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The Evolution of Social Constructivism in Political Science: Past to Present:

The Evolution of Social Constructivism in Political Science: Past to Present: This article aims to illuminate how social constructivism has evolved as a mainstream international relation (IR) paradigm within a short period of time. To be specific, I navigated core tenets of constructivism in terms of its ontology, epistemology, and methodology, respectively. I also explored the growing body of constructivist empirical research and ensuing theoretical refinement as well as the strengths and weaknesses of a constructivist approach. Through these discussions, this article argues that constructivist approaches, since its emergence, have hugely contributed to the development of the study of IRs, providing novel insights and distinct ways of understanding of social and international reality with its own added value, by focusing on the role of ideas, identity, and norms in shaping state preferences and world politics. Keywords constructivism, identity, idea, international relations, norms How constructivism has become one of the most compelling rationalists–constructivists debate had gradually become the approaches in rivalry with dominant rationalist and material- principal line of contestation (Price & Reus-Smit, 1998), as ist theories in the study of international relations (IR)? In this the 1990s have witnessed the rise of a constructivist approach article, I suggest that constructivist approaches, since its in the study of IR. According to Price and Reus-Smit (1998), emergence, have truly provided important and distinctive the reorientation of critical international theory, which theoretical and empirical insights in explaining global poli- resulted in the “constructivist turn in IR,” was prompted by tics. The principal aim of this study is in this context to three mutually reinforcing factors. First was “the response by explore the rise of constructivism within the field of IR in the neoliberals and neorealists to the criticism leveled by critical midst of the interparadigm debate and to explain the over- theorists.” As Keohane already noted, many admitted the arching theoretical underpinnings of constructivism— potential of the reflectivist critical international theorists as a including its main ontological, epistemological, and new provider of alternative insights into the intersubjective methodological tenets. I also review a wide array of con- bases of IR. The second factor was the demise of the Cold structivist empirical works that have significantly contrib- War, which demonstrated “the failure of the dominant ratio- uted to the theoretical development and refinement for more nalist theories” in explaining such a dramatic international than two decades. I finally evaluate some notable strengths change. The third was a generational change of IR scholars and weaknesses of constructivist approaches. who have been hugely enlightened by the insights of Third Debate critical theories (Price & Reus-Smit, 1998). Adler (1997) articulates that constructivism is the view The Emergence of Constructivist IR that “the manner in which the material world shapes and is Theory shaped by human action and interaction depends on dynamic normative and epistemic interpretations of the material The Constructivist Turn in IR and Important world” (p. 322). Likewise, constructivism is conceived as, Tenets of Constructivism according to Guzzini (2000), a “metatheoretical commit- The main axis of the interparadigm debate—so called, the ment” on the basis of three important tenets: as an Third great debate—during the 1980s in the field of IR had been between rationalists and early critical international the- University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, USA orists. In this regard, Robert Keohane noted the emergence Corresponding Author: and the validity of a new approach in his 1988 address at the Hoyoon Jung, Political Science Department, University of Hawai‘i at ISA Annual Conference, calling it “reflectivist” (Keohane, Mānoa, 2424 Maile Way, Saunders 640, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA. 1988; Weber, 2014; Wendt, 1992). In this process, the Email: hoyoon@hawaii.edu Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open epistemological claim, knowledge is socially constructed; as international system—enemy, rival, and friend, respectively. an ontological claim, social reality is constructed; finally, as In other words, there actually exist different “anarchies,” a reflexive claim, knowledge and reality are mutually consti- which vary greatly depending on the roles that dominate the tutive (Cited in Pouliot, 2007, p. 361). Constructivists have system. The emphasis on the mutual constitution of agents focused on the examination of nonmaterial factors such as and structure also destabilized the taken-for-granted black norms, ideas, knowledge, and culture, stressing in particular box, treating identity and interest of agents as an important the role played by “collectively held or intersubjective ideas empirical question (Checkel, 1998; Hopf, 1998; Wendt, and understanding on social life” in IRs (Finnemore & 1992). These constructivist claims thus challenge the meth- Sikkink, 2001, p. 393). In addition, Ruggie (1998, p. 856) odological individualism, which underpins neorealism and describes constructivism as “human consciousness and its neoliberalism’s agent-centered view (Checkel, 1998). role in international life.” At the most general level, con- According to Finnemore and Sikkink (2001), the main structivism is an approach to social analysis based on the analytical competitors of constructivism can be singled out following basic assumptions: (a) human interaction is not into two kinds: (a) “materialist theories, which see political shaped by material factors, but primarily by ideational ones; behavior as determined by the physical world alone” and (b) (b) the most significant ideational factors in this context are “individualist theories, which treat collective understandings “intersubjective” beliefs as shared collective understanding; as simply epiphenomena of individual action and deny that and (c) these beliefs construct the actors’ identities and inter- they have causal power or ontological status.” Similarly, ests (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001, p. 393). Accordingly, the Fearson and Wendt (2005) argue that the debate between importance and added value of constructivism in the study of rationalism and constructivism can be principally framed in IR lie particularly in its emphasis on both the “ontological disagreement with metaphysical positions (ontology) and reality of intersubjective knowledge” and the “epistemologi- empirical descriptions of the world. Whereas rationalism is cal and methodological implications of this reality.” In sum, based on individual ontology, constructivism assumes a constructivists firmly believe that IRs are made up of social holist ontology in which wholes cannot be reducible to inter- facts, which can exist only by human agreement (Adler, acting parts. Moreover, they disagree on whether preferences 1997). or interests of agents are exogenously given or endogenous Unlike neorealism or neoliberalism, Constructivism in IR to a social interaction; while rationalism follows homo eco- is “not a substantive theory of politics” per se (Adler, 1997, nomicus, which is based fundamentally on the logic of con- p. 323). Rather, it is a “theoretically informed approach to the sequences, constructivists maintain that actors are homo study of IR” (Ruggie, 1998, p. 880). In other words, con- sociologicus, which takes the logic of appropriateness structivism is a social theory, which “makes claims about the (Fearson & Wendt, 2005). The emergence of constructivism, nature of social life and social change” (Finnemore & marked as the social theoretic turn in IR, has created room Sikkink, 2001, p. 393). Contradicting neorealist and neolib- for treating identity and interest as well as norms as promis- eral precepts that have been particularly concerned with the ing dependant or explanatory variables in the study of global examination of “how the behavior of agents generates out- politics (Weber, 2014). comes” (Wendt, 1992, 1999, p. 391), constructivism takes “a sociological perspective on world politics, emphasizing the Many Constructivisms? The Variants of importance of normative as well as material structures, and Constructivism the role of identity in the constitution of interests and action” (Price & Reus-Smit, 1998, p. 259). Whereas some scholars, for example, Price and Reus-Smit Contra neorealism and neoliberalism, constructivist (1998), suggest that the categorization within constructivism approaches emphasize, again, the reflexivity of society and in IR is unnecessary by asserting that conventional construc- the self, assuming that agents and structures are mutually tivism has to be seen as an intellectual outgrowth of critical constituted (Checkel, 1998; Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001; theory—and that it does not violate principal epistemologi- Hopf, 1998; Price & Reus-Smit, 1998 ; Wendt, 1999). This cal, methodological, and normative tenets of critical interna- ontological tenet has provided the new constructivist inter- tional theory—many IR scholars have claimed that the pretation of anarchy that fundamentally refutes the neorealist distinction can be made depending on theoretical and episte- postulation—anarchy as systems of self-help. Wendt (1999) mological differences (Farrell, 2002; Fearson & Wendt, asserts that there can exist multiple logics in anarchic struc- 2005; Hopf, 1998; Weber, 2014). tures, arguing that “anarchy as such is an empty vessel and First, Hopf (1998) categorizes constructivism into conven- has no intrinsic logic; anarchies only acquire logics as a tional and critical variants. While admitting that constructiv- function of the structure of what we put inside them” (Wendt, ism shares some foundational elements of critical theory, Hopf 1999, p. 249). In his analysis, Wendt claims that there are (1998) suggests that “to the degree that constructivism creates three different cultures of anarchy as in imagined commu- theoretical and epistemological distance between itself and its nity, naemly Hobbesian, Lockean, and Kantian, respectively. origins in critical theory, it becomes conventional constructiv- In each culture, a dissimilar structure of roles dominates the ism” (p. 181). Although conventional constructivists aim to Jung 3 produce new knowledge and insights based on “minimal foun- constructivism’s core assumption (Finnemore & Sikkink, dationalism” by accepting that a contingent universalism may 2001). Constructivist approach is primarily a process-cen- be necessary and possible, critical constructivists pursue tered one based on “the dialectical constitution of knowledge human emancipation and enlightenment by unmasking natu- and reality” (Pouliot, 2007, p. 364). Constructivist scholars ralized order and asymmetrical power relations in our social are, therefore, basically skeptical about claims to “all- world (Hopf, 1998, pp. 183-185). Hopf in this context argues encompassing truth,”—what Price and Reus-Smit (1998) that conventional constructivism operates between main- call “Big-T”; rather, they are more concerned with “small-t” stream IR and critical theories, in that while conventional con- contingent claims. Such partial claims still constitute causal structivists deny the mainstream position that “world is so explanation in a way different to that which realists and liber- homogeneous that universally valid generalizations can be als understand causality (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001, expected to come of theorizing about it,” they at the same time pp. 394-395). Likewise, Adler (2005) maintains that con- reject the critical constructivist presumption that “world poli- structivists share an epistemology “in which interpretation is tics is so heterogeneous