Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Friday, February 24, 2006

A reflection on why constructivism bothers me, and an apology to the theory

After my blog-rant on Sunday night, and after reading Jonathan's and Nick's posts, I have come to the conclusion that constructivism might not be so bad after all. Or rather, I still don't like it, but I think it's pretty accurate.

A quote in Jonathan's post made me think: "As I contended in class I think it is clear that there is physical, objective reality. The question then is how do human beings interpret it." Constructivism has bothered me because it appears to contend that the objective reality is irrelevant, and that actors can't really understand each other, which would render various U.S. institutions -- like the CIA, for example -- useless, because ultimately states will go ahead and make decisions based on their preconceptions anyway. However, after thinking about it, I think that (depressingly) this is pretty fair.

Let's look at the Iraq invasion (because clearly, being SIS majors, we all haven't had it beaten into the ground or anything). Despite intelligence to the contrary, and despite the absence of any of the clear links they were looking for, the administration still chose to invade -- because it had a preconceived idea of Iraq's identity, and its identity in relation to Iraq. As I quoted in the last entry, constructivism holds that identities can be "reinforced by continued interaction that appears to confirm the identity as true," which is a fairly accurate assessment of the continued deterioration between the two countries since the Gulf War. The U.S. had a conception of Hussein as evil and uncooperative and every interaction they had seemed to confirm that, which made it easy for them to confirm their own identity -- the country that held him accountable and contained him -- by invading.

In short, although I still think countries that behave according to constructivism are operating without taking advantage of various means of understanding other actors -- again, intelligence and diplomacy -- I do think that constructivism can help explain their actions. Consider it an apology to the theory.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
See you.

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to express more your opinion to attract more readers, because just a video or plain text without any personal approach is not that valuable. But it is just form my point of view

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not bad article, but I really miss that you didn't express your opinion, but ok you just have different approach

8:44 PM  

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