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International Relations Constructivism
by
Jonathan Cristol

Introduction

Constructivist theory emerged in the mid-1990s as a serious challenge to the dominant realist and liberal theoretical paradigms. The theory was not popularized until Wendt 1992 (a direct challenge to neorealism) and Katzenstein 1996 (cited under Identity) made it a staple of international relations (IR) syllabi around the world. The theory’s relatively recent arrival on the scene makes a constructivist canon somewhat harder to identify and makes the inclusion or exclusion of particular sources in this bibliography a potentially much greater source of contention than in the articles on realism and liberalism. Constructivist theory emphasizes the meanings that are assigned to material objects, rather than the mere existence of the objects themselves. For example, a nuclear weapon in the United Kingdom and a nuclear weapon in North Korea may be materially identical (though, so far, they are not) but they possess radically different meanings for the United States. The belief that reality is socially constructed leads constructivists to place a greater role on norm development, identity, and ideational power than the other major theoretical paradigms. Indeed, norms, identity, and ideas are key factors in constructivist theory. The relationship between critical IR theory or feminist IR theory and constructivist IR theory are contested. Some critical and feminist theorists could mount an argument that each deserves its own article. However, for better or worse, the mainstream of the field situates both within a constructivist paradigm, as they share certain key features that are common to constructivism and are distinct from realism and liberalism. In addition, it could be argued that the “English School” belongs in this section. However, the placement of the English School in a solely realist, liberal, or constructivist framework could be considered quite controversial, as it has elements of all three paradigms. Therefore, the section on the English School is contained in the International Relations Theory article, and more extensively in the International Society article.

General Overviews

This section delineates a few different varieties of overviews of constructivist IR theory. The publisher M.E. Sharpe produced an outstanding and comprehensive series on constructivism titled International Relations in a Constructed World. In that series Kubálková 1998 provides a general overview of constructivist theory. Klotz and Lynch 2007 provides an extraordinarily useful volume about doing research using constructivist theory, which anyone using constructivism as the basis for their research should read. Fierke and Jørgensen 2001 focuses on the second wave of constructivist scholars and those scholars’ takes on earlier constructivist scholarship. Debrix 2003 has a more narrow focus on the role of discourse in international relations (IR). In addition to the M.E. Sharpe volumes, Adler 1997 and Guzzini 2000 provide article-length overviews of constructivism. Adler focuses on how it fits into the wider IR theoretical context, and Guzzini deconstructs constructivism for the reader and attempts to build it back up in an instructive way. For the simplest explanation of constructivism, see Snyder 2004, which provides brief summaries of realism, liberalism, and constructivism and compares and contrasts them for the reader. Snyder’s article is the easiest article to understand in this section.

  • Adler, Emanuel. “Seizing the Middle Ground: Constructivism in World Politics.” European Journal of International Relations 3.3 (1997): 319–363.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066197003003003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Details how constructivism fits into wider IR theoretical framework. Positions constructivism between rationalist (i.e., realism) and interpretivist (i.e., critical theory) approaches. Long and difficult article, but important for an understanding of constructivism’s role in the discipline.

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  • Debrix, François, ed. Language, Agency, and Politics in a Constructed World. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003.

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    Edited volume that examines the role of discourse in shaping our understanding of international relations. Contains both purely theoretical and applied chapters. For example, Nicholas Onuf writes about personal identity, and Anthony Lang Jr. writes about the United Nations and humanitarian intervention. Part of the International Relations in a Constructed World series, a comprehensive and well-organized collection of volumes on constructivist theory from the publisher M.E. Sharpe.

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  • Fierke, Karin M., and Knud Erik Jørgensen, eds. Constructing International Relations: The Next Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001.

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    This challenging edited volume focuses on defining constructivism and how constructivism can be used to study IR. It contains works from some major constructivist theorists, including Jennifer Miliken on discourse and critical theory, Friedrich Kratochwil, and Meja Zehfuss on Alexander Wendt, Nicolas Onuf, and Kratochwil (later expanded into Zehfuss 2002, cited under Conventional Constructivism). Part of the International Relations in a Constructed World series, a comprehensive and well-organized collection of volumes on constructivist theory from the publisher M.E. Sharpe.

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  • Guzzini, Stefano. “A Reconstruction of Constructivism in International Relations.” European Journal of International Relations 6.2 (June 2000): 147–182.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066100006002001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Deconstructs and reconstructs constructivism in a way useful to the understanding of constructivism, but like many constructivist works, it can be difficult for the undergraduate to understand. Argues that the development of constructivism was inspired by the end of the Cold War. Claims that constructivism is about the social construction of knowledge and the construction of social reality and that the theory requires an intersubjective theory of action.

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  • Hurd, Ian. “Constructivism.” In The Oxford Handbook of International Relations. Edited by Christian Reus-Smit and Duncan Snidal, 298–316. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199219322.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A chapter-length overview of constructivist theory and how it differs from the other major theoretical paradigms. Clearly written and accessible, though the book itself is expensive and is thus best accessed in a university library.

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  • Klotz, Audie, and Cecelia Lynch. Strategies for Research in Constructivist International Relations. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2007.

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    Relatively short book that provides a general overview of constructivist theory, a guide on how to do research using constructivist theory, and a discussion of the many available sources. Useful for anyone writing a long paper, thesis, or dissertation on constructivism. Part of the International Relations in a Constructed World series, a comprehensive and well-organized collection of volumes on constructivist theory from the publisher M.E. Sharpe.

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  • Kubálková, Vendulka, Nicholas Onuf, and Paul Kowert. eds. International Relations in a Constructed World. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998.

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    Edited volume particularly useful for its section “Constructivism in Context.” Contains chapters by Onuf (a co-editor), Kubálková on E. H. Carr, and Harry D. Gould on the “agent-structure debate” (see Wendt 1987, cited under Alexander Wendt). Part of the International Relations in a Constructed World series, a comprehensive and well-organized collection of volumes on constructivist theory from the publisher M.E. Sharpe.

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  • Snyder, Jack. “One World, Rival Theories.” Foreign Policy 83.6 (2004): 52–62.

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    An update on a similarly named 1998 Foreign Policy article by Stephen Walt. Snyder provides his take on the basic principles of constructivism and compares them to the basic principles of the other major schools of thought in international-relations theory—realism and liberalism. Perfect brief overview of both constructivism and international-relations theory in general.