that we should presume to look for an intrinsic part of the social sciences and emphasizes con- only the unique and the differentiating” (Hopf, 1998, p. 199). tingent generalizations.” For him “contingent generaliza- By the same token, Adler (1997) maintains that constructiv- tions do not freeze understanding; rather, they open up our ism—specifically conventional constructivism—can play an understanding of the social world” (Adler, 2005, pp. 10-11). important role as the middle ground between rationalists (neo- Similarly, according to Finnemore and Sikkink (2001), con- realists and neoliberals) and adherents of interpretive episte- structivists recognize that “all research involves interpreta- mologies (such as postmodernists and critical theorists). tion, and thus there is no neutral stance from which they can Meanwhile, Fearson and Wendt (2005) divide construc- gather objective knowledge about the world, but they differ tivism into three distinct strands—positivist, interpretivist, about how this interpretation should be one and what kinds and postmodern—depending on their epistemological posi- of explanation it yields” (p. 395). tions. According to them, these three constructivisms answer It is important to recognize that modern, or so-called con- differently to the following two epistemological questions: ventional, constructivists follow similar methodological “Whether knowledge claims about social life can be given tasks of rationalist or utilitarian camps; gathering evidence, any warrant other than the discursive power of the putative assessing it and arbitrating among explanations. They rely on knower (relativism issue)”; and “Whether causal explana- several sources similarly that other social scientists widely tions are appropriate in social inquiry (the naturalism issue).” utilizes to extract reliable and relevant evidence (Finnemore Although a positivist position answers yes to both questions, & Sikkink, 2001), whereas postmodern or critical construc- an interpretivist answers yes and no, respectively, and post- tivists are concerned more with “discourse” that has recently modern constructivists answer no to both (Fearson & Wendt, arisen a key theoretical concept in the social sciences. By 2005). Fearon and Wendt thus conclude that one cannot challenging the “scientism” of mainstream IR, studies of dis- speak of “constructivism” in the singular because epistemo- course about the knowledge/power nexus have become one logical dissimilarities between them are fundamentally deep. of the fast thriving and vibrant areas across the academic dis- Despite the sharp differences between several variants ciplines (Milliken, 1999, pp. 225-226). For example, in her within constructivism, they do share notable theoretical fun- study of international aid, Nair (2013) analyzes how endur- damentals in general. First, constructivists have common ing asymmetric power relations between international aid interests in examining how practices of social life and the donors and recipients have been discursively constructed. objects are “constructed” (Fearson & Wendt, 2005). In other According to her, “representations about what aid does, its words, they seek to “denaturalize” the social world; they aim modalities and dispensations” contributes to the reproduc- to reveal how practices and identities that people usually take tion of hegemonic aid discourse that reestablishes hegemonic for granted as exogenously given are rather the product of authority of the donor over the recipient (Nair, 2013, p. 630). social construction by human agency. Second, they also As such, there is no single constructivist research design commonly emphasize the significance of mutual constitution or methods. Constructivists choose the methods and analyti- of agents and structure, believing that intersubjective reality cal tools best suited to their particular research questions, and meanings are paramount data to grasp social world, taking advantage of process tracing, interviews, participant when these data are appropriately “contextualized” (Hopf, observation, structured focused comparison, genealogy, dis- 1998) Third, all kinds of constructivist variants are based pri- course analysis, content analysis, and many others to capture marily upon a methodological holist research strategy rather intersubjective meanings (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). than methodological individualist perspective (Fearson & Wendt, 2005). Empirical and Theoretical Development of Constructivism Methodological Tenets of Constructivist Approach Constructivism’s empirical research program has been The methods and methodology of constructivism that enables largely shaped by its core assumptions in various ways to capture the intersubjective meanings have been shaped by (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). Thanks to the huge 4 SAGE Open contribution made by growing constructivist empirical As we all might know, sociological institutionalism is not works, “the once controversial statement that norms matter is equivalent to constructivism in IR; however, they are much accepted by the most diehard neorealists” (Checkel, 1997, similar in some significant aspects. First and foremost, in p. 473). The constructivist approach has thus become one of both perspectives, “actors are treated not as unanalyzed ‘giv- the most influential and compelling perspectives in main- ens’ but as entities constructed and motivated by enveloping stream IR. In this section, I will examine the theoretical frames.” Put simply, “the nature, purposes, behavior, and development and refinement guided by constructivist empir- meaning of actors are subject to redefinition and transforma- ical works over more than two decades. tion as the frames themselves change” (Boli & Thomas, 1997, p. 172). Moreover, in contrast to the rationalist approach such as realism and liberalism—which assume Sociological Institutionalism/World Polity Theory individualist ontology “in which wholes are reducible to Prior to the rise of constructivism as a promising paradigm in interacting parts,” constructivism and sociological institu- IR, the sociological institutionalists—so-called neoinstitu- tionalism share a holist ontology “in which parts exist only in tionalists or world polity theorists—had offered new per- relation to wholes” (Fearson & Wendt, 2005, p. 53). spective on “how ‘world culture’ reconfigured state policies Although it seems that they resemble each other, they also in many different policy arenas” (Finnemore & Sikkink, differ in some ways. First, many of the world polity theorists 2001, pp. 396-397). The core argument of this Stanford take advantage of quantitative methods to clarify overall School of thought was that “the modern world society causes characteristics of cultural and normative structures and the the diffusion of common institutional models and patterns of changes in them over time. However, this approach is less legitimacy among nation states” (Burawoy, 2000, p. 2). convincing to understand why and how these changes occur. World polity approach, therefore, emphasizes an omniscient Constructivists can effectively fill this gap, utilizing a vast role of world society models, according to Meyer, Boli, array of methods to capture intersubjective meanings Thomas, and Ramirez (1997, pp. 144, 173), which “shapes (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998). Also, in contrast to the socio- nation-state identities, structures, and behavior via world- logical institutionalist emphasis on “structure at the expense wide cultural and associational processes.” In this regard, of agency” (Finnemore, 1996, p. 342), constructivists— Boli and Thomas (1997) state that especially agentic constructivists—stress the mutual consti- tution of structure and agency. In this regard, Finnemore and For a century and more, the world has constituted a singular Sikkink (1998, p. 397) insist that sociological institutional- polity. By this we mean that the world has been conceptualized ists often look “dangerously biased,” in that “these scholars as a unitary social system, increasingly integrated by networks sometimes overlook the fact that international norms have to of exchange, competition, and cooperation, such that actors come from somewhere and may not identify feedback effects have found it “natural” to view the whole world as their arena of from local agents onto global structures.” action and discourse. (p. 172) The Role of Strategic Agency In other words, the rise of isomorphism among the con- temporary nation-state particularly in terms of institutional Recent constructivist researches have kept its distance from models and legitimate authority stems from a singular world the crucial tenets of sociological institutionalism, especially polity alongside globalization. Therefore, for sociological by offering new insights concerning “the role of strategic institutionalists, the structure takes precedence over agents; agency” (Kim & Sharman, 2014, p. 444). These agentic con- “it creates actors but it is not created by them” (Finnemore, structivist works have primarily focused on the purposive 1996, p. 333). exertion of individuals and groups who attempt to change For example, in their study of “cross-national acquisition existing norms and rules in the sphere of politics or generate of women’s suffrage rights” from 1890 to 1990, Ramirez, new norms and persuade a mass of norm leaders (states) to Soysal, and Shanahan (1997, p. 743) demonstrate that the embrace new norms. In this norm entrepreneurship litera- universalization of women’s suffrage among many nation- ture, an attempt has been made to explain how these activists states was primarily enabled and largely facilitated by the operate and what might contribute to their success. These are “existence, development, diffusion, and influence of a more not easily elucidated by dominant utilitarian approaches; inclusive world model of political citizenship” rather than constructivist approaches can be niche alternatives national political factors. Similarly, Kim and Sharman (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998; 2001). (2014), through their empirical studies, argue that the recent As an illustration, Price’s (1998) work on how nonstate rise and diffusion of individual accountability norms for both actors—which he terms “transnational civil society”— leaders’ human rights crimes and corruption are a product of generate international norms prohibiting antipersonnel land “an overarching modernist world culture privileging indi- mines and teach states is particularly noteworthy. Price sug- vidual rights and responsibilities, as well as rational-legal gests how the constructivist approaches effectively shed light authority” (Kim & Sharman 2014, p. 417). on the security issue area, which has been conventionally Jung 5 regarded as the realm of the high politics. Similarly, high- scholars have rather identified that international norms often lighting the increasingly crucial role of nonstate actors in have different impacts on different agents. Therefore, captur- world politics, Keck and Sikkink (1999) distinguish these ing and explaining these differences have become a central activists whose formation was motivated by principled ideas task of constructivist research (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). or values from economic actors/firms and What Hass terms In this regard, Checkel’s (1997, 1999) works have pro- epistemic communities (Haas, 1992). Keck and Sikkink foundly contributed to the literature on cross-national varia- (1998, 1999) call them transnational advocacy networks, tion of international norms’ effects. By arguing that there is which embrace those actors working internationally on an significant variance in mechanisms by which international issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common norms are socialized and internalized within each domestic discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services. political arena, he maintains that the effects of international They