The Constructivist Approach in International Relations



The paper tells that the constructivists have over and over questioned the rationale behind the self-centred notion of rationalism. In place of this, Constructivism has favoured some form of social ontology. Its proponents believe that human beings are social actors, and as such can never live away from the society’s power to shape their actions, so that they can conform to certain forms of behaviour. However, Wendt admits that, since constructivism is unable to provide international relations with “a clear test of their predictive power…” and without a clear theory to help in assessing domestic politics, it cannot, therefore, solely in studying international relations. It needs a backing from some other theories of international relations. Therefore, my paper seeks to critically assess the strengths and shortcomings of the constructivist approach in International Relations. In doing this, the paper will give a brief discussion on how constructivism has come to be one of the major theoretical approaches of IR. It will also look at the strengths and weaknesses of constructivism. Moreover, it will give a comparison between constructivism and neorealism. The works of various constructivists will be visited to shed more light on the topic. These constructivists include Martha Finnemore, Alexander Wendt, Thomas Risse, and Peter Katzenstein. Today constructivism is actually one of the main theories of International Relations. It is built on the premise that almost all important features of global politics owe their existence to some given social circumstances and events in history. The theory strongly refutes the claim that international politics are controlled by intentional human actions that can never be controlled. It also does not agree with the notion that international politics is controlled by the uncontrollable nature of the same. The intention of constructivism to look at international relations as a result of social construction makes the theory clearly distinct from the traditional approaches to not only realism but also liberalism. There is a lot of emphasis on the human nature of humans as being an outcome of the relations we have with others. We are who we are today because of the social relations. As such, the argument here is that it is our social relations that construct us. However, the same world cannot exist without human beings since it is what it is because of the social relations. Therefore, as the world controls us, we equally control the world. Both humans and the world make each other (Zehfuss 2002, p.4). Constructivism’s importance in international relations is clearly brought out in the claim that the most important debate, now or in future, is that “between rationalists and constructivists.” Another factor that makes constructivism an important tool in the study of international relations is the fact that it occupies “the middle ground between rationalism and more radical approaches, often called reflectivist or relativist”