NON-MAINSTREAM (ALTERNATIVE) THEORIES in IR
To better understand constructivism, we need to look at its basic roots, which (as the
name implies) involve “construction.”
Although we typically think of construction as involving physical things, like buildings
or cars, constructivists consider how the social world is built. There are many different
kinds of constructivists, but they all tend to support the idea that the physical world is
mush less important than the social world and that important parts of the physical world
are actually built of, or “constructed” by, the social world.
In short, constructivism is based on the claim that our understanding of reality is socially
Constructivists place great attention on the role of ideas and beliefs
in shaping our
understanding of the world.
→ Emphasis on the identities
and interests of individuals and states. Constructivists
examine the processes by which leaders, groups, and states alter their preferences, shape
their identities and learn new behavior.
Constructivists share the postmodernist position that knowledge is not just about what we
observe but also about the meaning given to those observations.
Constructivism questions some of the basic beliefs of Realism.
Realists tend to explain the world by asserting that there is a single, knowable, true world
that is separated from one’s social context.
Constructivists counter that there is no certain, permanent, factual reality.
“reality” we have is a social construction. What we make of reality is what matters →
Conventional IR theory concepts such as power, anarchy, and state sovereignty are not
objective (empirical) phenomena. They are actually ideas given meaning by us. The
constructivist approach is to study how these ideas and values came into being and how
they affect the way states act.
The constructivist approach to IR centers on states as social actors whose actions adhere
to international and domestic rules. Put simply, constructivists assert that rules, norms,
institutions, and identities drive the behavior of states.
Where do state interests and identities come from? (Ontological question)
Basic tenets of constructivism:
1) Ideas, beliefs, and identities
of individuals and groups are key to understanding the
nature and course of IR.
People’s identities, ideas, and values are created or “constructed” in large part by their
cultures, group affiliations, and social upbringing.
Who you are and what you believe is in large measure the result of where you live and to
what groups you belong.