refer to transnational “networks” rather than civil soci- norms reach deeper; they not only constrain societal actors as ety or coalition to stress the “structured and structuring neoliberals argue, but also constitute identities and interests dimension in the actions of these complex agents” (Keck & of actors at the domestic level (Checkel, 1997). Sikkink, 1999, p. 90). The emergence of transnational advo- Finnemore and Sikkink (1998) examine how norms affect cacy networks, according to Keck and Sikkink (1999), is a political change, by introducing the path-breaking theory of new and transformative phenomenon in many aspects. They norm “life cycle,” which articulates the evolution of norms specifically comment that in three stages—norm emergence, norm cascade, and inter- nalization. They argue that different actors, different motives, What is novel in these networks is the ability of non-traditional and different dominant mechanisms engage in different international actors to mobilize information strategically to help stages. Cortell and Davis (1996) also argue that domestic create new issues and categories, and to persuade, pressurize, political actors’ appropriation of international norms and and gain leverage over much more powerful organizations and rules can influence the state policy choice. Based on the case governments. Activists in networks try not only to influence study of U.S. policy choices in the realm of economy and policy outcomes, but to transform the terms and nature of the security, they underline the role of domestic structural con- debate. They are not always successful in their efforts, but they texts as an intervening variable in determining the degree to are increasingly important players in policy debates at the which domestic actors’ appeal to international norms affect regional and international level. (pp. 89-90) the state preferences. Acharya (2004) navigates how transna- tional norms have an impact on institutional change in In their other volume Activists beyond borders, Keck and ASEAN. By paying particular attention on norm localization Sikkink (1998)—by examining the cases of human rights dynamics, he suggests that normative contestation between advocacy networks in Latin America, environmental advo- emerging global norms and preexisting regional norms can cacy networks in Third World such as Brazil and Malaysia be settled by norm localization in which norm-takers’ con- and relatively novel emergence of advocacy networks on gruence-building is a key in this process. In this way, these violence against women—asserts that these advocacy net- scholars have created intersectional research agenda between works have had an influence not only on the preferences of IR and comparative politics (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). their own countries, but also on the preferences of other states and other nonstate actors such as activist groups and individuals by means of persuasion, socialization, and pres- Norms, International Policy Diffusion, and Social sure. In comparison with earlier focus of women’s network Hierarchies on female circumcision, women’s suffrage and discrimina- Despite the rise of empirical research on norms in the study tion issues, such a newly arisen issue networks have been of IR, ranking dynamics of norms has been significantly rapidly developed once they frame violence against women overlooked in existing literature. Towns’s (2010, 2012) as a violation of human rights (Carpenter, 2005, 2006; Keck thought-provoking works on norms and social hierarchies & Sikkink, 1998), either through online/virtual space nicely fill this gap. Towns (2012) argues that (Carpenter & Jose, 2012) or real-space counterparts. in setting out standards of behavior, norms also draw on and generate social hierarchies. In defining what is normal and Bringing International Norms Back Into Domestic desirable, norms set the terms for what is abnormal and undesirable Politics behavior and provide the means for ranking those states that do Owing to the devotion of constructivist IR scholarship that not meet a norm as deficient and inferior. (p. 180) has demonstrated the significance of norms in world politics over more than two decades, it is no longer controversial to Through the empirical case study of the international diffu- allege that norms matter (Towns, 2012). Unlike the theoreti- sion of legal sex quotas from Latin America, Towns (2012) cal tenet of sociological institutionalism, which focuses maintains that “new policy measures may emerge from exclusively on one-directional causality, constructivist ‘below’ as peripheral states attempt to improve their 6 SAGE Open standing” (pp. 182-183). In other words, states in lower sources, simply for the state to “enable to make a decision or ranking in international society are often eager to become to act in a particular situation” (Weldes, 1996, p. 281). leaders in certain norm diffusion processes with intent to Accordingly, the representations created by state officials raise its rank within a given order or as a means of rejecting “make clear both to those officials themselves and to others an existing order. This argument can also offer an persuasive who and what we are, who and what our enemies are, in what account of why core states attempt to diffuse new policies; ways we are threatened by them, and how we might best deal that is, they do so to maintain their international standing with those threats” (Weldes, 1996, p. 283). and to be admired (Towns, 2012). An increasing engagement of critical constructivists in security studies has been noteworthy as well. According to Cho (2009), the key differences between conventional and Constructivism and Security Studies critical constructivism is that “identities are often regarded Power and politics, which has traditionally been a realm of as explanatory variables for certain security phenomena in realist research program, has been facing a stiff challenge by conventional constructivism, but in critical constructivism the development of an alternative paradigm—constructivist the identities themselves are to be explained to make sense of approach—to the subject. This ideational turn in security the cultural productions of insecurities” (pp. 96-97). In this studies are concerned mainly with “the impact of norms on regard, in Weldes’s (1999) other volume Culture of Insecurity, international security” (Farrell, 2002, p. 49). For example, she points out that “insecurities, rather than being natural Walling (2013) shows social constructivist approach to the facts, are social and cultural productions,” and this insecurity issue of humanitarian intervention of the U.N. Security is itself “the product of processes of identity construction in Council. Shedding light on how violation of human rights which the self and the other, or multiple others, are consti- has become one of the major threats to international security tuted.” In other words, “identity and insecurity are produced and, therefore, how humanitarian intervention has become and reproduced in a mutually constitutive process” (Weldes, justified as international human rights norms become increas- 1999, pp. 10-11, 59). Weldes empirically traces the produc- ingly legitimate, the author maintains that “interests are tion of insecurity during the Cuban Missile crisis and claims shaped by normative values” (Walling, 2013, p. 15). that the crisis in 1962 was a product of social construction Criticizing an incomplete explanation of rationalist approach that dominant masculinist U.S. Cold War identity was to humanitarian intervention that assumes material interest reasserted. and power as a pivotal driver, Walling demonstrates that con- structivist accounts of norms and ideas also matter signifi- State Identities, Interests, and Its Behavior cantly in the area of security studies where rationalism has traditionally predominated. Similarly, Finnemore (2004) elu- One of the most innovative scholarly contributions of con- cidates the historical changes of military intervention and structivism to the field of IR would be the following argu- points out that the old notion of realpolitik cannot explain ment, established by several empirical works, that states such transformations. States sometimes use force for differ- identity shapes its interests, preferences, and behaviors. As ent purposes, according to her, just as the case of humanitar- Hopf (1998) points out, “in telling you who you are, identi- ian intervention shows. As Finnemore argues, what have ties strongly imply a particular set of interests or preferences really changed over time are the social purposes of interven- with respect to choices of action in particular domains, and tion, and that the utility of the use of force depends increas- with respect to particular actors. The identity of a state ingly on its legitimacy. Other scholars have put ideological implies its preferences and consequent actions” (p. 175). variables at the center of security issues. In his book Being credited for placing identity issues at the heart of con- Ideological Origins of Great Power Politics, Haas (2005) structivist theorizing, Wendt (1992) and Katzenstein (1996) shows the ideological distance among actors—the degree of are considered pioneers in this area. However, they differ ideological similarities and differences—plays a crucial role greatly in terms of the weighted influence of international in leaders’ perception of threat and shaping national versus domestic attributes on constituting state identities; interests. while Wendt’s systemic constructivism puts particular In contrast to the realist position that regards national emphasis on international factors, Katzenstein focuses pri- interests as “objects that have merely to be observed or dis- marily on domestic environments as a key source of shaping covered,” Weldes (1996, p. 280) conceptualizes the national state identities (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). interests as “social constructions,” which are “created as As mentioned several times, rationalist approaches such meaningful objects out of the intersubjective and culturally as neorealism and neoliberalism treat the agents’ identities established meanings with which the world, particularly the and interests as exogenously given (Ruggie, 1998). According international system and the place of the state in it, is under- to Wendt, however, they are rather endogenous to interac- stood.” According to her, national interests are constructed by tion. Drawing on sociological structurationist and symbolic the state itself, mainly by state officials and elites, through interactionist perspective, Wendt develops constructivist representations drawing on a variety of cultural and linguistic theory “in which identities and interests are the dependent Jung 7 variable” in contrast to the liberal claim that “international scholarly topic of research, they truly share a similar onto- institutions can transform state identities and interests” logical claim, the linguistic construction of reality, which (Wendt, 1992, p. 394). Wendt asserts that “identities are the might offer a prospective bridge between constructivism and basis of interests” and “actors do not have a portfolio of poststructuralism (Pouliot, 2004). interests that they carry around independent of social con- Drawing on American philosopher Searle’s (1969, 1995) text; instead, they define their interests in the process of language and speech act theories, Nicholas Onuf—who first defining situation” (Wendt, 1992, p. 398). In Katzenstein’s introduced the term “constructivism” to the field of IR— volume (1996), however, identity is closely associated with argues that “talking is undoubtedly the most important way domestic attributes. That is to say, identity is commonly that we go about making the world what it is” (Onuf, 1989, articulated as “varying constructions of statehood” and p. 59). His basic presupposition in mind underlying his argu- “varying national ideologies of collective distinctiveness and ment is that “people always