Social constructivism school has become prominent in recent era in international politics. Scholars of social constructivism: Alexander Wendt, Nicolas Onuf, Nina Tannenwald
Summary statement: everything is in mind, We think something to be in particular way. We need to change attitude.
Social constructivism is a school which has relatively recent origin. Specifically after the end of Cold War. Nicolas Onuf has written a book titled THE WORLD OF OUR OWN MAKING on the eve of the end of Cold War. It shows that the Cold War was not inevitable. Cold War was a result of miscalculations, misunderstandings.
Later on Alexander Wendt further developed social constructivism as a critique to structural realism or Kenneth Waltz. In the words of Alexander Wendt ‘Anarchy is what states make of it’.
According to him, it is true that there is anarchy which means absence of the world govt. However it does not necessarily mean that anarchy should be understood in a way, that compels states to go for power politics. However we are accustomed to interpret anarchy in a specific way linking it with security dilemma. It may be because of the hegemony of the realist school. Security dilemma may not be the material fact. However it may be our construction, our own making.
Our construction is shaped by our values, norms, experiences. We continue with these constructions without making attempt to verify. Thus for social constructivists, ‘all is in the mind, what is needed to be changed is how we think.’ One way of verifying our ideas is through communications and interactions.
Social constructivism is influenced by that ideas of Italian scholar Vico. According to Vico, natural world is made by God but social world is made by humans. Similarly Immanuel Kant suggests that our knowledge gets filtrated through our subjective consciousness.
According to social constructivists we never look at the world through naked eyes, we always look at the world through the glasses of culture, norms, values, identities. World is not constituted by material structures, world is constituted by ‘ideational structures’. Social constructivism also emphasized on the role of ideas and the mode of thinking. According to social constructivists, interaction and communications is the only way we can verify our ideas and correct our thinking.
Social constructivism is also influenced by the concept of ‘structuration’ given by Anthony Giddens. According to the concept structures do not constrain the actions of actors in a mechanical way, actors can also transform the structures, by thinking about them in a different way. e.g. It is not necessary to interpret anarchy in terms of lawlessness as suggested by Hobbes. Anarchy can also be seen as the state of peace, goodwill, mutual assistance as suggested by John Locke.
To conclude social constructivism believe that reality does not exist outside our consciousness, it only exists as ‘intersubjective awareness’ among people.
Post modernism is relatively new in international relations. Post modernism in international relations is influenced by the views of post modernist scholars like
According to the approach of deconstruction, international relations can also be understood as a text, every text can have multiple interpretations. Post modernism criticise the realist assertion that the realism is the scientific explanation of international politics. For post modernists, no knowledge is free from the function of power. Realism is also a discourse or a meta-narrative. Realism appears truth because it has been established as the dominant narrative.
In international politics, the prominent post modernist scholars include Der Derian, Rob Walker, Richard Ashley. Der Derian has applied the approach of deconstruction, he has analyzed diplomacy from post modernist perspective.
Richard Ashley has given the concept of ‘anarchy problematique’. He has provided the criticism of structural realism. According to him, the way realists describe anarchy is problematic. Anarchy does not necessarily mean security dilemma. It is a interpretation of anarchy by realists in a specific way that creates security dilemma. Anarchy as suggested by realists suffer from the number of objectionable exclusions. They have purposefully excluded the growth of cooperation in international politics from the framework of analysis. The interpretation of anarchy in a specific way by realists also create practical problems. When anarchy is interpreted as a situation of security dilemma, it compels states to acquire power. When states have arms, it results into war. When wars takes place, realists claim the scientific nature of their theory.
Post colonial scholars in international politics attempt to decolonize the discipline of international relations. According to the post colonial scholars, mainstream theories are Eurocentric. Neither based on the actual history nor relevant for the countries of third world. e.g. Mohammad Ayub has questioned the relevance of security dilemma in case of post colonial states suffering from insecurity dilemma.
Post colonial scholars also put a question mark on the arrogance of western scholars. e.g. Stanley Hoffman held that international relations is American social science. Morgenthau held that Africa is politically empty. Kenneth Waltz held that it would be ridiculous if the discipline of international relations include the study of foreign policy of Malaysia or Costa Rica.
Like critical theorists and post modernists, constructivists argue that there is no external objective, social reality as such. The social and political world is not a physical entity or material object that is outside the realm of human consciousness. The international system does not exist on its own like the solar system. It exists only as an inter-subjective awareness among people. It is a human invention or creation of a purely intellectual and ideational kind. It is a set of ideas which has been arranged by certain people at a particular time and place. The system will change when there is a change in the thoughts and ideas that enter into the existence of International Relations.
Constructivists reject the view of positivists and behaviouralists that reality can be studied through a scientific approach because it is not an external reality that can be discovered by scientific research and explained by scientific theory. The social and political world is not part of nature: Therefore; there are no natural laws of society, economics or politics. The social world is a world of human consciousness of thoughts and beliefs, of ideas and concepts, of languages and discourses, of signs, signals, and understandings among human beings, especially groups of human beings, such as states and nations. The social world, being an inter subjective domain, is meaningful to the people who make it and live in it.
Peter Katzenstein (The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics) and Alexander Wendt (‘Anarchy is What States Make of It) are some of the leading scholars of this approach.
The international systems of security and defense consists of territories population, weapons and other physical assets. But it is the ideas and belief behind those assets which are most important. The intellect is the main guiding principle behind the conception, organization and use of such cases in alliances, armed forces etc. Although the physical element is also present, it is secondary to the intellectual element. The physical assets lose the meaning and utility without the intellectual component. Nations, nationalism and national identities are social constructions of time and place.
According to constructivists, conflict is not understood as a collision between forces or entities. It is rather, a disagreement or dispute or disagreement or dispute or misunderstanding or lack of communication or some other intellectual discord between conscious agents. It is a conflict of minds and wills of the parties involved. Therefore, to understand it properly it is necessary to enquire to the discourses at play. Thus the sentiments, the beliefs and the ideas by which conflict is organized and expressed, are immensely important Research then, is a matter of interpretation rather than explanation.
Constructivists are not satisfied with the explanations of neorealism because the latter tends to disregard such conditioning elements and, on the contrary, focus on military power and material interests alone. For constructivist, international relations are more complex, and they pay particular attention to the cultural-institutional normative aspects of that complexity. Moreover, culture, identity, norms and institutions are all elements of an inter-subjective domain that is created rather than an objective world that is discovered.
Alexander Wendt captured the core of constructivism in International Relations in his remark, anarchy is what states make of it. He takes a clear position against the positivist theory of Neorealism and particularly that of Kenneth Waltz. For Wendt, there is no objective international world apart from the practices and institutions that states arrange among them. By arguing that- “Self-help and power politics are institutions, not essential features of anarchy”. Wendt rejects the central thesis of Neorealism. There is nothing like a security dilemma between sovereign states because any situation, that states find themselves in, is a situation that they themselves have created. States are not prisoners of the anarchical structure of the state system. They construct one another in their relations and in so doing, they also construct the international anarchy that defines their relation. When anarchy is what states make of it, there is nothing inevitable or unchangeable about world politics. If states change their conceptions as to who they are, what their interests are, what they want etc, then the situation will change accordingly.