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Journals

There are a very large number of journals that contain interesting and important articles on constructivist international relations (IR) theory, but none that are solely devoted to the subject. Thus this section includes journals that either contain important and influential constructivist articles or a great number of constructivist articles. Alexander Wendt’s journal International Theory is too new to be included in this section. International Studies Quarterly contains a relatively large number of articles per issue, and at least one or two are usually theoretical in nature. Of the theoretical articles, some are constructivist in nature. It is the premier journal of the International Studies Association. International Organization is one of the most respected journals in the field. International Organization publishes theoretical articles of all stripes, including many on constructivism, but it tends to be somewhat difficult for the undergraduate to understand. International Security is a very clearly written journal, with just a few articles per issue and often symposia or collections of articles grouped around a specific theme. Not every piece is on IR theory, and fewer on constructivism, but it is still a useful source. The European Journal of International Relations devotes more of its space to major debates within constructivism and is more sympathetic to this theoretical framework than the other journals listed here, except perhaps International Political Sociology; however, the European Journal of International Relations has, so far, produced more widely renowned scholarship. Millennium: Journal of International Studies is a British journal that frequently publishes articles on feminist and postmodern IR theory and has a much less traditional selection than the other journals listed here. Unfortunately, it is difficult to access from many American universities and databases.

Early Influences on Constructivism

Just as Thucydides and Machiavelli are claimed by realist theorists as their own, so too are there texts written before the idea of a constructivist international relations (IR) theory was conceived now claimed as precursors to constructivist IR theory. Anderson 1983 is not the first of these but is perhaps the most widely read among scholars of international relations. Anderson’s claim that the very building blocks of the international system for realists and liberals alike are not objective facts but social constructions hit IR years after he wrote his book, but its influence cannot be discounted. Similarly, Bull 1995 (first published in 1977) is a foundational text of the “English School” and is arguably not a constructivist text at all. However, Bull’s argument that states in anarchy form their own society with its own norms and standards of behavior opened the door to new conceptions of anarchy. Onuf 1989 could be considered the foundational text of constructivist IR theory, but it lacks the wide readership necessary to achieve that level of prominence. This underestimation could be due to the complicated and interdisciplinary approach of this work and of Onuf 1987. Berger and Luckmann 1991 is a work of sociology important for constructivism because of its argument that objects and ideas are given meaning through social interaction. Sociology has now so permeated constructivist theory that many universities, particularly in the United Kingdom, require a semester of doctoral sociology courses for a doctorate in politics or international relations.

  • Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

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    A work of (arguably) critical theory first renowned in postcolonial-literature circles and brought into IR well after its publication. The book is an early example of the importance of ideas writ large in IR theory, and, more specifically, that nations, states, and nation-states (the primary actors in the other major theoretical frameworks) are ultimately social constructions.

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  • Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Penguin, 1991.

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    A major work of sociology, influential in IR for its discussion of how man-made objects and ideas are given meaning through social interaction. Multiple editions exist, but this edition is the easiest to find. Originally published in 1966 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday).

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  • Bull, Hedley. The Anarchical Society. 3d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

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    A foundational text of the “English School” by one of the major figures in IR theory. Not universally considered a constructivist text. Bull argues that anarchy is itself a society, constructed by its constituents, with its own rules and norms of behavior, and that Waltzian neorealism thus presents too simplistic a view of anarchy. Early discussion of norms in IR. First published in 1977.

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  • Onuf, N. G. “Rules in Moral Development.” Human Development 30 (1987): 257–267.

    DOI: 10.1159/000273184Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Not a conventional IR article. Onuf discusses how rules are socially constructed through performative discourse. He develops three categories for rules: instruction, directive, and commitment. He looks at the role of these types of rules in culture as well as in the wider discussion of the moral development of children. These ideas are expanded on in Onuf 1989.

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  • Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood. World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relations. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.

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    Arguably the foundational text of the theory, but its emphasis (like Onuf 1987) is on performative discourse and rule formation. Onuf examines a wide range of philosophers to show the consistency of rules and rule formation in their work. Though influential, it does not have the wide readership of Katzenstein 1996 (cited under Identity) or Wendt 1999 (cited under Alexander Wendt). Out of print, but any decent research library will have at least one copy.

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Conventional Constructivism

Conventional constructivism emphasizes qualitative research methods and focuses on the role of norms, identity, and ideas in the international system—and how these work together to construct international society. Zehfuss 2002 provides an overview of major constructivist theorists and the differences between them. Conventional constructivism differs from critical constructivism in two major respects: (1) it is a systemic nonnormative theory; and (2) the theory shares realism’s concerns with material aspects of power. It differs from realism in that constructivism points out the meanings that underlie the material aspects of power. Ruggie 1998 explains how realism and liberalism have ignored norms, ideas, identities, and ideologies in favor of the objectively material aspects of power. Hopf 1998 provides a clear example of the differences between conventional and critical constructivism. Conventional constructivism’s golden age was the period between 1996 and 1999, when many of the most important and innovative books and articles on the subject were first published. Checkel 1998 reviews some major books from this period and provides a clear and readable, if not easy, overview of conventional constructivism. Dessler 1999 looks at Katzenstein 1996 (cited under Identity) from a positivist perspective and discusses constructivism and positivism in a clear and understandable way. Finnemore and Sikkink 2001 focuses on research methodology and debates within international relations (IR) and comparative politics about the role of constructivist theory. Risse 2000 is an important look at the particular methodology of discourse analysis and contrasts the role of argumentation and persuasion with rational choice and institutionalist takes on communication. Alexander Wendt is the theorist most closely associated with conventional constructivism, which is sometimes referred to as “Wendtian constructivism.” He is often criticized for being too state-centric in a theoretical paradigm that generally rejects state-centricity. Wendt is included in his own subsection (Alexander Wendt) both for this reason and because he so dominates this field that, were he not given his own section, he would almost entirely subsume this one.

  • Barnett, Michael, and Raymond Duvall. “Power in International Politics.” International Organization 59 (2005): 39–75.

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    The authors argue that power is not simply the power to get others to do what they otherwise would not do. The article shows how social relations produce different forms of power. Their goal is to expand the view of power beyond the simply material and to show the connections between different conceptions of power.

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  • Checkel, Jeffrey T. “The Constructivist Turn in International Relations Theory.” World Politics 50.2 (1998): 324–348.

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    This review article is a staple of undergraduate IR syllabi. While difficult for the early undergraduate to understand, it remains one of the clearest and least unnecessarily wordy overviews of constructivist theory to date. Technically a review of Finnemore 1996 (cited under Norms), Katzenstein 1996 (cited under Identity), and Klotz 1995 (cited under Norms); but a lack of knowledge of these books does not diminish the importance of this text.

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  • Dessler, David. “Constructivism within a Positivist Social Science.” Review of International Studies 25.1 (January 1999): 123–137.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0260210599001230Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Another review essay of Katzenstein 1996 (cited under Identity) (and Friedman and Starr’s 1997 book Agency, Structure, and International Politics: From Ontology to Empirical Inquiry). Dessler looks at constructivism from a positivist perspective. Very clear and understandable for the educated reader.

