Constructivism: Social Theory Of International Politics By Alexander Wendt

1896 words - 8 pages

Alexander Wendt in his work entitled Social Theory of International Politics (1999) explain the basic propositions of constructivism, arguing that “structures of human association are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces; thus, identities and interests of purposive actors are constructed by these shared ideas rather than given by nature” (Palan, 2000, p. 576). As such, these shared ideas construct identities and interests. In this regard, Wendt supports Thucydides who explains how language and convention form identities and enable power to be translated into influence (Lebow 2001, 547). As a result, this means that the cultures of anarchy depends on “how [actors] construe their identity in relation to others” (Zehfuss, 2001, p.318). This also means that the structure of the international system is a social phenomenon, not merely a material phenomenon because (Hinnebusch, 2003), as stated above, “the character of international life is determined by the beliefs and expectations” that are constructed mostly by social structure “rather than material structures," (Wendt, 1999). As such, interaction between the actors is structured by the embedded norms of the system.
As for interest, constructivism argues that, “interests presuppose identities because an actor cannot know what it wants until it knows who it is” (Wendt 1999, p. 231). This means that the basis for interests is identities themselves (Bozdaglioglou, 2007).
Interestingly, constructivist theory on risk also says similar thing to the aforementioned international relations theory. Constructivism argues that risk knowledge is not free at all from the socio-cultural contexts in which this knowledge is created (Lupton, 1999). This approach stresses that such knowledge is not free from values as it is the product of perceiving things in certain socio-cultural contexts. Risks are not seen as realities lying outside of society and culture, but as integration of meanings, logics and beliefs. Lupton describes this well when she states that “a risk is not a static, objective phenomenon, but is constantly constructed and negotiated as part of the network of social interaction and the formation of meaning” (Lupton, 1999).
It is worthy to note the work of sociologist, Mary Douglas, who in her ideas of purity and contamination argues that ideas serve to set up cultural boundaries, “between individual bodies, between social groups within a community and between communities” (Lupton, 1999). There are things (e.g. different religions) that are perceived to be contaminating or polluting, and they are dangerous as they pose a threat to social order. These things are culturally specific, and used to create and maintain ideas about self and ‘Other’. Lupton points out further that in Douglas’ later writings on risk and culture, Douglas argues that the concept of risk is used by contemporary societies to maintain cultural boundaries. Lupton (1999) also discusses...

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