construct, or constitute, social purpose” across countries; therefore, these variations in turn reality, even as their being, which can only be social, is con- constitute state interests which have a further influence on structed for them” (Onuf, 2013, p. 1). For him, a principal state policy. means of social construction is language. Onuf (2003) fur- ther argues that when it comes to constructivist analysis of language and agency, “language makes us who we are” The Role of International Institutions (p. 27). Similarly, Mattern’s (2004) landmark book Ordering Although a majority of scholars of IRs might agree that inter- International Politics shows us the quintessence of how lan- national institutions matter, less consensus has been made on guage-power nexus has had an impact on international iden- how they have exact effects (Checkel, 2005). Some construc- tity and order. Through an empirical examination of the Suez tivist scholars have focused on “the role of international Crisis in 1956, Mattern explores how Anglo-American iden- organizations in disseminating new international norms and tity was fastened and, therefore, international order was models of political organization” (Finnemore & Sikkink, maintained through the use of “representational force.” In 2001, p. 401). Although the traditional regime theorists have sum, she argues that “fastening identity through representa- dealt with the issue of international organization and norms, tional force forces order back upon disorder” (Mattern, 2004, their exact focus was on how norms and a convergence of p. 70). expectations produce international organization, but not on Some scholars are influenced heavily by the Habermasian whether the reverse case might be possible (e.g., Krasner, critical theory. Particularly noteworthy is Risse’s (2000) 1982). In this regard, Finnemore (1993) suggests that inter- work, which suggests the “logic of arguing” as a distinct and national organizations do produce and promote new norms, new mode of social interaction. Risse distinguishes three and even “teach” states, unlike the regimes literature gener- logics of social action—a logic of consequentialism rooted ally assumes. Others have explored the issue of international in rational choice theory, a logic of appropriateness empha- institutions and socialization, focusing particularly on the sized by social constructivists, and a logic of arguing devel- ways in which international institution plays a socializing oped from the insights of the German-speaking IR role. For example, Checkel (2005) illuminates a social con- community. According to him, structivist perspective on socializing role of institution in Arguing implies that actors try to challenge the validity claims Europe. Whereas rationalist approaches traditionally grasp inherent in any causal or normative statement and to seek a socialization as a result of agents’ strategic calculation such communicative consensus about their understanding of a as sanctions or material incentives followed by a logic of situation as well as justifications for the principles and norms consequences (Schimmelfennig, 2005), constructivists sees guiding their action. . . Argumentative and deliberative behavior socialization in the context of a logic of appropriateness. is as goal oriented as strategic interaction, but the goal is not to Checkel (2005, p. 812) further argues that—based partly on attain one’s fixed preferences, but to seek a reasoned consensus. Habermasian communicative action theory—“normative Actors’ interests, preferences, and the perceptions of the suasion” primarily through “talking” between agents within situation are no longer fixed, but subject to discursive challenges. institutions or organizations plays a pivotal role in socializa- Where argumentative rationality prevails, actors do not seek to tion. For him, international institutions are thus important maximize or to satisfy their given interests and preferences, but venue for socialization. to challenge and to justify the validity claims inherent in them— and they are prepared to change their views of the world or even their interests in light of the better argument. (Risse, 2000, p. 7) The Role of Language, Speech Act, and Argument Following Wittgenstein, Searle and Habermas, other con- Therefore, for Risse (2000), “arguing and deliberating structivists have examined the role of “language,” “speech,” about the validity claims” are innate in “any communicative and “argument” as a key mechanism of social construction statement about identities, interests, and the state of the (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). Although each of the scholars world” (p. 33). Risse illustrates in his empirical case study of this variant of constructivism has an interest in different the role and power of argument in the processes of domestic 8 SAGE Open implementation of international human rights norms. interests,” that is, politics is not just material, but is truly Similarly, as already examined in the section above, social (Price, 2006, p. 255). In other words, norms are not Checkel’s (2005) work on socializing role of institutions in merely confined to regulative or restrictive roles, but possess Europe and the role of “talking” in such process can be also productive and constitutive effects as well (Price, 2006); understood in the same context. In his another study on con- also, (b) added values of constructivism would be its empha- structivist compliance studies, Checkel (2001) tries to puzzle sis on the “ontological reality of intersubjective knowledge” out the following question: “why do actors comply with and on the “epistemological and methodological implica- social norms?” Through the case study of state compliance tions of this reality” (Adler, 1997, p. 323). with citizenship norm in Germany and Ukraine, he suggests On the contrary, there are some weaknesses in this that norm compliance can be explicated by a process encom- approach as well. Hopf (1998) in this context, points out that passing both rationalist instrumental choice and constructiv- constructivism “does not specify the existence, let alone pre- ist social learning (Checkel, 2001). Acknowledging the cise nature of its main causal/constitutive elements: identi- validity of rationalist approach to norm compliance studies, ties, norms, values and social structure” (p. 189). In addition, Checkel also points out that actors sometimes comply with constructivism invites some degree of criticism often norms “by learning new interests through non-instrumental” assumed as inherent weakness, which can be labeled as (Checkel, 2001, p. 564). “selection bias.” According to Finnemore and Sikkink (1998), one of the consistent complaints about constructiv- ism made by competitor theorists has been its exclusive Constructivism and Foreign Policy Analysis focus on good and nice norms such as human rights, environ- In recent years, there have been scholarly endeavors to bridge ment protection, climate change, women’s right, and many constructivist perspective to the study of foreign policy analy- others even after constructivism was acknowledged as a sis. According to Houghton (2007), foreign policy analysis legitimate research approach in IR. In other words, this bias had been treated as “free-floating enterprise,” which is not toward admirable norms has caused less attention to be paid logically connected to a realist or liberalist paradigm in the toward xenophobic nationalism, racism, and the spread of field of IR. He, however, suggests that a dialogue with con- homophobia and so forth, which have nonetheless become structivist approaches—especially the cognitive psychological an important research theme of our time. approach to the study of foreign policy decision-making—can be one of the most promising logical bases, which connect Conclusion them. Asserting that conventional approaches to foreign policy In this article, I have sought to illuminate how constructivist are optimized to answer the question of “why particular deci- approach has evolved as a mainstream IR within a short sions and actions were made” but are not appropriate to period of time. To be specific, I navigated core tenets of con- examine the “how the subjects, objects, and interpretive dis- structivism in terms of its ontology, epistemology, and meth- positions were socially constructed such that certain practices odology, respectively. I also explored the growing body of were made possible” question (In short, the “how-possible” constructivist empirical research and ensuing theoretical question), Doty (1993, p. 298) also proposed the post-positiv- refinement as well as the strengths and weaknesses of a con- ist critical approaches to foreign policy analysis can resolve structivist approach. Through these discussions, it would not that problem. In this regard, she suggests the discourse ana- be an exaggeration to say that constructivism has hugely lytical method to address this issue that assumes reality as a contributed to the development of the study of IR as well, linguistic construction and puts forward a critical analysis of providing novel insights and distinct ways of understanding how foreign policy practices—especially the distinction of social and international reality with its own added value— between “us” and “them”—are socially constructed. by focusing on the role of ideas, identity, and norms in shap- ing state preferences and world politics. According to the Ivory Tower Survey conducted by Foreign Policy, IR schol- The Strengths and Weaknesses of ars with an attachment to the constructivist approach (22%) Constructivist Approaches outnumbered either the liberal (21%) or realist (16%) camp for the first time in the year 2011. “From prospect to pros- At the general level, it is widely recognized that constructiv- perity” might be the best indication of the evolution and the ism is strong, precisely where other approaches are generally development of constructivist approach over the past two weak, and vice versa. In relation to rival approaches, such as decades in IR. realism and liberalism, the comparative advantage of con- structivism—as examined in the second chapter—can be Declaration of Conflicting Interests summed up straightforwardly as (a) contrary to realists, social constructivists in IR provides an alternative under- The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect standing that “norms and ideas also constitute power and to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. Jung 9 Funding Doty, R. L. (1993). Foreign policy as social construction: A post- positivist analysis of U.S. counterinsurgency policy in the The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author- Philippines. International Studies Quarterly, 37, 297-320. ship, and/or publication of this article. Farrell, T. (2002). Constructivist security studies: Portrait of a research program. International Studies Review, 4(1), 49-72. Note Fearson, J., & Wendt, A. (2005). 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Anarchy is what states make of it: The social ing logic of political citizenship: Cross-national acquisition of construction of power politics. International Organization, 46, women’s suffrage rights, 1890 to 1990. American Sociological 391-425. Review, 62, 735-745. Wendt, A. (1999). Social theory of international politics. New Risse, T. (2000). “Let’s argue!” Communicative action in world York, NY: Cambridge University Press. politics. International Organization, 54, 1-39. Ruggie, J. G. (1998). What makes the world hang together? Author Biography Neo-utilitarianism and the social constructivist challenge. International Organization, 52, 855-885. Hoyoon Jung is PhD student in political science at the university of Schimmelfennig, F. (2005). Strategic calculation and international Hawaii at Manoa. His research focuses on the politics of national socialization: Membership incentives, party constellations, identity in Brazil. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png SAGE Open SAGE

The Evolution of Social Constructivism in Political Science: Past to Present:

SAGE Open , Volume 9 (1): 1 – Feb 27, 2019

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Abstract

This article aims to illuminate how social constructivism has evolved as a mainstream international relation (IR) paradigm within a short period of time. To be specific, I navigated core tenets of constructivism in terms of its ontology, epistemology, and methodology, respectively. I also explored the growing body of constructivist empirical research and ensuing theoretical refinement as well as the strengths and weaknesses of a constructivist approach. Through these discussions, this article argues that constructivist approaches, since its emergence, have hugely contributed to the development of the study of IRs, providing novel insights and distinct ways of understanding of social and international reality with its own added value, by focusing on the role of ideas, identity, and norms in shaping state preferences and world politics. Keywords constructivism, identity, idea, international relations, norms How constructivism has become one of the most compelling rationalists–constructivists debate had gradually become the approaches in rivalry with dominant rationalist and material- principal line of contestation (Price & Reus-Smit, 1998), as ist theories in the study of international relations (IR)? In this the 1990s have witnessed the rise of a constructivist approach article, I suggest that constructivist approaches, since its in the study of IR. According to Price and Reus-Smit (1998), emergence, have truly provided important and distinctive the reorientation of critical international theory, which theoretical and empirical insights in explaining global poli- resulted in the “constructivist turn in IR,” was prompted by tics. The principal aim of this study is in this context to three mutually reinforcing factors. First was “the response by explore the rise of constructivism within the field of IR in the neoliberals and neorealists to the criticism leveled by critical midst of the interparadigm debate and to explain the over- theorists.” As Keohane already noted, many admitted the arching theoretical underpinnings of constructivism— potential of the reflectivist critical international theorists as a including its main ontological, epistemological, and new provider of alternative insights into the intersubjective methodological tenets. I also review a wide array of con- bases of IR. The second factor was the demise of the Cold structivist empirical works that have significantly contrib- War, which demonstrated “the failure of the dominant ratio- uted to the theoretical development and refinement for more nalist theories” in explaining such a dramatic international than two decades. I finally evaluate some notable strengths change. The third was a generational change of IR scholars and weaknesses of constructivist approaches. who have been hugely enlightened by the insights of Third Debate critical theories (Price & Reus-Smit, 1998). Adler (1997) articulates that constructivism is the view The Emergence of Constructivist IR that “the manner in which the material world shapes and is Theory shaped by human action and interaction depends on dynamic normative and epistemic interpretations of the material The Constructivist Turn in IR and Important world” (p. 322). Likewise, constructivism is conceived as, Tenets of Constructivism according to Guzzini (2000), a “metatheoretical commit- The main axis of the interparadigm debate—so called, the ment” on the basis of three important tenets: as an Third great debate—during the 1980s in the field of IR had been between rationalists and early critical international the- University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, USA orists. In this regard, Robert Keohane noted the emergence Corresponding Author: and the validity of a new approach in his 1988 address at the Hoyoon Jung, Political Science Department, University of Hawai‘i at ISA Annual Conference, calling it “reflectivist” (Keohane, Mānoa, 2424 Maile Way, Saunders 640, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA. 1988; Weber, 2014; Wendt, 1992). In this process, the Email: hoyoon@hawaii.edu Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open epistemological claim, knowledge is socially constructed; as international system—enemy, rival, and friend, respectively. an ontological claim, social reality is constructed; finally, as In other words, there actually exist different “anarchies,” a reflexive claim, knowledge and reality are mutually consti- which vary greatly depending on the roles that dominate the tutive (Cited in Pouliot, 2007, p. 361). Constructivists have system. The emphasis on the mutual constitution of agents focused on the examination of nonmaterial factors such as and structure also destabilized the taken-for-granted black norms, ideas, knowledge, and culture, stressing in particular box, treating identity and interest of agents as an important the role played by “collectively held or intersubjective ideas empirical question (Checkel, 1998; Hopf, 1998; Wendt, and understanding on social life” in IRs (Finnemore & 1992). These constructivist claims thus challenge the meth- Sikkink, 2001, p. 393). In addition, Ruggie (1998, p. 856) odological individualism, which underpins neorealism and describes constructivism as “human consciousness and its neoliberalism’s agent-centered view (Checkel, 1998). role in international life.” At the most general level, con- According to Finnemore and Sikkink (2001), the main structivism is an approach to social analysis based on the analytical competitors of constructivism can be singled out following basic assumptions: (a) human interaction is not into two kinds: (a) “materialist theories, which see political shaped by material factors, but primarily by ideational ones; behavior as determined by the physical world alone” and (b) (b) the most significant ideational factors in this context are “individualist theories, which treat collective understandings “intersubjective” beliefs as shared collective understanding; as simply epiphenomena of individual action and deny that and (c) these beliefs construct the actors’ identities and inter- they have causal power or ontological status.” Similarly, ests (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001, p. 393). Accordingly, the Fearson and Wendt (2005) argue that the debate between importance and added value of constructivism in the study of rationalism and constructivism can be principally framed in IR lie particularly in its emphasis on both the “ontological disagreement with metaphysical positions (ontology) and reality of intersubjective knowledge” and the “epistemologi- empirical descriptions of the world. Whereas rationalism is cal and methodological implications of this reality.” In sum, based on individual ontology, constructivism assumes a constructivists firmly believe that IRs are made up of social holist ontology in which wholes cannot be reducible to inter- facts, which can exist only by human agreement (Adler, acting parts. Moreover, they disagree on whether preferences 1997). or interests of agents are exogenously given or endogenous Unlike neorealism or neoliberalism, Constructivism in IR to a social interaction; while rationalism follows homo eco- is “not a substantive theory of politics” per se (Adler, 1997, nomicus, which is based fundamentally on the logic of con- p. 323). Rather, it is a “theoretically informed approach to the sequences, constructivists maintain that actors are homo study of IR” (Ruggie, 1998, p. 880). In other words, con- sociologicus, which takes the logic of appropriateness structivism is a social theory, which “makes claims about the (Fearson & Wendt, 2005). The emergence of constructivism, nature of social life and social change” (Finnemore & marked as the social theoretic turn in IR, has created room Sikkink, 2001, p. 393). Contradicting neorealist and neolib- for treating identity and interest as well as norms as promis- eral precepts that have been particularly concerned with the ing dependant or explanatory variables in the study of global examination of “how the behavior of agents generates out- politics (Weber, 2014). comes” (Wendt, 1992, 1999, p. 391), constructivism takes “a sociological perspective on world politics, emphasizing the Many Constructivisms? The Variants of importance of normative as well as material structures, and Constructivism the role of identity in the constitution of interests and action” (Price & Reus-Smit, 1998, p. 259). Whereas some scholars, for example, Price and Reus-Smit Contra neorealism and neoliberalism, constructivist (1998), suggest that the categorization within constructivism approaches emphasize, again, the reflexivity of society and in IR is unnecessary by asserting that conventional construc- the self, assuming that agents and structures are mutually tivism has to be seen as an intellectual outgrowth of critical constituted (Checkel, 1998; Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001; theory—and that it does not violate principal epistemologi- Hopf, 1998; Price & Reus-Smit, 1998 ; Wendt, 1999). This cal, methodological, and normative tenets of critical interna- ontological tenet has provided the new constructivist inter- tional theory—many IR scholars have claimed that the pretation of anarchy that fundamentally refutes the neorealist distinction can be made depending on theoretical and episte- postulation—anarchy as systems of self-help. Wendt (1999) mological differences (Farrell, 2002; Fearson & Wendt, asserts that there can exist multiple logics in anarchic struc- 2005; Hopf, 1998; Weber, 2014). tures, arguing that “anarchy as such is an empty vessel and First, Hopf (1998) categorizes constructivism into conven- has no intrinsic logic; anarchies only acquire logics as a tional and critical variants. While admitting that constructiv- function of the structure of what we put inside them” (Wendt, ism shares some foundational elements of critical theory, Hopf 1999, p. 249). In his analysis, Wendt claims that there are (1998) suggests that “to the degree that constructivism creates three different cultures of anarchy as in imagined commu- theoretical and epistemological distance between itself and its nity, naemly Hobbesian, Lockean, and Kantian, respectively. origins in critical theory, it becomes conventional constructiv- In each culture, a dissimilar structure of roles dominates the ism” (p. 181). Although conventional constructivists aim to Jung 3 produce new knowledge and insights based on “minimal foun- constructivism’s core assumption (Finnemore & Sikkink, dationalism” by accepting that a contingent universalism may 2001). Constructivist approach is primarily a process-cen- be necessary and possible, critical constructivists pursue tered one based on “the dialectical constitution of knowledge human emancipation and enlightenment by unmasking natu- and reality” (Pouliot, 2007, p. 364). Constructivist scholars ralized order and asymmetrical power relations in our social are, therefore, basically skeptical about claims to “all- world (Hopf, 1998, pp. 183-185). Hopf in this context argues encompassing truth,”—what Price and Reus-Smit (1998) that conventional constructivism operates between main- call “Big-T”; rather, they are more concerned with “small-t” stream IR and critical theories, in that while conventional con- contingent claims. Such partial claims still constitute causal structivists deny the mainstream position that “world is so explanation in a way different to that which realists and liber- homogeneous that universally valid generalizations can be als understand causality (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001, expected to come of theorizing about it,” they at the same time pp. 394-395). Likewise, Adler (2005) maintains that con- reject the critical constructivist presumption that “world poli- structivists share an epistemology “in which interpretation is tics is so heterogeneous that we should presume to look for an intrinsic part of the