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  • Finnemore, Martha, and Kathryn Sikkink. “Taking Stock: The Constructivist Research Program in International Relations and Comparative Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science 4 (2001): 391–416.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.4.1.391Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of constructivism in both IR and comparative politics. The authors focus on research methodology as well as constructivist literature and debates within the two fields.

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  • Hopf, Ted. “The Promise of Constructivism in International Relations Theory.” International Security 23 (1998): 171–200.

    DOI: 10.2307/2539267Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Along with Checkel 1998, one of the most widely used articles on constructivism in undergraduate and graduate syllabi. Hopf takes on the argument that constructivism is antipositivist and compares and contrasts conventional and critical constructivism. Relatively clear for a constructivist article and quite useful for this major distinction, which some argue entirely separates critical theory from constructivism.

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  • Risse, Thomas. “‘Let’s Argue!’ Communicative Action in World Politics.” International Organization 54 (2000): 1–39.

    DOI: 10.1162/002081800551109Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Risse argues that “argumentation, deliberation, and persuasion” constitute a different mode of social interaction than strategic bargaining or “rule-guided behavior.” An extremely important text, cited by nearly a thousand sources, on discourse and, implicitly, on the importance of discourse analysis; a methodology often encountered in the constructivist research program writ large. Risse is sometimes cited as Risse-Kappen.

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  • Ruggie, John Gerard. “What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge.” International Organization 52 (1998): 855–885.

    DOI: 10.1162/002081898550770Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ruggie is one of the clearest writers of the major constructivists and clearly demonstrates that realism and liberalism have ignored identities, norms, ideologies, and other ideational factors in IR. Later became chapter 1 of Ruggie’s Constructing the World Polity: Essays on International Institutionalization (London: Routledge, 1998).

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  • Zehfuss, Maja. Constructivism in International Relations: The Politics of Reality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    A useful book on constructivism and constructivist theorists. Zehfuss examines German military involvement abroad through the theories of Wendt, Kratochwil, Nicholas Onuf, and Jacques Derrida, and in the process identifies different types of constructivist theory, as well as the common threads between them. Part of the prestigious and generally outstanding Cambridge Studies in International Relations series.

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Alexander Wendt

Alexander Wendt is without question the most widely taught constructivist international-relations theorist. Furthermore, a 2008 study conducted by the College of William and Mary found that he is considered to be the most innovative international relations (IR) thinker of the past twenty years. He is credited with bringing constructivism to the forefront of international relations, but other critical constructivist theorists consider Wendt to be too concerned with states and with the material aspects of power and of the international system to truly be a constructivist theorist. Each of his major works presents an important challenge to many preconceived notions within the field. Wendt 1987 showed that sociological methods, later popularized in IR by Wendt, could be applied to show that the system and its constituents are mutually constituted. Wendt 1992 took down Waltz’s argument that anarchy is a zero-sum game for states, by showing that anarchy has its own rules and that there can be different types of anarchy. Wendt 1994 surprised scholars with its readable prose, as well as with its argument that system-level interactions could transform the identities of states. Wendt 1995, a response to Mearsheimer’s 1994–1995 article “The False Promise of International Institutions,” argues that all theories implicitly embrace some aspect of the social construction of reality. Perhaps his most important work, Wendt 1999, is the first major attempt to mount a cohesive social theory of international politics. The book is a direct assault on Waltz and has had a profound influence in the field. Wendt is, however, at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis Waltz, as his writing is very dense, full of jargon, and difficult to understand, whereas Waltz argues logically and clearly. It should be noted that Wendt 1999 was the International Studies Association’s “book of the decade.” Although Wendt can be difficult to understand for all but the most advanced readers, Smith 2000 provides a short and sweet explanation of his work. Ringmar 1997 also provides an overview of Wendt’s work, useful to understanding his contribution to the field. Guzzini and Leander 2006 presents a dialogue between Wendt and his (generally constructivist) critics. Wendt also has coauthored an interesting chapter in Katzenstein 1996 (cited under Identity). It is important not to underestimate the effect that Wendt had on the field, and thus it is important to be familiar with his work, no matter how difficult it may be.

  • Guzzini, Stefano, and Anna Leander, eds. Constructivism and International Relations: Alexander Wendt and His Critics. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    An edited volume featuring such theorists as Dale Copeland, Friedrich Kratochwil, Maja Zehfuss, and Wendt himself. Each writer takes on a different aspect of Wendt’s theory, primarily based on Wendt 1999, and Wendt responds to his critics. Useful for the researcher focusing on Wendt’s work.

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  • Ringmar, Erik. “Alexander Wendt: A Social Scientist Struggling with History.” In The Future of International Relations: Masters in the Making? Edited by Iver B. Neumann and Ole Wæver, 290–311. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    A past advisee of Wendt appraises his work and delineates “early” and “late” Wendt. Ringmar claims that early Wendt was concerned with the “agent-structure” problem (Wendt 1987 “The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory”) but later Wendt focuses on the “construction of state identities.” Fun, insightful look at Wendt’s work as part of a collection of essays on IR “masters” that also includes chapters about Kenneth Waltz, Robert Keohane, John Gerard Ruggie, Nicholas Onuf, and James Der Derian.

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  • Smith, Steve. “Wendt’s World.” Review of International Studies 26.1 (2000): 151–163.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0260210500001510Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Unofficially, a positive review of Wendt 1999. Smith defines Wendt’s theory and what he tries to accomplish in a far more clear and precise manner than Wendt himself. Very useful for the undergraduate who has difficulty grappling with Wendt’s work.

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  • Wendt, Alexander. “The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory.” International Organization 41 (1987): 335–370.

    DOI: 10.1017/S002081830002751XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wendt’s first major article. He identifies some IR theories as focused on the international system (structure) and some as focused on actors within the system (agent). Wendt claims that both the agent and the structure are mutually constitutive, and he dips into sociology to provide a more complete understanding of how the international system works.

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  • Wendt, Alexander. “Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics.” International Organization 46 (1992): 391–425.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020818300027764Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Perhaps the most widely read and taught constructivist article ever written. Wendt challenges Waltz’s 1979 book Theory of International Politics and deepens Bull 1995 (cited under Early Influences on Constructivism) and shows that international anarchy does not have one meaning and one outcome. The precursor to chapter 6 of Wendt 1999. Conceptually not too difficult for undergraduates, but Wendt’s prose is difficult to understand for most. Required reading for anyone in the field. Cited by nearly two thousand sources.

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  • Wendt, Alexander. “Collective Identity Formation and the International State.” American Political Science Review 88.2 (1994): 384–396.

    DOI: 10.2307/2944711Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wendt argues that interactions at the systemic level change states’ interests and identities. One of his more readable and short articles.

