Chapter 4: Constructivism

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Chapter 4: Constructivism
Is anarchy what states make of it?
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Learning aims:
Be able to identify
how constructivism
differs (and doesn’t)
from realism and
liberalism
Understand the
fundamental
principles of
constructivist social
theory and what
Wendt means when
he claims that
“international
anarchy is what
states make of it”
To critically
interrogate Wendt’s
state-centric
constructivism
To critically engage
with the advantages
and disadvantages of
Wendtian
constructivism
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Last week:
Myth: “there is an international society”
Key concepts: International society,
communication, domestic analogy
What appears to be international society may also
just be US domestic society extended globally
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Constructivism flashcard
Key thinkers:
Key concepts:
Alexander
Wendt &
Nicholas G.
Onuf
Social
construction
Identities
Practices
Myth: “anarchy is what
states make of it”
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Three fundamental principles of
constructivist social theory (box 4.2)
1. “People act toward objects, including other actors, on the basis of
the meanings that the objects have for them”

SOCIAL KNOWLEDGE
2. “The meanings in terms of which action is organized arise out of
interaction”

SOCIAL PRACTICE
3. “Identities [and interests] are produced in and through ‘situated
activity’”

IDENTITIES AND INTERESTS
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Constructivism
Wendtian
constructivism
No logic to anarchy
Anarchy is an effect
of practice
“Anarchy is what
states make of it”
(Neo)realism
Neoliberalism
Logic of
anarchy is
structural and
leads to
conflict
Logic of
anarchy is a
process that
can lead to
cooperation
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Constructivism
Table 4.2 Three stories of international anarchy
Realism
Idealism
Constructivism
Actors
States
States
States
Goals
Survival
Survival
Survival
Actors’
behavior in
anarchy
Increase power to Promoting social learning
ensure survival
through
• Institutions (e.g. UN)
• Ideas (e.g. democracy
and liberal capitalism)
Unpredictable prior to social interaction
What
mitigates
state
behavior?
Self help because
• No world
government
(anarchy)
• Cooperation
among states
unreliable
International society
Intersubjectively constituted structure of
identities and interests
• If state identities and interests
produced as competitive 
competition
• If state identities and interests
produced as cooperative 
cooperation
Logic of
anarchy
Conflictual
Cooperative
Anarchy is what states make of it
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Advantages and disadvantages of
Wendtian compromise
Table 4.5 Advantages and disadvantages of the Wendtian compromise
Advantages
Disadvantages
Can hold states accountable for their part
in producing anarchy as either conflictual
or cooperative
• Cannot escape reification because
Wendt replaces a reified logic of
anarchy with reified states
• Misses the opportunity to restore a
broad focus on process and practice in
international politics because Wendt
must exclude from consideration the
practices that produce states as
products of anarchy in order for his
myth to function
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Theory activity: Rationalism, reflectivism and
the politics of bridge building
• Aim: To think critically about Wendt’s aims at bridge building
and what it means for the reflectivist critique
• Answer the following question in groups (7 min.)
– What is rationalism and reflectivism?
– How does Wendtian constructivism attempt to build a
bridge between rationalism and reflectivism?
• Either as whole group or in smaller groups discuss the
following (7 min.):
– What are the politics of Wendt’s move?
– What does this move mean for rationalism and
reflectivism respectively?
– Is it really possible to bridge
two traditions?
© 2014 Cynthiathese
Weber
Theory activity: What is wrong with
rationalism? (box 4.1)
1. Rationalism takes the
identities and interests
of states as given
because it only
recognizes changes in
states’ behavior but not
in states themselves
(i.e. their identities and
interests)
2. Rationalism also
takes the identities of
and the interests
generated from
international anarchy as
given. For rationalists,
neither the structure of
international anarchy
nor the self-help system
is said to produce can
be changed
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
3. Overall, rationalism
limits theoretical
understandings of
change in agents and
structure because it
only examines changes
in behavior and
excludes an
examination changes in
identities and interests
What seems to be typical and deviant
in the world of Wag the Dog (table
4.3)
Typical
Deviant
For the tail (spin
doctors and
policy-makers) to
wag the dog (the
US public
For the dog (the
US public) to wag
its tail (spin
doctors and
policy-makers)
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Reconsidering what is typical and
deviant in the world of Wag the Dog
Typical
Deviant
For the tale (mediatic practices)
to wag the tail (producers/spin
doctors) so that it appears that
the tail (producers) wags the
dog (US public)
Either:
 For the dog (US public) to
wag its tail (producers/ spin
doctors/policy-makers)
Or
 For the tail (producers/ spin
doctors/ policy-makers) to
“really” wag the dog (US public)
without being wagged by the
tale (mediatic practices) itself
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Production and seduction in Wag the
Dog
Connie: You can’t do it
Stanley: [angrily] Don’t you tell
me that. Don’t you ever tell me
that. I’m the producer of this
show. [looks out the window at
the set where the patriotic funeral
for the returned war hero is being
shot] Look at that. That is a
complete fucking fraud, and it
looks one hundred percent real.
[contemplatively, softly] It’s the
best work I’ve ever done in my
whole life, because it’s so
honest…[insistently] I tell you, for
once in my life I will not be pissed
on. I want…I want the credit. I
want the credit
(Wag the Dog)
“Seduction doesn’t just tease us into wanting
what we cannot see. It convinces us that
there is something there to be seen”
(Weber, 2013)
‘The tale itself tricks us into thinking that
there is an author of the tale’
(Weber, 2013)
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Film activity: Updating Wag the Dog
Aim: Think about how the role of authorship, seduction, production and the
media might have changed from 1997 to today
Task 1:
In small
groups
come up
with a
basic film
plot which
updates
Wag the
Dog to
today
considering the
following
(7 min.):
1.Could the role
of the producer
be the same
today as in
1997?
2.What in the
plot would
need to change
and what could
be kept for it to
make sense
today?
3.Which
characters
could you keep
and who would
need to be
added?
1.With the changes you have
made to your movie, how
does this affect the role of
authorship and seduction?
Task 2:
Either in
small
groups or
together
discuss the
following
questions
(7 min.):
2.Who would take the role
of the producer (Stanley in
Wag the Dog) in your film?
3.Consider the statement:
“Seduction doesn't just
tease us into wanting what
we cannot see. It convinces
us that there is something
there to be seen” (Weber,
2013).
Is this more or less true in
your film (today) than in
Wag the Dog (1997)?
© 2014 Cynthia Weber
Next week: Gender
Feminisms
place in IR
Film:
Femininity
Fatal
Attraction
Masculinity
Is gender a variable?
© 2014 Cynthia Weber

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