her/his audience about the validity of the proposed constitutive or causal relationships. 617.Tanja E. (1994. but one way could be what King et al. The question of how to specify the scope conditions knows no single answer.25 Appreciating that interpretations are always partial and open to alternative understandings. we argue that within an academic climate trust should be built on academic disposition such as the ones discussed International Politics 2008 45 . 2007). scholars can nevertheless arrive at conditional generalizations. If researchers are genuinely disposed towards the communicative demands of a middle ground. but that we need to be conscious about the degrees of abstraction involved in our statements about politics and the degree to which our claims and stories travel from the unique and historically contingent to other contexts’ (Price and Reus-Smit. The idea is that each theory has its domain of application which. it does not appreciate that facts are theory-laden and that different theories see and constitute different worlds. This is a difficult criterion. the specification of certain conventions that enable dialogue about the validity of different truth claims does not seek to ground IR in a single epistemology or foundational standards. it simply serves to increase the falsifiability of a truth claim by promoting a discussion about the generalizability of a truth claim across different contexts in time and space (Pollins. However. incoherent account of world politics that does not posit its added value vis-a`-vis alternative approaches that seek to interpret similar phenomena is obviously less persuasive than a well-argued and internally consistent account. Or as Price and Reus-Smit put it: ‘The issue is not that we either have generalizations or we do not. when put together in the larger picture. However. A third communicative condition that enhances effective communication is the specification of scope conditions. the idea of specifying scope conditions can also be interpreted in a slightly different way. Jupille et al.. then. we would argue with Kuhn that conceiving ourselves as member of the wider societas of IR academics (and social scientists) at a minimum creates a certain (obligation of) loyalty. 2007).’ Similar to the notion of replicability. In conclusion. such a view is problematic as it presupposes that there is only one given empirical world ‘out there. 208–229) refer to as increasing the number of observations. Their advice on this account may help to enhance the likelihood that the relationship observed in one context also will be valid in another context (for a more extensive discussion. 1998. 2003. can cumulatively illuminate aspects of the empirical world. In this alternative sense.

As an alternative avenue. and (ii) that science is a communal and conversational enterprise. As such the rules of conduct discussed above can facilitate dialogue within and about the conventions of social science. entailing the view that warranted knowledge claims can only be made if scientists are willing to engage in a dialogue about standards of scientific arguments. leads to inherent contradictions.e. which. and the reflectivist stance that it is (virtually) impossible to make any knowledge claims. because one feels to be criticized on a fair basis) rather than the closeness and safety of paradigmatic bonds. The conceding attempt of conventional constructivism to bridge the gap has hardly succeeded. the conditions specified above should allow a cross-paradigmatic discussion about truth claims. For one thing. This paper suggested a re-exploration of the middle ground between rationalism and reflectivism in order to overcome the deadlock between epistemological gatekeeping and indiscriminate tolerance. Conclusion ‘Understanding the social character of science can be liberatingy’ — we could not agree more with King. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 738 above (i. Keohane and Verba (1994)! In a way.Tanja E. The way we conceive it. given the lack of external reference points from which to judge and be judged upon. 2003). it has put forward a very narrow conception of the middle ground. Keohane. It has sought to outline that conceiving science as a social practice can be a cathartic move for a discipline that at times seems stifled by calls for a common epistemology on the one hand and pleas for complete paradigmatic autonomy on the other as dubious outcomes of the Third Debate. In addition. within conventional constructivism science and substance do not match up. 2003. while at the same time ensuring that various empirical agendas can grow on different ontological and epistemological bases. 2000). the paper put forward an procedural attitude towards science that dismisses both the positivist view that scientific assertions are supposed to marshal universal assent (Kratochwil. Although some will find dialogue less ambitious than synthesis (Moravscik. To continue the quote by King. It argued for an engaged pluralism. 124). paying only dim attention to the epistemological questions raised in the Third Debate and resulting in what has been labelled a mere ‘facelift of the mainstream’ (Guzzini. and more importantly. both these positions ignore two crucial observations: (i) that ontology and epistemology come in an inextricable mix. Our view of the middle ground has sought to make this explicit. we argued. this nicely summarizes the underlying premise of this paper. and Verba: ‘ y [a]s long as our work explicitly addresses (or attempts to redirect) the concerns of the community of scholars and uses public methods to arrive at inferences that are consistent with rules of International Politics 2008 45 .