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  • Wendt, Alexander. “Constructing International Politics.” International Security 20.1 (1995): 71–81.

    DOI: 10.2307/2539217Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Frequently included in undergraduate and graduate syllabi. This article is a response to Mearsheimer’s 1994–1995 article “The False Promise of International Institutions.” Shows how a wide variety of theoretical families all rely on the premise of the social construction of reality.

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  • Wendt, Alexander. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Wendt takes on Waltz’s 1979 Theory of International Politics and presents a holistic approach to both IR and to constructivist theory. Despite his narrowly defined goals, this book is generally considered to be one of the only general constructivist theories of IR (though Wendt specifically says “politics” and not “relations”). The International Studies Association’s “book of the decade.” Difficult for all but the most advanced undergraduates. Required reading for graduate students.

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Ideas

Perhaps the most important differentiation between constructivist theories and other international relations (IR) theories is the way they deal with ideas and ideational power. For constructivists, ideas have the potential to be more powerful than the traditional objective IR measurements of power such as nuclear weapons, gross domestic product, and carrier battle groups. This difference is extremely important and underscores the different types of research one could undertake in the different paradigms. Finnemore and Sikkink 1998 argues that ideas have always been a part of IR theory, even after IR’s “scientific turn.” Tannenwald and Wohlforth 2005 and Checkel 1997 discuss the role of ideas in the end of the Cold War, a frequent subject in the study of ideational factors in world conflicts. Checkel goes deeper than Tannenwald and Wohlforth, but Tannenwald and Wohlforth present a wider range of views on the subject. Goldstein and Keohane 1993 shows that ideas can help to reduce uncertainty, and the authors discuss how ideas are institutionalized, though it should be noted that both are prominent neoliberal institutionalist theorists and not constructivists. Desch 1998, however, does not agree that the roles of identity (and culture, which helps form identity) and ideas separate constructivism from realism, and instead argues that they are supplemental to realism. Williams 2004 links constructivism to classical realism through the work of Hans J. Morgenthau. To a certain extent, Laffey and Weldes 1997 agrees with Williams and Desch and claims that ideas are objectified and then fitted into the dominant rationalist discourse, and thus a new constructivist approach is needed.

  • Checkel, Jeffrey T. Ideas and International Political Change: Soviet/Russian Behavior and the End of the Cold War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

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    A detailed examination of the role of ideas in causing international political change, just as the title implies. Also a useful history of the end of the Cold War. Checkel includes a discussion of policy entrepreneurs as well.

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  • Desch, Michael C. “Culture Clash: Assessing the Importance of Ideas in Security Studies.” International Security 23.1 (1998): 141–170.

    DOI: 10.2307/2539266Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Desch argues that the wave of cultural explanations in security studies in the 1990s does not present a new theoretical paradigm that supplants realism but instead supplements realism. Very interesting and accessible to the undergraduate reader, as most articles in International Security tend to be.

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  • Finnemore, Martha, and Kathryn Sikkink. “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change.” International Organization 52 (1998): 887–917.

    DOI: 10.1162/002081898550789Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors investigate ideational factors in international politics from the Cold War period onward and argue that they never fully disappeared from the scene, despite IR’s turn toward the “scientific.”

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  • Goldstein, Judith, and Robert O. Keohane, eds. Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

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    This edited volume includes work from prominent theorists from all different theoretical approaches. It focuses on the role of ideas in reducing uncertainty and how ideas are institutionalized. It contains work by some of the major IR theorists of our time, including G. John Ikenberry, Sikkink on human rights policies, Stephen Krasner on states, Peter Katzenstein, and Goldstein and Keohane.

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  • Laffey, Mark, and Jutta Weldes. “Beyond Belief: Ideas and Symbolic Technologies in the Study of International Relations.” European Journal of International Relations 3.2 (1997): 193–237.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066197003002003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Laffey and Weldes argue that the turn to ideas in IR does not present a serious challenge to rationalist theoretical approaches. They claim that ideas are co-opted into rationalist theories through objectification. The authors argue that if ideas are not seen as objects, but instead as “symbolic technologies,” then they can address the rationalists’ problem conceptualizing ideas and objects. A difficult, lengthy, but important article not well suited for the undergraduate.

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  • Tannenwald, Nina, and William C. Wohlforth, eds. Special Issue: Ideas and the End of the Cold War. Journal of Cold War Studies 7.2 (2005).

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    Issue begins with Tannenwald’s response to critics of the literature on ideas and the end of the Cold War (pp. 13–42). She develops a theoretical framework that guides the other articles, and she attempts to draw a clearer line between material and ideational factors and to show that causal and constitutive analyses are both valid strategies for examining the role of ideas.

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  • Williams, Michael C. “Why Ideas Matter in International Relations: Hans Morgenthau, Classical Realism, and the Moral Construction of Power Politics.” International Organization 58 (2004): 633–665.

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    Williams attempts to rehabilitate and correct the view of Morgenthau in IR theory. Contrary to common belief, Morgenthau did not focus on power to the exclusion of all other ideas. In fact, ideas played a central role in much of his work, which challenges the purported differences between conventional constructivism and classical realism. An important article for understanding Morgenthau and classical realism.

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Norms

The search for an explanation of why states and the international system develop and adhere to norms is a crucial part of conventional constructivist theory. Finnemore and Sikkink 1998 and Raymond 1997 are perhaps the broadest articles discussing the role of norms in international relations (IR) theory, but Katzenstein 1996 is likely the most widely taught and widely read work on the subject. After a general introduction to the role of both norms and identity in IR, specific case studies are examined. This book is on undergraduate and graduate syllabi across the globe, and along with Wendt 1999 (cited under Alexander Wendt), played a significant role in situating constructivism as the third major theoretical paradigm. Tannenwald 2007 expands on the author’s chapter in Katzenstein 1996 (cited under Identity) and has written what may be the most extensive and detailed case study about norm development (Klotz 1995 would be the work’s only rival). Tannenwald argues that the norm against the nonuse of nuclear weapons is so strong in the United States that we would not use such a weapon even if our vital interests were at stake. Similarly, Klotz 1995 looks at a single case of norm development, the global norm against apartheid, and how it developed across differing states and institutions. Finnemore 1996 provides a brief overview of the development of norms and how they relate to states’ national interests. Shannon 2000 examines why states that violate international norms feel the need to justify their behavior by arguing that their action fit the norm all along. Florini 1996 asks the important question of why one norm takes hold and not another.

  • Finnemore, Martha. National Interests in International Society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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    A look at the development of norms in states and how the development of these norms fit into states’ national interests. Specifically looks at the Geneva Conventions, the World Bank, and UNESCO and science bureaucracies. Short, readable book.

