1991, a year that changed the course of global politics. Following the collapse of the erstwhile USSR, the cold war which had lasted more than 40 years was brought to an end. Multiple reasons have been given for the end of the cold war. However, it is important to note that during this time the traditional theories of International relations such as Realism and liberalism failed to predict this outcome. This failure resulted in many IR scholars looking towards other theories to explain why this particular event took place. One of the theories that gained importance during this time was that of constructivism. The main aim of this essay is to show the difference in approaches of traditional international relations theories such as Realism and Liberalism and Constructivism. The essay will also demonstrate how due to the introduction of constructivism in the mainstream IR theories, there has been a change in looking at global politics. Constructivism provides us with a new look at various situation that have risen over the past years since the end of cold war. The essay will do so by firstly looking at a brief history of constructivism. Secondly it will look at the main differences between the traditional approaches of IR and constructivism. Thirdly it will look at the how the difference between traditional IR and constructivism has resulted in a change in global politics in the recent years.
Constructivism has a theory has its beginning in 1980s. The term constructivism was coined by Nicholas Greenwood Onuf in 1989. He expressed that much like individuals, states are present in a “world of our making”. Many facts such as social facts are not dependent on human existence but instead are made by human actions as a result of human conditioning. International relations is a social construction. A $20 note is just a piece of paper unless it is used within context. Similarly, ‘states, international organisations or alliances are a result of specific historical, cultural and political forms that are a product of human interaction in a social world’.
Although, constructivists are similar in giving “greater weightage to social as opposed to material in world politics”, there is a considerable variety within constructivism. Broadly there are two varieties- Conventional Constructivism and Critical Constructivism. Primarily the difference between them lies in the questions they ask and the methods they use in the fields of international relations and foreign policy making. Conventional Constructivism is mostly prevalent in the united states and is also known as ‘Standard’ or ‘American’ constructivism. Alexander Wendt, Emmanuel Adler, Nicholas Onuf, John Gerard Ruggie, Peter Katzenstein and Martha Finnemore are some of its main theorists. They ask ‘what’ type of questions like ‘what causes an actor to act’. They pay special attention to the role of ‘social norms’ and ‘identities. This form of constructivism is dominated by ‘positivist’ scholars interested in ‘deductive mechanism’ and ‘casual relationships between actors, norms interests and identities’. They assume that actors act according to their identities and it is possible to predict the visibility of this identity. In case this identity is seen undergoing changes, then they investigate which factors are responsible for states identity change. Critical constructivism on the other hand is mostly a European variant with theorists such as Friedrich Kratochwil and Ted Hopf. It is also known as interpretative/interpretive constructivism. They ask ‘how’ type questions like ‘how do actors come to believe in a certain identity’. They pay attention to ‘language, linguistic constructions and social discourses’ because they help in constructing and also have the ability to change social reality. It is dominated by post—positivists scholars who are interest in inductive research strategies. Unlike conventional constructivism, they are not interested in the causes of identity change but instead are interested in reconstructing the identity. They are focused on exploring the conditions of possibility for such change and how this was created in the first place. They believe that written or spoken communication among and between people is responsible for this creation. However, most constructivists place themselves between these two extreme ends.
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