social sciences and emphasizes con- only the unique and the differentiating” (Hopf, 1998, p. 199). tingent generalizations.” For him “contingent generaliza- By the same token, Adler (1997) maintains that constructiv- tions do not freeze understanding; rather, they open up our ism—specifically conventional constructivism—can play an understanding of the social world” (Adler, 2005, pp. 10-11). important role as the middle ground between rationalists (neo- Similarly, according to Finnemore and Sikkink (2001), con- realists and neoliberals) and adherents of interpretive episte- structivists recognize that “all research involves interpreta- mologies (such as postmodernists and critical theorists). tion, and thus there is no neutral stance from which they can Meanwhile, Fearson and Wendt (2005) divide construc- gather objective knowledge about the world, but they differ tivism into three distinct strands—positivist, interpretivist, about how this interpretation should be one and what kinds and postmodern—depending on their epistemological posi- of explanation it yields” (p. 395). tions. According to them, these three constructivisms answer It is important to recognize that modern, or so-called con- differently to the following two epistemological questions: ventional, constructivists follow similar methodological “Whether knowledge claims about social life can be given tasks of rationalist or utilitarian camps; gathering evidence, any warrant other than the discursive power of the putative assessing it and arbitrating among explanations. They rely on knower (relativism issue)”; and “Whether causal explana- several sources similarly that other social scientists widely tions are appropriate in social inquiry (the naturalism issue).” utilizes to extract reliable and relevant evidence (Finnemore Although a positivist position answers yes to both questions, & Sikkink, 2001), whereas postmodern or critical construc- an interpretivist answers yes and no, respectively, and post- tivists are concerned more with “discourse” that has recently modern constructivists answer no to both (Fearson & Wendt, arisen a key theoretical concept in the social sciences. By 2005). Fearon and Wendt thus conclude that one cannot challenging the “scientism” of mainstream IR, studies of dis- speak of “constructivism” in the singular because epistemo- course about the knowledge/power nexus have become one logical dissimilarities between them are fundamentally deep. of the fast thriving and vibrant areas across the academic dis- Despite the sharp differences between several variants ciplines (Milliken, 1999, pp. 225-226). For example, in her within constructivism, they do share notable theoretical fun- study of international aid, Nair (2013) analyzes how endur- damentals in general. First, constructivists have common ing asymmetric power relations between international aid interests in examining how practices of social life and the donors and recipients have been discursively constructed. objects are “constructed” (Fearson & Wendt, 2005). In other According to her, “representations about what aid does, its words, they seek to “denaturalize” the social world; they aim modalities and dispensations” contributes to the reproduc- to reveal how practices and identities that people usually take tion of hegemonic aid discourse that reestablishes hegemonic for granted as exogenously given are rather the product of authority of the donor over the recipient (Nair, 2013, p. 630). social construction by human agency. Second, they also As such, there is no single constructivist research design commonly emphasize the significance of mutual constitution or methods. Constructivists choose the methods and analyti- of agents and structure, believing that intersubjective reality cal tools best suited to their particular research questions, and meanings are paramount data to grasp social world, taking advantage of process tracing, interviews, participant when these data are appropriately “contextualized” (Hopf, observation, structured focused comparison, genealogy, dis- 1998) Third, all kinds of constructivist variants are based pri- course analysis, content analysis, and many others to capture marily upon a methodological holist research strategy rather intersubjective meanings (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). than methodological individualist perspective (Fearson & Wendt, 2005). Empirical and Theoretical Development of Constructivism Methodological Tenets of Constructivist Approach Constructivism’s empirical research program has been The methods and methodology of constructivism that enables largely shaped by its core assumptions in various ways to capture the intersubjective meanings have been shaped by (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). Thanks to the huge 4 SAGE Open contribution made by growing constructivist empirical As we all might know, sociological institutionalism is not works, “the once controversial statement that norms matter is equivalent to constructivism in IR; however, they are much accepted by the most diehard neorealists” (Checkel, 1997, similar in some significant aspects. First and foremost, in p. 473). The constructivist approach has thus become one of both perspectives, “actors are treated not as unanalyzed ‘giv- the most influential and compelling perspectives in main- ens’ but as entities constructed and motivated by enveloping stream IR. In this section, I will examine the theoretical frames.” Put simply, “the nature, purposes, behavior, and development and refinement guided by constructivist empir- meaning of actors are subject to redefinition and transforma- ical works over more than two decades. tion as the frames themselves change” (Boli & Thomas, 1997, p. 172). Moreover, in contrast to the rationalist approach such as realism and liberalism—which assume Sociological Institutionalism/World Polity Theory individualist ontology “in which wholes are reducible to Prior to the rise of constructivism as a promising paradigm in interacting parts,” constructivism and sociological institu- IR, the sociological institutionalists—so-called neoinstitu- tionalism share a holist ontology “in which parts exist only in tionalists or world polity theorists—had offered new per- relation to wholes” (Fearson & Wendt, 2005, p. 53). spective on “how ‘world culture’ reconfigured state policies Although it seems that they resemble each other, they also in many different policy arenas” (Finnemore & Sikkink, differ in some ways. First, many of the world polity theorists 2001, pp. 396-397). The core argument of this Stanford take advantage of quantitative methods to clarify overall School of thought was that “the modern world society causes characteristics of cultural and normative structures and the the diffusion of common institutional models and patterns of changes in them over time. However, this approach is less legitimacy among nation states” (Burawoy, 2000, p. 2). convincing to understand why and how these changes occur. World polity approach, therefore, emphasizes an omniscient Constructivists can effectively fill this gap, utilizing a vast role of world society models, according to Meyer, Boli, array of methods to capture intersubjective meanings Thomas, and Ramirez (1997, pp. 144, 173), which “shapes (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998). Also, in contrast to the socio- nation-state identities, structures, and behavior via world- logical institutionalist emphasis on “structure at the expense wide cultural and associational processes.” In this regard, of agency” (Finnemore, 1996, p. 342), constructivists— Boli and Thomas (1997) state that especially agentic constructivists—stress the mutual consti- tution of structure and agency. In this regard, Finnemore and For a century and more, the world has constituted a singular Sikkink (1998, p. 397) insist that sociological institutional- polity. By this we mean that the world has been conceptualized ists often look “dangerously biased,” in that “these scholars as a unitary social system, increasingly integrated by networks sometimes overlook the fact that international norms have to of exchange, competition, and cooperation, such that actors come from somewhere and may not identify feedback effects have found it “natural” to view the whole world as their arena of from local agents onto global structures.” action and discourse. (p. 172) The Role of Strategic Agency In other words, the rise of isomorphism among the con- temporary nation-state particularly in terms of institutional Recent constructivist researches have kept its distance from models and legitimate authority stems from a singular world the crucial tenets of sociological institutionalism, especially polity alongside globalization. Therefore, for sociological by offering new insights concerning “the role of strategic institutionalists, the structure takes precedence over agents; agency” (Kim & Sharman, 2014, p. 444). These agentic con- “it creates actors but it is not created by them” (Finnemore, structivist works have primarily focused on the purposive 1996, p. 333). exertion of individuals and groups who attempt to change For example, in their study of “cross-national acquisition existing norms and rules in the sphere of politics or generate of women’s suffrage rights” from 1890 to 1990, Ramirez, new norms and persuade a mass of norm leaders (states) to Soysal, and Shanahan (1997, p. 743) demonstrate that the embrace new norms. In this norm entrepreneurship litera- universalization of women’s suffrage among many nation- ture, an attempt has been made to explain how these activists states was primarily enabled and largely facilitated by the operate and what might contribute to their success. These are “existence, development, diffusion, and influence of a more not easily elucidated by dominant utilitarian approaches; inclusive world model of political citizenship” rather than constructivist approaches can be niche alternatives national political factors. Similarly, Kim and Sharman (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998; 2001). (2014), through their empirical studies, argue that the recent As an illustration, Price’s (1998) work on how nonstate rise and diffusion of individual accountability norms for both actors—which he terms “transnational civil society”— leaders’ human rights crimes and corruption are a product of generate international norms prohibiting antipersonnel land “an overarching modernist world culture privileging indi- mines and teach states is particularly noteworthy. Price sug- vidual rights and responsibilities, as well as rational-legal gests how the constructivist approaches effectively shed light authority” (Kim & Sharman 2014, p. 417). on the security issue area, which has been conventionally Jung 5 regarded as the realm of the high politics. Similarly, high- scholars have rather identified that international norms often lighting the increasingly crucial role of nonstate actors in have different impacts on different agents. Therefore, captur- world politics, Keck and Sikkink (1999) distinguish these ing and explaining these differences have become a central activists whose formation was motivated by principled ideas task of constructivist research (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). or values from economic actors/firms and What Hass terms In this regard, Checkel’s (1997, 1999) works have pro- epistemic communities (Haas, 1992). Keck and Sikkink foundly contributed to the literature on cross-national varia- (1998, 1999) call them transnational advocacy networks, tion of international norms’ effects. By arguing that there is which embrace those actors working internationally on an significant variance in mechanisms by which international issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common norms are socialized and internalized within each domestic discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services. political arena, he maintains that the effects of international They refer to transnational “networks” rather than civil soci- norms