Constructivism (international relations)

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The political science Constructivism is one of several comprehensive meta-theoretical approaches in the field of International Relations. He was drafted as a theory, especially since the 1990s. Here, the international state system and its development is described due to certain social-theoretical assumptions (and thus links the disciplines of International Relations and Sociology ). This includes, according to Alexander Wendt that human coexistence is determined primarily by shared ideas, less by material influences and that the identities and interests are targeted actor formed by these shared ideas, not by their essential nature.


The unexpected end of the Cold War had given rise to justified doubts as to the empirical performance of the advocated by realists and institutionalists views of the international system of states. For example, could the neo-realism by Waltz to date provide no conclusive explanation of why it does not come with the emergence of a unipolar international system for the formation of a polar opposite in terms of a "balance of power".


The political science constructivism aims at the explanation of political action patterns. Is typical of this technique, that, according to the basic ideas of other constructivist theories in philosophy and related disciplines act is understood as the result of a social situation or of prevailing social structures. This distinguishes the political science constructivism of competing approaches in the field of international relations, such as the political science realism and neo-realism, in which it is assumed that actions follow objectively rational patterns and thus constraints.

Despite the heterogeneity of political science constructivist approaches, it is possible to speak of an ontological minimum consensus: It examines how structures and actors in international relations are socially constructed. A central core assumption of political science constructivist approaches is: Social structures and actors constitute each other by communicating social identity and / or opportunities for action to restrict or open. The material world is not completely negated, however, believed that they can only be mediated by social construction, covered.

A more action- oriented theoretical flow of political science Constructivism assumes that social action can, reproduce or alter social structures. These actions are motivated by certain norms and values ​​that need to distill it. One example is human rights organizations, the influence by its activities and campaigns other actors in international politics, such States. For this reason, constructivism played an increasingly important role in international relations after the end of the East -West conflict. He postulated, as opposed to realism, to explain this change. For representatives of this approach are in the German debate, among others, Thomas Risse and Anja Jetschke.

Also theory of action -oriented is a participating to the pragmatic theory approaches, for example, by Wittgenstein or Austin and Searle regarding political science constructivism as outlined for example by Nicholas Onuf (1989). This language is understood as a form of social action by which social structures ( social rules, rule ) ( re-) are produced. The goal is less the explanation of a formation of such structures as their analysis and the question of how distributed through communication advantages and possibilities for action.

Alexander Wendt proposes a moderate form of constructivism in political science that seeks to integrate elements of realistic and neorealist theory approaches. This concerns in particular the question to what extent and in what form a scientific explanation of empirical phenomena is desirable. More radical approaches represented, " positivist " explanations, as are common in the natural sciences, to replace in the field of social sciences entirely by hermeneutic or " constitutive " interpretations. In contrast, Wendt argues that supplement causal explanations by analysis of these causative relationships. The formation of identity, interests and power relations should be explored. This is done by the over-molding (which is caused by the socially shared ideas or culture) of the social importance of the same will be considered.

Emanuel Adler defined the political science constructivism as " assumption that the way in which the material world shapes human and between human action and is shaped by them, depends on dynamic normative and epistemological interpretations of this material world ."

Additional representatives, for example, Ted Hopf, Colin Kahl and Friedrich Kratochwil.


The political science constructivism is accused of offering exclusively ex - post declarations, without that it would be possible for him to provide predictions or statements of current events. This criticism applies constructivism directly because he no ability to forecast requested as a result of its basic assumptions for itself. However, the predictive ability is considered an important feature of almost all theories of international relations, so that the increase in knowledge through constructivist approaches is viewed critically.