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  • Finnemore, Martha, and Kathryn Sikkink. “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change.” International Organization 52 (1998): 887–917.

    DOI: 10.1162/002081898550789Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the role of norms in IR and how norms affect political change. The authors show that norms have always been a part of IR and that the recent focus on them is a return to the study of norms and is not new. They look at the connections between norms and rationality instead of their opposition to each other. Also includes a brief discussion of norm entrepreneurs. Important article, cited by almost two thousand other sources.

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  • Florini, Ann. “The Evolution of International Norms.” International Studies Quarterly 40.3 (1996): 363–389.

    DOI: 10.2307/2600716Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Florini examines why one norm takes hold instead of another. She argues that constructivism has established that norms are a constraining factor in IR but has not established why certain norms take hold and others do not. She uses an evolutionary approach borrowed from population genetics to provide an explanation.

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  • Katzenstein, Peter J., ed. The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

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    Along with Wendt 1999 (cited under Alexander Wendt), one of the two most widely read and most important constructivist works. Though it focuses primarily on the two titular aspects of constructivism and does not provide a general theory per se, it is responsible for bringing the theory to a much wider audience. The case studies and general lack of philosophical jargon make it accessible for the advanced undergraduate.

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  • Klotz, Audie. Norms in International Relations: The Struggle against Apartheid. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

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    A case study of the development of a norm in IR. Klotz provides an overview of both the politics of apartheid and of norms in IR theory. She then examines the development of the norm against apartheid in the UN, the Commonwealth, the Organization of African Unity, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe.

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  • Raymond, Gregory A. “Problems and Prospects in the Study of International Norms.” Mershon International Studies Review 41.2 (1997): 205–245.

    DOI: 10.2307/222668Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A broad overview of the role of norms in the international system. Raymond claims that, even absent institutions, norms play a constraining role in state behavior. He explains problems with measuring the role of norms and shows how norms affect foreign policy.

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  • Shannon, Vaughn P. “Norms are What States Make of Them: Political Psychology and Norm Violation.” International Studies Quarterly 44.2 (2000): 293–316.

    DOI: 10.1111/0020-8833.00159Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shannon tries to explain why states violate norms that they purport to accept. He claims that while neorealists argue that norms are violated when they conflict with national interests, this observation is not empirically accurate, but constructivists have not yet explained this phenomenon either. He argues that “norms are what states make of them,” and states fit their violation of a norm into the norm itself.

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  • Tannenwald, Nina. The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons since 1945. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    An expansion of the author’s chapter in Katzenstein 1996 (cited under Identity). This outstanding case study shows how the nonuse of nuclear weapons has become so deeply embedded in American political and social culture that they would never be used, even in cases when their use would make strategic or tactical sense.

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Identity

The third major factor in conventional constructivism is identity and the idea that both who you think you are and who others think you are affects state behavior. Huntington 1993 is not an example of constructivist theory, nor could Huntington be considered a constructivist; however, his theory is very useful in understanding how identity affects behavior. For an explicitly constructivist take on identity, Katzenstein 1996 is perhaps the most widely taught and widely read work on the subject. After a general introduction to the role of both norms and identity in international relations (IR), specific case studies are examined. This book is on undergraduate and graduate syllabi across the globe, and along with Wendt 1999 (cited under Alexander Wendt), played a significant role in situating constructivism as the third major theoretical paradigm. Lapid and Kratochwil 1996 is an underutilized but important book that is an attempt to contextualize culture and identity in IR theory. It is an excellent complement to Katzenstein 1996. Lebow 2008 is perhaps the most significant contribution to constructivist IR theory since Katzenstein 1996 and Wendt 1999 (cited under Alexander Wendt). In this lengthy work, Lebow examines motives and identity across a nearly four-thousand-year swath of world history. Hopf 2002 takes a much more narrow approach and presents a single case study about the role and change in Soviet identity from 1955 to 1999. Checkel 2001 uses the case studies of Ukraine and Germany to argue for an approach that combines constructivism and rationalism. Christiansen, et al. 1999 also looks toward Europe to situate constructivism as a middle ground. Williams 1998 argues that identity is a part of all major IR theoretical paradigms, but that some consciously minimize the importance of identity in IR.

  • Checkel, Jeffrey T. “Why Comply? Social Learning and European Identity Change.” International Organization 55 (2001): 553–588.

    DOI: 10.1162/00208180152507551Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Checkel attempts to bridge the divide between constructivist and rationalist approaches to IR. He looks at the role of argument and social learning and argues that domestic politics constrain both phenomena. He uses the case studies of Ukraine and Germany to argue for an approach that combines constructivist and rationalist theoretical approaches.

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  • Christiansen, Thomas, Knud Eric Jorgensen, and Antje Wiener. “The Social Construction of Europe.” Journal of European Public Policy 6.4 (1999): 528–544.

    DOI: 10.1080/135017699343450Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Christiansen and his coauthors explain how constructivism can be used to study European integration. They juxtapose constructivism with rationalism and reflectivism and call it a “middle ground,” which they claim is helpful for studying a wide variety of aspects of European integration. An essential article for anyone interested in the EU and constructivist theory.

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  • Hopf, Ted. Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.

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    An interesting book that focuses on Russian/Soviet identity in 1955 and 1999. Begins with an overview of constructivism but more interesting as a case study of the role of identity in international relations.

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  • Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72.3 (1993): 22–49.

    DOI: 10.2307/20045621Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Huntington argues that in the post–Cold War world, the most intense and intractable conflicts will be between civilizations. Civilizational conflict is the latest stage in an evolution of conflict that started with monarchs, then states, then ideologies (with regard to the Cold War). Huntington was by no means a constructivist but is included here to show the relationship between identity and IR.

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  • Katzenstein, Peter J., ed. The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

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    Along with Wendt 1999 (cited under Alexander Wendt), one of the two most widely read and most important constructivist works. The book features case studies of the role of identity in NATO, Soviet foreign policy, the Middle East, and Germany and Japan.

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  • Lapid, Yosef, and Friedrich Kratochwil, eds. The Return of Culture and Identity in IR Theory. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1996.

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    This volume presents a close look at culture and identity in IR theory. It is particularly useful for putting culture and identity in the context of environmentalism, feminism, postmodernism, and normative theory. It also attempts to confront neorealism head on. Despite a wealth of prominent contributors, including Wendt, Kratochwil, Daniel Deudney, J. Ann Tickner, and Naeem Inayatullah, this valuable book is overshadowed by Katzenstein 1996.

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  • Lebow, Richard Ned. A Cultural Theory of International Relations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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    One of the most important books in IR theory of the last decade. Lebow provides what is perhaps only the second comprehensive constructivist IR theory. He focuses on motives and identity from the Peloponnesian War through the Iraq War. He provides both ideal-type worlds and case studies of motives associated with appetite, spirit, reason, and fear, and shows how each motive deals with cooperation and conflict.