reach deeper; they not only constrain societal actors as ety or coalition to stress the “structured and structuring neoliberals argue, but also constitute identities and interests dimension in the actions of these complex agents” (Keck & of actors at the domestic level (Checkel, 1997). Sikkink, 1999, p. 90). The emergence of transnational advo- Finnemore and Sikkink (1998) examine how norms affect cacy networks, according to Keck and Sikkink (1999), is a political change, by introducing the path-breaking theory of new and transformative phenomenon in many aspects. They norm “life cycle,” which articulates the evolution of norms specifically comment that in three stages—norm emergence, norm cascade, and inter- nalization. They argue that different actors, different motives, What is novel in these networks is the ability of non-traditional and different dominant mechanisms engage in different international actors to mobilize information strategically to help stages. Cortell and Davis (1996) also argue that domestic create new issues and categories, and to persuade, pressurize, political actors’ appropriation of international norms and and gain leverage over much more powerful organizations and rules can influence the state policy choice. Based on the case governments. Activists in networks try not only to influence study of U.S. policy choices in the realm of economy and policy outcomes, but to transform the terms and nature of the security, they underline the role of domestic structural con- debate. They are not always successful in their efforts, but they texts as an intervening variable in determining the degree to are increasingly important players in policy debates at the which domestic actors’ appeal to international norms affect regional and international level. (pp. 89-90) the state preferences. Acharya (2004) navigates how transna- tional norms have an impact on institutional change in In their other volume Activists beyond borders, Keck and ASEAN. By paying particular attention on norm localization Sikkink (1998)—by examining the cases of human rights dynamics, he suggests that normative contestation between advocacy networks in Latin America, environmental advo- emerging global norms and preexisting regional norms can cacy networks in Third World such as Brazil and Malaysia be settled by norm localization in which norm-takers’ con- and relatively novel emergence of advocacy networks on gruence-building is a key in this process. In this way, these violence against women—asserts that these advocacy net- scholars have created intersectional research agenda between works have had an influence not only on the preferences of IR and comparative politics (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). their own countries, but also on the preferences of other states and other nonstate actors such as activist groups and individuals by means of persuasion, socialization, and pres- Norms, International Policy Diffusion, and Social sure. In comparison with earlier focus of women’s network Hierarchies on female circumcision, women’s suffrage and discrimina- Despite the rise of empirical research on norms in the study tion issues, such a newly arisen issue networks have been of IR, ranking dynamics of norms has been significantly rapidly developed once they frame violence against women overlooked in existing literature. Towns’s (2010, 2012) as a violation of human rights (Carpenter, 2005, 2006; Keck thought-provoking works on norms and social hierarchies & Sikkink, 1998), either through online/virtual space nicely fill this gap. Towns (2012) argues that (Carpenter & Jose, 2012) or real-space counterparts. in setting out standards of behavior, norms also draw on and generate social hierarchies. In defining what is normal and Bringing International Norms Back Into Domestic desirable, norms set the terms for what is abnormal and undesirable Politics behavior and provide the means for ranking those states that do Owing to the devotion of constructivist IR scholarship that not meet a norm as deficient and inferior. (p. 180) has demonstrated the significance of norms in world politics over more than two decades, it is no longer controversial to Through the empirical case study of the international diffu- allege that norms matter (Towns, 2012). Unlike the theoreti- sion of legal sex quotas from Latin America, Towns (2012) cal tenet of sociological institutionalism, which focuses maintains that “new policy measures may emerge from exclusively on one-directional causality, constructivist ‘below’ as peripheral states attempt to improve their 6 SAGE Open standing” (pp. 182-183). In other words, states in lower sources, simply for the state to “enable to make a decision or ranking in international society are often eager to become to act in a particular situation” (Weldes, 1996, p. 281). leaders in certain norm diffusion processes with intent to Accordingly, the representations created by state officials raise its rank within a given order or as a means of rejecting “make clear both to those officials themselves and to others an existing order. This argument can also offer an persuasive who and what we are, who and what our enemies are, in what account of why core states attempt to diffuse new policies; ways we are threatened by them, and how we might best deal that is, they do so to maintain their international standing with those threats” (Weldes, 1996, p. 283). and to be admired (Towns, 2012). An increasing engagement of critical constructivists in security studies has been noteworthy as well. According to Cho (2009), the key differences between conventional and Constructivism and Security Studies critical constructivism is that “identities are often regarded Power and politics, which has traditionally been a realm of as explanatory variables for certain security phenomena in realist research program, has been facing a stiff challenge by conventional constructivism, but in critical constructivism the development of an alternative paradigm—constructivist the identities themselves are to be explained to make sense of approach—to the subject. This ideational turn in security the cultural productions of insecurities” (pp. 96-97). In this studies are concerned mainly with “the impact of norms on regard, in Weldes’s (1999) other volume Culture of Insecurity, international security” (Farrell, 2002, p. 49). For example, she points out that “insecurities, rather than being natural Walling (2013) shows social constructivist approach to the facts, are social and cultural productions,” and this insecurity issue of humanitarian intervention of the U.N. Security is itself “the product of processes of identity construction in Council. Shedding light on how violation of human rights which the self and the other, or multiple others, are consti- has become one of the major threats to international security tuted.” In other words, “identity and insecurity are produced and, therefore, how humanitarian intervention has become and reproduced in a mutually constitutive process” (Weldes, justified as international human rights norms become increas- 1999, pp. 10-11, 59). Weldes empirically traces the produc- ingly legitimate, the author maintains that “interests are tion of insecurity during the Cuban Missile crisis and claims shaped by normative values” (Walling, 2013, p. 15). that the crisis in 1962 was a product of social construction Criticizing an incomplete explanation of rationalist approach that dominant masculinist U.S. Cold War identity was to humanitarian intervention that assumes material interest reasserted. and power as a pivotal driver, Walling demonstrates that con- structivist accounts of norms and ideas also matter signifi- State Identities, Interests, and Its Behavior cantly in the area of security studies where rationalism has traditionally predominated. Similarly, Finnemore (2004) elu- One of the most innovative scholarly contributions of con- cidates the historical changes of military intervention and structivism to the field of IR would be the following argu- points out that the old notion of realpolitik cannot explain ment, established by several empirical works, that states such transformations. States sometimes use force for differ- identity shapes its interests, preferences, and behaviors. As ent purposes, according to her, just as the case of humanitar- Hopf (1998) points out, “in telling you who you are, identi- ian intervention shows. As Finnemore argues, what have ties strongly imply a particular set of interests or preferences really changed over time are the social purposes of interven- with respect to choices of action in particular domains, and tion, and that the utility of the use of force depends increas- with respect to particular actors. The identity of a state ingly on its legitimacy. Other scholars have put ideological implies its preferences and consequent actions” (p. 175). variables at the center of security issues. In his book Being credited for placing identity issues at the heart of con- Ideological Origins of Great Power Politics, Haas (2005) structivist theorizing, Wendt (1992) and Katzenstein (1996) shows the ideological distance among actors—the degree of are considered pioneers in this area. However, they differ ideological similarities and differences—plays a crucial role greatly in terms of the weighted influence of international in leaders’ perception of threat and shaping national versus domestic attributes on constituting state identities; interests. while Wendt’s systemic constructivism puts particular In contrast to the realist position that regards national emphasis on international factors, Katzenstein focuses pri- interests as “objects that have merely to be observed or dis- marily on domestic environments as a key source of shaping covered,” Weldes (1996, p. 280) conceptualizes the national state identities (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). interests as “social constructions,” which are “created as As mentioned several times, rationalist approaches such meaningful objects out of the intersubjective and culturally as neorealism and neoliberalism treat the agents’ identities established meanings with which the world, particularly the and interests as exogenously given (Ruggie, 1998). According international system and the place of the state in it, is under- to Wendt, however, they are rather endogenous to interac- stood.” According to her, national interests are constructed by tion. Drawing on sociological structurationist and symbolic the state itself, mainly by state officials and elites, through interactionist perspective, Wendt develops constructivist representations drawing on a variety of cultural and linguistic theory “in which identities and interests are the dependent Jung 7 variable” in contrast to the liberal claim that “international scholarly topic of research, they truly share a similar onto- institutions can transform state identities and interests” logical claim, the linguistic construction of reality, which (Wendt, 1992, p. 394). Wendt asserts that “identities are the might offer a prospective bridge between constructivism and basis of interests” and “actors do not have a portfolio of poststructuralism (Pouliot, 2004). interests that they carry around independent of social con- Drawing on American philosopher Searle’s (1969, 1995) text; instead, they define their interests in the process of language and speech act theories, Nicholas Onuf—who first defining situation” (Wendt, 1992, p. 398). In Katzenstein’s introduced the term “constructivism” to the field of IR— volume (1996), however, identity is closely associated with argues that “talking is undoubtedly the most important way domestic attributes. That is to say, identity is commonly that we go about making the world what it is” (Onuf, 1989, articulated as “varying constructions of statehood” and p. 59). His basic presupposition in mind underlying his argu- “varying national ideologies of collective distinctiveness and ment is that “people always construct, or constitute, social purpose” across countries; therefore, these