Constructivism and Interpretive Theory Introduction
Constructivism and Interpretive Theory
This paper is going to summarize the Constructivism and Interpretive theory by identifying major issues, debates, overlaps, and critics. In this regard, I will analyze three examples of contemporary research and focus on how they applied constructivism as a scientific approach in conducting their research.
A constructivist view is that people are doing one thing instead of another because of certain ideas, beliefs, norms, and identities through which people observe the world. We live in a world where people explain and organize their identities, affiliations, and surroundings through their doings or actions. However, non-constructivist scholars disagree with this view and argue that we act in response to geography, resources, and relative power (Parsons, 2018, p. 75).
Constructivists identify that international relations most significant element is social, not material. The study of social and the political world, including international relations, must focus on the beliefs and ideas, not on a physical entity or material thing. The international system does not exist on its own, it is established by ideas, thoughts and intellectual norms; it is a human creation, not a material entity which is being maintained by certain people at a specific time and place. If thoughts and ideas that existed in international relations change, then the system will also change (Jackson, 2006, p. 162).
Constructuctivists give importance to interpretation. They claim that actors always interpret things in terms of social constructs and that is why observers must also learn to explain social constructs to realize the reason of their actions (Parsons, 2018, p. 79). This theory also argues that international politics is primarily ideological rather than material. Some constructivists analyze international relations by looking at goals, threats, cultures, identities and other elements of social reality. They consider constructivism as an alternative to the two leading theories of international relations: realism and liberalism. Constructivism, like liberalism, runs on ideology. Ideologies take the form of more identified variables and explain not only how states interact with each other but also why states interact. Perceptions play an important role in their interaction. Every state has an identity that is essential to understand because identities make international policies and domestic societies more predictable and orderly (Hopf, 1998, p. 175).
Realists view the balance of power as such that states will balance against any hegemony in the region. Constructivists view it as the balance of threat. According to them, states do not automatically balance against the hegemon, states balance against the threatening hegemon. For example, if the balance of power really worked, all Europe and the Soviet Union would have aligned against the United States in the Cold War. Instead, the United States and Western Europe aligned against the Soviet Union because they saw the Soviet Union as a belligerent power (Hopf, 1998, p. 186). However, constructivists also view that security dilemmas only exist in the presence of a clear threat because security dilemmas only happen in the presence of a threatening country. For example, if the UK increases armaments, the United States would not care about that, but what Iran is even thinking of doing matters a lot for the United States (Hopf, 1998, p. 188).
There are some criticisms regarding Constructivism and Interpretive theory. Neorealists criticize constructivism by expressing disapproval about the significance of international norms (Jackson, 2006, p. 172). Though norms exist, it becomes less important in the interest of powerful states. They also argue that states cannot easily become friends only by their social interaction. It can be desirable in principle but normally cannot be possible in practice. The structure of the international system is such that states behave as egotists. Aggressive competencies and indefinite intentions force states to behave aggressively with each other (Jackson, 2006, p. 173). Another criticism is that constructivists have not analyzed anarchy sufficiently. The major problem related to anarchy is uncertainty. Uncertainty is not only about the present intentions of other states but also about the future intentions of states (Jackson, 2006, p. 173).
However, constructivists view that states honestly try to express and comprehend one another’s motives. The problem is, there is an element of deception where it is difficult to understand whether states are acting genuinely or they are just pretending (Jackson, 2006, p. 174).
Three Example of Contemporary Research Work:
Example 1: The Emergence of Human Security: A Constructivist View
Here, the author argues that the constructivist’s viewpoint provides conceptual elements in human consciousness and national identity issues. Different phenomena of human security can be better understood by applying the insights of constructivism.
Human security can be defined in seven dimensions: personal, environmental, economic, political, community, health, and food security. Three pillars of human security are freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom to live in dignity. The author applied constructivism theory to explain that national interests form in the way of mutual interaction and this process specifies interests and identity. Throughout the process, when states focus their attention to common interests then the value of human security becomes established. Thus, this paper applied constructivism theory to explain human security in the area of international relations (Tsai, 2009, p. 19-25).
Example 2: Theorizing the EU as a Global Actor: A Constructivist Approach
Here, the author analyzed EU global actorness by applying constructivism theory. The author argues that constructivists work on structure and agency and explain how actors participate in social interaction in global politics. Through this process of social interaction, actors get influenced to change their perception of themselves and others (Chebakova, 2008, p. 4). In this article, this agent-structure relation is being examined to measure the EU’s capacity to shape events in internal and external context of its borders, either by own will or response to outside actor’s anticipation and demand. Constructivists view actorness as a function of external opportunities as well as internal abilities like resources, political will and legitimacy (Chebakova, 2008, p. 5). Constructivism is being applied here as a theoretical framework to examine the EU global actorness, its presence and capability, its structure and prospect to build multilateralism (Chebakova, 2008, p. 8).
Example 3: A Holistic Constructivist Approach to Iran’s Foreign Policy
Mahdi Mohammad Nia
In this article, author applied constructivist approach to explain Iranian foreign policy. Constructivism view that state identity, which depends on historical, cultural, political and social backgrounds, works as the main source of interest formation of state. Identities first make interests then behavior (Nia, 2011, p. 281). In terms of what Iran priorities in foreign policy, the author emphasized more on domestic identity and the role of normative structures. In this way, the author tried to use Holistic constructivism to highlight the fundamental significance of domestic and international normative environment in structuring Iran foreign policy (Nia, 2011, p. 291).
Conclusion: Constructivism function as a landscape of ideas, norms, identities, and practices. It not only gives us a practical view of how the political world shape but also answer why it remains associated with one another (Parsons, 2018, p. 90). It is a key way of thinking about politics. Constructivism is diverse and is supposed to play a vital role in political science in future (Parsons, 2018, p. 91).