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  • Williams, Michael C. “Identity and the Politics of Security.” European Journal of International Relations 4.2 (1998): 204–225.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066198004002003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interesting look at the debate between neorealist and critical IR theories about the role of identity in security. Williams argues that while identity plays a role in all of the major IR theoretical paradigms, identity is consciously left out by the more traditional approaches.

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Critical Constructivism

There will no doubt be readers who take issue with the decision to include a section called “critical constructivism” but not one called “critical theory.” Others may take issue with including critical theory as a subsection of constructivism and not vice versa. Price and Reus-Smit 1998 argues that constructivism came from critical theory and has a lot to offer the study of critical international relations (IR) theory. It is also quite likely that some will dispute the categorization of some of these particular texts as “critical constructivism” and not critical theory writ large. Indeed, the amorphous and wide range of critical IR theory makes it very hard to categorize; and while one could mount a successful argument about why constructivism is a subset of critical theory (though constructivism is not necessarily normative, and critical theory tends toward the normative); the mainstream of IR theory generally considers constructivism the third major paradigm. Thus this section continues in that vein. Critical theory is found across the liberal arts and is distinguished in IR by making normative claims about how the world should be. However, like conventional constructivism, it is rooted in identity, norms, and ideas. Wyn Jones 2001 and Brown 1994 provide general overviews of critical IR theory and Booth 2005 provides a general overview of critical IR theory with a particular focus on security. Hopf 1998 provides a relatively short and clear description of the differences between critical and conventional constructivism. Ashley and Walker 1990 is a special issue of International Studies Quarterly showing how critical voices are shut out by the mainstream of IR theory. Roach 2010 provides a general theory of critical international-relations theory rooted in the philosophy of social science; whereas Roach 2007 is an edited collection of the very philosophers with whom Roach grapples in Roach 2010.

  • Ashley, Richard K., and R. B. J. Walker, eds. Special Issue: Speaking the Language of Exile: Dissident Thought in International Studies. International Studies Quarterly 34.3 (1990).

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    This special issue of International Studies Quarterly is dedicated to critical theory. Its editors claim that theorists outside the mainstream have a difficult time being heard by the rest of the discipline. That these claims were published in one the field’s top journals might belie that claim.

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  • Booth, Ken, ed. Critical Security Studies and World Politics. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005.

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    Ken Booth’s edited volume and his contributions to the volume are an excellent primer for anyone who wants an overview of critical theory in IR. The collection is divided into sections on security, community, and emancipation. Contributors include Steve Smith, Andrew Linklater, Jan Jindy Pettman, and Richard Wyn Jones. Eminently readable work on a theory that is not easy to understand.

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  • Brown, Chris. “‘Turtles All the Way Down’: Anti-Foundationalism, Critical Theory and International Relations.” Millennium 23.2 (1994): 213–236.

    DOI: 10.1177/03058298940230020901Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An extremely useful article for defining “critical theory” and all of the other related terms used in different ways by different theorists. Discusses a very wide variety of traditional and nontraditional IR, political, and social theorists. An interesting article, but difficult to understand without a strong background in the field, and unfortunately relatively difficult to get hold of in the United States.

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  • Leysens, Anthony. The Critical Theory of Robert W. Cox: Fugitive or Guru? Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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    Robert Cox is important to critical theory, but his emphasis on political economy makes him perhaps better suited to a different entry in this bibliography. This book provides a comprehensive overview of his work, compares him to other critical theorists, and argues for a distinct “Coxian critical theory.” Short, useful volume.

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  • Price, Richard, and Christian Reus-Smit. “Dangerous Liaisons? Critical International Theory and Constructivism.” European Journal of International Relations 4.3 (1998): 259–294.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066198004003001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors examine the relationship between constructivism and critical IR theory. They argue, contrary to some critical theorists, that constructivism has its roots in critical theory and can play an important role in the development of critical IR theory. Thus critical theorists should view constructivism in a more positive light. A very useful article for understanding the tension between those who consider themselves “constructivists” and those who consider themselves “critical theorists.”

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  • Roach, Steven C., ed. Critical Theory and International Relations: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 2007.

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    A comprehensive anthology of philosophers adopted as their own by critical IR theorists, including Nietzsche, Freud, and Habermas. Roach traces the evolution of critical theory into IR and also includes work from prominent IR theorists including Mervyn Frost, Robert Cox, and Christine Sylvester. The book traces the evolution of the philosophy of social science and its impact on IR. Difficult for the undergraduate, dry for the graduate student, but a useful reference for both.

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  • Roach, Steven C. Critical Theory of International Politics: Complementarity, Justice, and Governance. London: Routledge, 2010.

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    Roach examines the work of critical theorists drawn from the philosophy of social science and how critical theory has been applied to IR theory. He develops his own theory of complementarity that links critical theory writ large to critical IR theory. Roach is a clear writer, but knowledge of the philosophy of social science is helpful for understanding this book, and thus it is primarily useful for graduate students and beyond.

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  • Wyn Jones, Richard, ed. Critical Theory and World Politics. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2001.

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    A general overview of critical IR theory with chapters from some of the major critical (and noncritical) IR theorists, including Andrew Linklater, Robert Cox, Chris Brown, and (the seemingly ubiquitous) Alexander Wendt. An excellent overview of critical IR theory useful for anyone interested in the subject.

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Feminist IR Theory

The decision to include feminist international relations (IR) theory in an article on constructivism could certainly provoke a heated debate. Indeed, the position of feminist IR theory in the discipline has been heatedly debated, most famously between Robert Keohane (see Keohane 1988) and J. Ann Tickner (see Tickner 1997) about whether or not it is indeed a distinct theory. This debate is at least partially the result of resistance to methodologies borrowed from other disciplines, such as in Cohn 1987, which uses ethnography and (a small number of) elite interviews to prove the Cohn’s wider point about the gendered language of the US defense establishment. Enloe 2000 also uses “storytelling”-like methods but does so in a more rigorous and substantive way than Cohn. Squires and Weldes 2007 attempts to put an end to this debate by delineating “gender in international relations” from “feminist international relations theory” and admonishing feminist IR theorists to stop defending themselves and to get on with their research program. Feminist IR theory could reasonably be argued to be an offshoot of critical theory, but for the purposes of this bibliography, it is implicitly linked to critical theory and explicitly linked to constructivist theory, as they all emphasize the power of language, ideas, identity, norms, and the social construction of reality. Most of what has been written about this theory is not explicitly linked to feminism writ large, but Sylvester 1994 attempts to tie feminist theory directly to feminist IR theory. Tickner 1992 attempts to present a more conventional (though nonmeta-) IR theory, while Tickner 1988 contrasts a feminist approach to IR with a classical realist approach to IR and is a good (if difficult to find) beginning to understanding the feminist international relations project.