Conceived as such. Her thesis on political-legal discourses of sovereignty was granted the Jean Blondel Dissertation Award 2007 by the ECPR. She received her Ph. International Relations and the Internal Journal for the Semiotics of Law. She has published in the Journal of Common Market Studies and the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law. Technologies of Risk. the conventions discussed here consist of ‘professional standards. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 739 science and the information at our disposal. catastrophe and the war on terror. This is indeed what we argue. from the Vrije Universiteit. which precludes discussion about quality of research. as well as several international edited volumes. Rens van Munster is Assistant Professor of International Politics at the Department of Political Science. September 9–11. He has (co-)published in journals such as European Journal of International Relations. International Politics 2008 45 . Aalberts is Assistant Professor for International Relations at the Department of Political Science. He is the co-editor of a special issue of Security Dialogue on ‘Security. University of Southern Denmark (Odense). Leiden University (The Netherlands).Tanja E. albeit with one crucial qualification..D. the middle ground can indeed provide a powerful challenge to epistemological gatekeeping and indiscriminant tolerance. with a common focus on edification (Puchala. ultimately. namely that the rules of science are part of the social practice too. He is interested in the politicization of immigration as a security issue and he currently works on questions of risk. 9. it is likely to make a contribution’ (King et al. A revival of the Third Debate as advocated here may turn out to be beneficial by (re)confirming that there are multiple pathways to knowledge about IR. Amsterdam. 2004. waiting to be discovered. and the Political. About the authors Tanja E. Rather. 1994. social scientists. which allow us to move beyond epistemology and which constitute the very boundaries of our identity as IR scholars and. 141–142). and science as such does not equal positivist standards as objective methods to unravel the Truth out there.’ standards set by and for the profession. It can help both rationalists and reflectivists forward by providing a procedural framework that can guide various empirical agendas (in the broad sense). 2000.’ Notes 1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Fifth Pan-European International Relations Conference ‘Constructing World Orders’ of the ECPR/SGIR The Hague. italics added).

because they are counterfactually valid. Wæver’s (1996) explicit distinction between the interparadigm debate and the more philosophical debate between rationalists and reflectivists has indeed been useful to draw attention to the latter. for them the ontological does not refer so much to ‘what is’ but is invoked mainly as a way of criticizing the onto-political (see e. (iii) focus on linguistic construction of reality. even if the concern is with the onto-political (the way central ontological categories such as sovereignty or the state are politically constructed).g. poststructuralists too cannot escape the question of what constitutes good research in the examination of the onto-political (see Price and Reus-Smit. it risks a too clear separation of substance and science. Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 740 2 See also Checkel (1997). such a reading of norms ignores another of Wendt’s premises. 7 The strategy to reduce reflectivism to idealism and to reject it on those terms has been repeatedly deployed by IR theorists (see Mearsheimer. Also. (ii) focus on actual process of knowledge construction in repudiating external sources of understanding (i. (1998). Moreover.’ 9 It should be noted that whereas Lapid equals the rationalist/reflectivist debate with positivism vs post-positivism. (iv) focus on question of subjectivity. that is. 8 Keohane (1988. 1995. 1998. 1989. 767) famous critique that it is problematic to conceive of norms as causes. Ruggie (1998). 1997. and Sterling-Folker (2002). 2001). see for instance Katzenstein et al.e. see e. 1992). in favor of a ‘programmatically diversionary philosophical discussion. the need to move beyond the level of behavior and take effects on identity and. 10 See Wendt (1992) for a first contribution to the bridge-building project. Wight. Wendt. In this account. Lapid. However. that is. as ‘they proved incapable of either fruitfully adopting or decisively rejecting the grail of positivist science’ (Lapid. In other words. 1998. 270) identify the following interdisciplinary elements of critical analysis: (i) inadequacy of positivist/empiricist approaches to knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Archimedean points). and an elaboration of a constructivist research program in positivist terms. Finnemore and Sikkink (1998. 1999). 1989). it is still necessary to document carefully the dominant discourses through which the onto-political is produced. and in particular of mental causality and rump materialism in ‘middle-ground’ constructivism see also Kessler (2007). Jupille et al. but notably Wendt (1999) for a full-fledged articulation of a social theory to international politics.’ which distracts researchers from the subject matter. On the difference between reflectivism and idealism. International Politics 2008 45 . construction of meaning and identity. Nevertheless. Hopf (1998). 382) reproached reflectivist scholars for leading the discipline into a ‘debate at the purely theoretical level. 16–17). However. let alone objective. Adler (1997). 1999). interests into account (see e. 3 For typologies of different types of constructivism. 2002). ultimately. This issue is pursued below. Lapid makes a similar remark when he talks about the tragedy of international relations.g. resisted and reified. Towards a Normative Theory of International Relations. the ‘dissident agenda’ entails more than a post-positivist stance. Milliken. 12 In turn this makes it virtually impossible to theorize change (which was one of the original promises of constructivism and its main critique against neo-realism. 6 This was also the point of contention in the so-called Second Debate between traditionalist/ historians and behavioralists/scientists (cf. 1999). For a genuine debate between constructivism and rationalism. knowledge (cf. 1999). see Laclau and Mouffe (1990). Edkins and Pin-Fat. (2003). see Checkel and Moravcsik (2001). Østerud. Schmidt. Wendt. 4 Especially poststructuralists have questioned the idea of epistemology as rules on how to produce secure. it ignores Kratochwil and Ruggie’s (1986. 5 Mervyn Frost (1986). quoted by George and Campbell (1990). and focused on methodological issues instead (cf. Wæver. See also the fourth section. Finally. 246). Risse (2002).Tanja E. 11 For a detailed discussion of the uneasy tensions of structure/agency. 1996. this ‘history vs science’ controversy did not really disturb the safe grounds of positivist epistemology. world politics. George and Campbell (1990. Campbell.g.

