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An evaluation of constructivism as an approach to international relations theory

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  1. The origins of constructivism
    1. The theoretical landscape of international relations
    2. Constructivism as the Middle Ground
  2. The theoretical propositions of constructivism
    1. The role of international norms and rules
    2. The issue of identities and interests
    3. The mutual constitution of agents and structures
  3. The constructivist research
    1. The empirical contribution of constructivism
    2. The research agenda
    3. The weaknesses of constructivism

Before the 1980s, the focus of the international scholarship relations was on two main debates: on the one hand, opposing the neo-realists to the neo-liberal institutionalists; and on the other rationalism to critical theory. Whereas the former is a debate in which the two mainstream theories, both described as rationalist, accept common assumptions (among which the logic of anarchy and the self-interest of the states, principal actors of international relations); the latter involves the challenging of the critical theory of the core epistemological and ontological beliefs of rationalism. However, in the incidents of that decade, these debates, especially the first one, seems to be languish. It is in that period that a certain number of researchers appeared, describing themselves as belonging to a "constructivist" approach to international relations. This approach is derived from other forms of social sciences, including philosophy, anthropology, sociology and history, which explain the multiplicity of its influences, and the different degrees of assimilation of other sciences.

[...] An introduction to International Relations, 3rd edition (2005) p Alexander Wendt, ?Anarchy is what states make of it: the social construction of international relations?, International Organization (1992), vol.46, p Scott Burchill, Andrew Linklater, Theories of International Relations, 3rd edition (Basingtoke: Palgrave 2005), chapter 8 Scott Burchill, Andrew Linklater, Theories of International Relations, 3rd edition (Basingtoke: Palgrave 2005), chapter 8 Emanuel Adler, ?Seizing the Middle Ground: constructivism in World Politics?, European Journal of International Relations (1997) pp. 319- 363 Emanuel Adler, ?Seizing the Middle Ground: constructivism in World Politics?, European Journal of International Relations (1997) pp. [...]


[...] After presenting these introductory controversies of constructivism as an approach to international relations theory, the question of its evaluation arises. Indeed, what is the relevance of constructivism in today's international relations scholarship? Subsequently, the problem of how to evaluate a theory derives from the first interrogation. In order to asses constructivism, it is imperative to closely examine its ontological foundations and its research capabilities and methodology. However, it is also necessary to situate the theory in relation to other approaches. [...]


[...] The weaknesses of constructivism In addition to the research agenda that we have described above, constructivism has some weaknesses that can compromise its evaluation as an approach to international relations theory. Indeed, the first of them concerns the divisions within the school of thought, which could well be strength or a burden. As early as in the 1990s, constructivism was already divided. At that time, we can already identify three different forms of constructivism[46]. The first of them, systemic, is state-centered and brackets everything inside the domestic sphere, only focusing on the interaction between states. [...]

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