  • Cohn, Carol. “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals.” Signs 12.4 (1987): 687–719.

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    An eminently readable and fascinating (if methodologically questionable) article. Cohn provides a narrative of her time spent at a symposium on missile technology with the titular “defense intellectuals.” She recounts how they refer to the weapons in gendered terms (that is, the missiles, already phallic, penetrate the enemies’ defenses) and draws conclusions based on this experience. Useful for understanding a particular strain of second-wave feminist-tinged IR theory.

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  • Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

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    One of the most widely used books in courses on feminist IR theory, or in courses that include books on feminist IR theory. Through a series of (somewhat informal) case studies, Enloe discusses the role of women in a variety of levels in IR, but her focus is on how the personal affects the international political. Fascinating, readable, and enjoyable book. First published in 1990.

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  • Keohane, Robert O. “Beyond Dichotomy: Conversations between International Relations and Feminist Theory.” International Studies Quarterly 42.1 (1988): 193–197.

    DOI: 10.1111/0020-8833.00076Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A response to (and classic pair with) Tickner 1997. Keohane points out Tickner’s (and others’) contribution to IR theory but claims that those contributions fall short of developing an entirely new theoretical framework.

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  • Squires, Judith, and Jutta Weldes. “Beyond Being Marginal: Gender and International Relations in Britain.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations 9.2 (2007): 185–203.

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    Weldes and Squires make two crucial contributions to the field. First, they delineate a difference between “gender in international relations” and “feminist international relations theory.” Second, they say that feminist IR theorists should stop justifying why feminist IR theory is a theory and get on with their research program. A landmark piece for the future of the (sub?)subfield and recommended for any student frustrated with feminist IR theory.

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  • Sylvester, Christine. Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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    Sylvester provides a feminist perspective on the “great debates” in international relations. Somewhat jargon-heavy, but useful for someone coming to the subject without a background in feminist theory. Part of the prestigious and generally outstanding Cambridge Studies in International Relations series.

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  • Tickner, J. Ann. “Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation.” Millennium 17.3 (December 1988): 429–440.

    DOI: 10.1177/03058298880170030801Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Major feminist critique of classical realism from one of the most eminent feminist international-relations theorists. Argues that Morgenthau’s “six principles” are rooted in masculinist assumptions, though her article is not directed solely against Morgenthau himself. Not recommended for undergraduates; better for graduate students immersed in the field.

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  • Tickner, J. Ann. Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

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    Major work in feminist IR theory. Tickner presents a look at feminist perspectives on international relations as well as an argument for a more holistic view of security. Rather than presenting a cohesive general feminist theory of international relations, she focuses on gender’s role in existing theories and in the international system. More purely theoretical than Enloe 2000. Short, readable, and important for any serious scholar of IR theory.

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  • Tickner, J. Ann. “You Just Don’t Understand: Troubled Engagements between Feminists and IR Theorists.” International Studies Quarterly 41.4 (1997): 611–632.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2478.00060Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Part of an exchange with her former advisor, Robert Keohane. Tickner argues that feminist IR theory is a valid contribution to IR and that it is in fact a theory. She claims that it does not fit into any of the existing theoretical frameworks. Well argued and clear, if not ultimately convincing enough for some IR scholars.

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Constructivism in Theoretical Context

By the late 1990s constructivism became the third major theoretical paradigm in the field. Now students are widely taught realism vs. liberalism vs. constructivism (Marxism, according to researchers at the College of William and Mary, is taught in less than 10 percent of American international relations [IR] classes). Schiff 2008 compares these three paradigms in a clear, insightful, and interesting way. Schiff provides a narrative history of the creation of the International Criminal Court and at the end of each chapter explains how each of the theoretical paradigms would handle the issues that arose. It is a perfect book for contrasting the theories in practice. Today there is little debate about the importance of constructivism to IR theory, but in the past few years there has been a growing body of literature linking classical realist IR theory to constructivist ideas such as norms, identity, and ideas. Barkin 2003 argues that constructivism and classical realism are highly compatible theories. This article provoked a lengthy response in the next issue of International Studies Quarterly (Jackson 2004). In it the contributors agree that, while there is some validity to Barkin’s argument, they disagree with him on many of his specifics. Risse-Kappen 1995 links constructivism to democratic peace theory. Sterling-Folker 2000 and Sterling-Folker 2002 attempt to link constructivism to neoliberal institutionalism and neorealism, respectively. Sterling-Folker claims that neoliberal institutionalism and constructivism both rely on “functional institutional efficiency,” and that neorealism and constructivism are not as far apart on the subject of change as is commonly thought. Dunne 1995 compares constructivism to the “English School.” This comparison is important because the English School has at its heart the development of norms and practices that shape state behavior. Palan 2000 takes issue with the constructivist project and claims that it is neither unified nor a cohesive project.

  • Barkin, J. Samuel. “Realist Constructivism.” International Studies Review 5.3 (September 2003): 325–342.

    DOI: 10.1046/j.1079-1760.2003.00503002.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Barkin argues that realists are wrong to label constructivists as “idealists or utopians” and that constructivists are wrong to focus on realism’s association with “materialism and rationalism.” Instead, constructivism and classical realist IR theory are highly compatible, and a realist constructivism is both possible and useful. Part of a small body of literature that seeks to minimize the differences between classical realism and constructivism.

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  • Dunne, Timothy. “The Social Construction of International Society.” European Journal of International Relations 1.3 (1995): 367–389.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066195001003003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares some of the major constructivist theorists with major theorists from the “English School.” Dunne considers the latter to be “constructivists” and the former to be “neoconstructivists.” He looks at the differences between the two approaches as they pertain to the capacity of the practices of international society to be reconstituted.

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  • Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, ed. “Bridging the Gap: Toward a Realist-Constructivist Dialogue.” International Studies Review 6.2 (2004): 337–352.

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    Jackson edits this forum in the International Studies Review as a response to Barkin 2003. He argues that Barkin has produced one of the most comprehensive attempts to produce points of agreement between constructivism and realism. The contributors, including Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Richard Ned Lebow, and Jackson, agree with Barkin that there are points of agreement but disagree with his specific vision of realist constructivism. At the end, Barkin responds to his critics.

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  • Palan, Ronen. “A World of Their Making: An Evaluation of the Constructivist Critique in International Relations.” Review of International Studies 26 (2000): 575–598.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0260210500005751Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critical view of constructivist theory. Palen argues that constructivism is “confused” and does not prove “the primacy of norms and laws over material considerations.” The major basis for his argument is that constructivism is not only not a unified theory, but it is frequently contradictory.