Foucault remarks that ‘those texts that we now would call scientific — those dealing with cosmology and the heavens. In other words. many constructivists study arguing dynamics. distinguishes between ‘thin’ and ‘thick intersubjectivity. focusing on the role of persuasion. 322) lists five indicative criteria that partly overlap: ‘accuracy. Schimmelfennig. 21 For instance. 18 In terms of engagement and open dialogue between opposing perspectives. 2001b. 2001).’ Whereas these count as a set of values to guide and shape theory development. 1991. most authors — drawing upon laboratory-like. but rather on the respect of certain ethical principles. hence enjoying relatively full communication and unanimous professional judgement (Kuhn. simplicity. 22 In The Essential Tension Kuhn (1977. whether socialization can be ‘measured’ accurately if one only focuses upon arguing dynamics as such. quoted by Lebow. consistency. 92) argues that Popper’s stance in his later work does not differ that much from Kuhn’s. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. 330). 1999. unanimous choice’ and International Politics 2008 45 . To understand how socialization works. only when marked with the name of their author. 2000. and fruitfulness. as discussed above. See also Guzzini (2001). medicine and illnesses. See also Lebow (2007). Risse et al. 20 This has also been the stake of a recent debate on the merits of a pragmatic approach to theory building. 17). 2007. 1977. in this regard. 15 This parallels Poppers later conception of the scientific community as ‘a set of persons who share certain techniques such as measurement procedures. In The Myth of the Framework Popper argues the virtue of disagreement. this only illuminates the social character of the scientific endeavor — because scientists may differ about the relative weight of the criteria. 109). among others. as proposed by Kratochwil (2007b) in his Tartu lecture. however. 1970: 176–178). and accepted as ‘‘true’’. b) on these issues. b) and Colin Wight (2007a. science is not a determinate process dictated by ‘rational. A similar endeavor was undertaken by Fierke and Nicholson (2001) in their conversation on the notion of games from a linguistic. which seems to be the aim in both cases.’ 14 See also a recent exchange between Friedrich Kratochwil (2007a.Tanja E. 17 For a similar analogy. 19 Kratochwil (2000. Although substantial differences exist among them.. hence ignoring issues of embeddedness in broader discursive frameworks. respectively rational choice perspective. these criteria are rather imprecise on their own terms — which is the(ir) very point: ‘What the tradition sees as eliminable imperfections in its rules of choice I take to be in part responses to the essential nature of science’ (Kuhn. However. 16 In distinction to societas. noncontextual experiments of communication — go on to specify the conditions under which actors are more likely to persuade other actors of the appropriateness of new norms. and for instance their application to concrete cases. were not really formulas of an argument based on authority. we take issue with the emphasis on synthesis. 2001a). natural sciences and geography — were accepted in the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. shaming and rhetorical action (see. Risse. deliberation. See also Johnston (2001). scope. methodological commitments and presumptions of what constitutes ‘‘good practice’’ in a given field’ (Karl Popper (1972). they were the markers inserted in discourses that were supported to be received as statements of demonstrated truth’ (Foucault. a recent exemplar is Checkel and Moravcsik’s (2001) forum about constructivism vs rationalism in European Union Politics. The question is. See the special issue of the Journal of International Relations and Development 10(1): 2007. Oakeshott refers to universitas as a mode of association that postulates the idea of a substantive or common purpose. ‘‘Plinty recounts’’. This is the type of association characteristic for Kuhn’s paradigmatic community which pursues a set of common goals. see Hermann (1998) who compares different approaches to distinct kind of grammatical structures and IR to the Tower of Babel. ‘‘Hippocrates said’’. Checkel. where communication does not depend on a shared (theoretical) framework. Kessler (2007). Aalberts and Rens van Munster From Wendt to Kuhn 741 13 The resort to cognitive psychology is advocated by Checkel (1998.

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