variations in turn reality, even as their being, which can only be social, is con- constitute state interests which have a further influence on structed for them” (Onuf, 2013, p. 1). For him, a principal state policy. means of social construction is language. Onuf (2003) fur- ther argues that when it comes to constructivist analysis of language and agency, “language makes us who we are” The Role of International Institutions (p. 27). Similarly, Mattern’s (2004) landmark book Ordering Although a majority of scholars of IRs might agree that inter- International Politics shows us the quintessence of how lan- national institutions matter, less consensus has been made on guage-power nexus has had an impact on international iden- how they have exact effects (Checkel, 2005). Some construc- tity and order. Through an empirical examination of the Suez tivist scholars have focused on “the role of international Crisis in 1956, Mattern explores how Anglo-American iden- organizations in disseminating new international norms and tity was fastened and, therefore, international order was models of political organization” (Finnemore & Sikkink, maintained through the use of “representational force.” In 2001, p. 401). Although the traditional regime theorists have sum, she argues that “fastening identity through representa- dealt with the issue of international organization and norms, tional force forces order back upon disorder” (Mattern, 2004, their exact focus was on how norms and a convergence of p. 70). expectations produce international organization, but not on Some scholars are influenced heavily by the Habermasian whether the reverse case might be possible (e.g., Krasner, critical theory. Particularly noteworthy is Risse’s (2000) 1982). In this regard, Finnemore (1993) suggests that inter- work, which suggests the “logic of arguing” as a distinct and national organizations do produce and promote new norms, new mode of social interaction. Risse distinguishes three and even “teach” states, unlike the regimes literature gener- logics of social action—a logic of consequentialism rooted ally assumes. Others have explored the issue of international in rational choice theory, a logic of appropriateness empha- institutions and socialization, focusing particularly on the sized by social constructivists, and a logic of arguing devel- ways in which international institution plays a socializing oped from the insights of the German-speaking IR role. For example, Checkel (2005) illuminates a social con- community. According to him, structivist perspective on socializing role of institution in Arguing implies that actors try to challenge the validity claims Europe. Whereas rationalist approaches traditionally grasp inherent in any causal or normative statement and to seek a socialization as a result of agents’ strategic calculation such communicative consensus about their understanding of a as sanctions or material incentives followed by a logic of situation as well as justifications for the principles and norms consequences (Schimmelfennig, 2005), constructivists sees guiding their action. . . Argumentative and deliberative behavior socialization in the context of a logic of appropriateness. is as goal oriented as strategic interaction, but the goal is not to Checkel (2005, p. 812) further argues that—based partly on attain one’s fixed preferences, but to seek a reasoned consensus. Habermasian communicative action theory—“normative Actors’ interests, preferences, and the perceptions of the suasion” primarily through “talking” between agents within situation are no longer fixed, but subject to discursive challenges. institutions or organizations plays a pivotal role in socializa- Where argumentative rationality prevails, actors do not seek to tion. For him, international institutions are thus important maximize or to satisfy their given interests and preferences, but venue for socialization. to challenge and to justify the validity claims inherent in them— and they are prepared to change their views of the world or even their interests in light of the better argument. (Risse, 2000, p. 7) The Role of Language, Speech Act, and Argument Following Wittgenstein, Searle and Habermas, other con- Therefore, for Risse (2000), “arguing and deliberating structivists have examined the role of “language,” “speech,” about the validity claims” are innate in “any communicative and “argument” as a key mechanism of social construction statement about identities, interests, and the state of the (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). Although each of the scholars world” (p. 33). Risse illustrates in his empirical case study of this variant of constructivism has an interest in different the role and power of argument in the processes of domestic 8 SAGE Open implementation of international human rights norms. interests,” that is, politics is not just material, but is truly Similarly, as already examined in the section above, social (Price, 2006, p. 255). In other words, norms are not Checkel’s (2005) work on socializing role of institutions in merely confined to regulative or restrictive roles, but possess Europe and the role of “talking” in such process can be also productive and constitutive effects as well (Price, 2006); understood in the same context. In his another study on con- also, (b) added values of constructivism would be its empha- structivist compliance studies, Checkel (2001) tries to puzzle sis on the “ontological reality of intersubjective knowledge” out the following question: “why do actors comply with and on the “epistemological and methodological implica- social norms?” Through the case study of state compliance tions of this reality” (Adler, 1997, p. 323). with citizenship norm in Germany and Ukraine, he suggests On the contrary, there are some weaknesses in this that norm compliance can be explicated by a process encom- approach as well. Hopf (1998) in this context, points out that passing both rationalist instrumental choice and constructiv- constructivism “does not specify the existence, let alone pre- ist social learning (Checkel, 2001). Acknowledging the cise nature of its main causal/constitutive elements: identi- validity of rationalist approach to norm compliance studies, ties, norms, values and social structure” (p. 189). In addition, Checkel also points out that actors sometimes comply with constructivism invites some degree of criticism often norms “by learning new interests through non-instrumental” assumed as inherent weakness, which can be labeled as (Checkel, 2001, p. 564). “selection bias.” According to Finnemore and Sikkink (1998), one of the consistent complaints about constructiv- ism made by competitor theorists has been its exclusive Constructivism and Foreign Policy Analysis focus on good and nice norms such as human rights, environ- In recent years, there have been scholarly endeavors to bridge ment protection, climate change, women’s right, and many constructivist perspective to the study of foreign policy analy- others even after constructivism was acknowledged as a sis. According to Houghton (2007), foreign policy analysis legitimate research approach in IR. In other words, this bias had been treated as “free-floating enterprise,” which is not toward admirable norms has caused less attention to be paid logically connected to a realist or liberalist paradigm in the toward xenophobic nationalism, racism, and the spread of field of IR. He, however, suggests that a dialogue with con- homophobia and so forth, which have nonetheless become structivist approaches—especially the cognitive psychological an important research theme of our time. approach to the study of foreign policy decision-making—can be one of the most promising logical bases, which connect Conclusion them. Asserting that conventional approaches to foreign policy In this article, I have sought to illuminate how constructivist are optimized to answer the question of “why particular deci- approach has evolved as a mainstream IR within a short sions and actions were made” but are not appropriate to period of time. To be specific, I navigated core tenets of con- examine the “how the subjects, objects, and interpretive dis- structivism in terms of its ontology, epistemology, and meth- positions were socially constructed such that certain practices odology, respectively. I also explored the growing body of were made possible” question (In short, the “how-possible” constructivist empirical research and ensuing theoretical question), Doty (1993, p. 298) also proposed the post-positiv- refinement as well as the strengths and weaknesses of a con- ist critical approaches to foreign policy analysis can resolve structivist approach. Through these discussions, it would not that problem. In this regard, she suggests the discourse ana- be an exaggeration to say that constructivism has hugely lytical method to address this issue that assumes reality as a contributed to the development of the study of IR as well, linguistic construction and puts forward a critical analysis of providing novel insights and distinct ways of understanding how foreign policy practices—especially the distinction of social and international reality with its own added value— between “us” and “them”—are socially constructed. by focusing on the role of ideas, identity, and norms in shap- ing state preferences and world politics. According to the Ivory Tower Survey conducted by Foreign Policy, IR schol- The Strengths and Weaknesses of ars with an attachment to the constructivist approach (22%) Constructivist Approaches outnumbered either the liberal (21%) or realist (16%) camp for the first time in the year 2011. “From prospect to pros- At the general level, it is widely recognized that constructiv- perity” might be the best indication of the evolution and the ism is strong, precisely where other approaches are generally development of constructivist approach over the past two weak, and vice versa. In relation to rival approaches, such as decades in IR. realism and liberalism, the comparative advantage of con- structivism—as examined in the second chapter—can be Declaration of Conflicting Interests summed up straightforwardly as (a) contrary to realists, social constructivists in IR provides an alternative under- The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect standing that “norms and ideas also constitute power and to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. Jung 9 Funding Doty, R. L. (1993). Foreign policy as social construction: A post- positivist analysis of U.S. counterinsurgency policy in the The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author- Philippines. International Studies Quarterly, 37, 297-320. ship, and/or publication of this article. Farrell, T. (2002). Constructivist security studies: Portrait of a research program. International Studies Review, 4(1), 49-72. Note Fearson, J., & Wendt, A. (2005). 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Anarchy is what states make of it: The social ing logic of political citizenship: Cross-national acquisition of construction of power politics. International Organization, 46, women’s suffrage rights, 1890 to 1990. American Sociological 391-425. Review, 62, 735-745. Wendt, A. (1999). Social theory of international politics. New Risse, T. (2000). “Let’s argue!” Communicative action in world York, NY: Cambridge University Press. politics. International Organization, 54, 1-39. Ruggie, J. G. (1998). What makes the world hang together? Author Biography Neo-utilitarianism and the social constructivist challenge. International Organization, 52, 855-885. Hoyoon Jung is PhD student in political science at the university of Schimmelfennig, F. (2005). Strategic calculation and international Hawaii at Manoa. His research focuses on the politics of national socialization: Membership incentives, party constellations, identity in Brazil.

Journal

SAGE OpenSAGE

Published: Feb 27, 2019

Keywords: constructivism; identity; idea; international relations; norms

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