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  • Risse-Kappen, Thomas. “Democratic Peace—Warlike Democracies? A Social Constructivist Interpretation of the Liberal Argument.” European Journal of International Relations 1.4 (1995): 491–518.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066195001004005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Risse-Kappen examines the relationship between democratic peace and constructivist theories. He argues that identity plays a key role in how democracies treat other democracies. However, they presume nondemocracies to be enemies, and thus democracies interact with nondemocracies in neorealist anarchy, while democracies interact with each other in a socially constructed reality.

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  • Schiff, Benjamin N. Building the International Criminal Court. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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    Schiff’s book is outstanding for any comparison between the three major IR theoretical paradigms and how they affect a particular international dilemma. His innovation comes from how he interweaves sections on how realism, liberalism, and constructivism grasp the development of the International Criminal Court, which allows the reader to both understand how the International Criminal Court arose and how the paradigms contrast. Outstanding, clearly written book, accessible to the undergraduate IR or political-science major.

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  • Sterling-Folker, Jennifer. “Competing Paradigms or Birds of a Feather? Constructivism and Neoliberal Institutionalism Compared.” International Studies Quarterly 44.1 (2000): 97–119.

    DOI: 10.1111/0020-8833.00150Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that there are relatively small differences between the titular theories. Sterling-Folker claims that functionalism, neofunctionalism, neoliberal institutionalism, and constructivism all depend on “functional institutional efficiency” to account for social change. She argues that neoliberal institutionalism implicitly relies on identity transformation and that a primary difference between the two theories is their time horizon: neoliberal institutionalism explains short-term cooperation, while constructivism explains how short-term cooperation develops into long-term cooperation.

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  • Sterling-Folker, Jennifer. “Realism and the Constructivist Challenge: Rejecting, Reconstructing, or Rereading.” International Studies Review 4.1 (2002): 73–97.

    DOI: 10.1111/1521-9488.t01-1-00253Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Claims that the constructivist goal is the reintroduction of change into IR theory. Argues against the common idea that realism does not have anything to say about change. Like many similar articles, uses “realism” as shorthand for “neorealism.” Nevertheless, an interesting look at the realist responses to constructivism.

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Constructivism and Foreign Policy

The constructivist research program has been a major part of the discipline only since the mid-1990s. However, since that time there have been a number of books and articles published on the subject of constructivism and foreign policy. Of these books, only Weldes 1999 stands out as a widely read and cited work in the field, and it has served as a model for how to use constructivism to understand foreign policy. In it, Weldes shows that the Cuban Missile Crisis was a socially constructed phenomenon and that the Soviet missiles in Cuba did not present a material crisis in and of itself. Nevertheless, the fact that it was socially constructed did not make the crisis any less real. Kozlowski and Kratochwil 1995 also uses a Cold War case to show the importance of constructivism in understanding foreign policy. The authors argue that the multitude of state interactions can produce rapid domestic change. Lott 2004 is another case study–based work on constructivism and foreign policy. Lott examines the “war on drugs” and the Iraq War through both realist and constructivist lenses in a successful and clear attempt to show how both perceive these significant American foreign policies. Biersteker and Weber 1996 takes a broader approach. This edited volume, featuring many important constructivist theorists, focuses on the social construction of sovereignty, nationalism, and national identity. Pettman 2000 and Kubálková 2001 both provide overviews of the importance of constructivism to understanding foreign policy. Pettman’s is more useful to the undergraduate, as it is a singular, tightly written, and relatively brief explanation of the role of constructivism in foreign policy, while Kubálková’s is an edited volume that is necessarily somewhat less cohesive. Huysmans 2002 takes a discourse-analysis approach and looks at how domestic issues are increasingly discussed in the language of national security, seeing this as a negative development.

  • Biersteker, Thomas J., and Cynthia Weber, eds. State Sovereignty as Social Construct. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    Some of the most important theorists in the discipline (including the editors) examine the construction of sovereignty, nationalism, and national identity. Contributors include Naeem Inayatullah, Roxanne Doty, Daniel Deudney, and Alexander Wendt. Part of the prestigious and generally outstanding Cambridge Studies in International Relations series.

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  • Huysmans, Jef. “Defining Social Constructivism in Security Studies: The Normative Dilemma of Writing Security.” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 27.1 (2002): 41–62.

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    Examines the role of “societal security,” as defined by Ole Wæver, and how domestic issues are increasingly written about in the language of national security. Argues that this development is not beneficial to society at large. Particularly focuses on identity in western Europe.

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  • Kozlowski, Rey, and Friedrich V. Kratochwil. “Understanding Change in International Politics: The Soviet Union’s Demise and the International System.” In International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War. Edited by Richard Ned Lebow and Thomas Risse-Kappen, 127–166. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

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    The authors criticize the neorealist conception of change in international relations and instead put forth a constructivist alternative. They use the example of the collapse of the Soviet Union to show how interactions affect the international system and that internal domestic change, as well as systemic change, can occur quite rapidly.

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  • Kubálková, Vendulka, ed. Foreign Policy in a Constructed World. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001.

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    A useful single volume for understanding how constructivists approach foreign policy. The volume contains work by the editor, Steve Smith, Nicholas Onuf, and Ralph Pettman, among many others. There are both theoretical overviews and case studies. Part of the International Relations in a Constructed World series, a comprehensive and well-organized collection of volumes on constructivist theory from the publisher M.E. Sharpe.

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  • Lott, Anthony D. Creating Insecurity: Realism, Constructivism, and US Security Policy. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

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    Lott looks at specific cases in US security first through a realist lens, then a constructivist lens. He begins with overviews of realist and constructivist perspectives on security. He then looks at cases including the “war on drugs” and the Iraq War through the different theoretical frameworks. Similar to Schiff 2008 (cited under Constructivism in Theoretical Context), but not focused on a single case. Useful book, particularly on the subject of US security policy.

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  • Pettman, Ralph. Commonsense Constructivism; or, The Making of World Affairs. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2000.

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    Pettman is not always the most readable author, but this volume is useful for a concise explanation of his “commonsense constructivism.” He looks at the construction of world affairs, modernity, national identity, states, and markets. The book is useful for explaining why knowledge of constructivism is important for any IR theorist or policy maker. Part of the International Relations in a Constructed World series, a comprehensive and well-organized collection of volumes on constructivist theory from the publisher M.E. Sharpe.

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  • Weldes, Jutta. Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

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    Brilliant book for scholars of both the Cuban Missile Crisis and constructivist IR theory. Weldes tells the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis three times, from the American, Soviet, and Cuban perspective. She clearly demonstrates that the titular “crisis” was only considered one because it was constructed that way by Washington.

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LAST MODIFIED: 03/02/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199743292-0061

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