Throughout “thin constructivism” as it “concedes important

Throughout the 20th century many
theorists speculated the true nature of international
relations and attempted to interpret the ways in which states interact in the
international system. Several theories have arisen, however the main four are: Realism
– which explains international relations because of human nature and later with
neorealism which states that power is the most important factor. Liberalism –
is the belief that international institutions play a significant role in
cooperation among states. Marxism – A structural theory that focuses on the
economic sector instead of the military-political one. Its analysis reflects
the relation between the base (the modes of production) and the superstructure
(political institutions). The source of structural effects is not anarchy, but
the capitalist mode of production which defines unjust political institutions
and state relations. And more recently Constructivism – the claim that
significant aspects of international relations are historically and socially
constructed, rather than inevitable consequences of human nature or other
essential characteristics of world politics. All four theories recognised that
the international system is anarchical; there does not exist an overarching
power to govern world affairs. In recent times Constructivist theory has been one
of the most popular school of thought as it is the most recent and widely
accepted and has shaped the way we think about international politics from the
past of realism and liberalism. Alexander Wendt’s main argument in the Social
Theory of International Politics is that states can view each other as enemies,
rivals or friends. These roles can change over time, so that the international
system is not condemned to conflict and war.

Wendt’s Social Theory of International Politics is an example of
Constructivism, which challenges the likes of realism and neorealism and states
that international relations are socially constructed through ongoing social
practices and interaction rather than being unchangeable human nature. Wendt
calls his version of constructivism “thin constructivism” as it “concedes
important points to materialist and individualist perspectives (of neorealism)
and endorses a scientific approach to social inquiry”. Apposed to “thick
constructivism” which is Incompatible with ‘rationalist’ scientific approaches
and Meaning goes all the way down, for the social scientist as well as the
political actor. Constructivism challenges certain assumptions of neorealism.
Upholding that most of the important content in international politics is
explained by the structure of the international system translates to
fundamental causal structuralisms.

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Wendt draws on the
philosophical views of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Immanuel Kant, and theorises
three cultures of anarchy characterised respectively by “enmity,” “rivalry,”
and “friendship.” Because it is a ‘hard case’ the author mainly focusses on Hobbesian
culture – in which states tend to see each other with war-prone enmity. States
seek their own self-interest and act according to self-help, resulting in the
general tendencies to have war forthcoming at any time, to have states either
balance or be eliminated, and to force nearly all other states to choose a side.
‘Only the Hobbesian structure is a truly ‘self-help’ system and as such there
is no such thing as a “Logic of Anarchy” (Buzan, Jones and Little. 1993).
Lockean culture consists of rivalry in which there is some recognition of the
others’ rights and sovereignty. The tendencies here are to use violence
sporadically, which enables states to survive and balance power and to remain
neutral if so desired. In Lockean culture, within the state there is a strong
self-regulation of aggression due to the monopoly of violence exercised by the
state. While there are some forms of regulation in these inter-state relations,
the balance between self-control and external constraints favours the latter.
Kantian culture represents friendship, non-violence and mutual aid. The
tendencies here are pluralistic security communities (where states shared
knowledge leads them to settle any conflicts by means other than violence) and
collective security (mutual aid within a group, protection from outsiders).
Supporting the view that Anarchy does not necessarily mean that states must
adopt egotistical self-help behaviour. Kant argued that international trade
‘cannot exist side by side with war’ (Wendt, A. 1999). These three cultures
have different degrees of internalisation, meaning that states can adhere to
the cultures because they are forced to (first degree), because they choose to
(second degree), or because they want to (third degree of internalisation).

Cultures are the shared identities
that emerge from interaction. They represent inter-subjective understandings
that are a result of common knowledge, or “actors’ beliefs about each other’s
rationality, strategies, preferences, and beliefs…that need not be true, just
believed to be true” (Wendt, A. 1999). These cultures are shared ideas which
help shape state interests and capabilities, and generate tendencies in the
international system. “deep structure of an international system is formed by
the shared understandings governing organised violence” (Wendt, A. 1999). Power
and interests do matter in world politics, but shared knowledge determines
their significance in deciding whether states opt for balancing, cooperation,
or war, As Wendt states “That the structures of human association are
determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces, and that the
identities and interests of purposive actors are constructed by these shared
ideas rather than given by nature”(Wendt, A. 1999). Emphasising ideas does
not mean rejecting material reality. Instead, it recognises that the meaning
and construction of that material reality is dependent on ideas and

In the Social Theory of
International Politics Wendt states that there is no inherent logic to anarchy,
it is instead an effect of practice. Wendt takes a holist approach and assumes
states as the main actors in the international arena mainly because of their
capacity to regulate violence, they can make peace or war. The “nature” of
international anarchy appears to be conflictual if states show a conflictual
behaviour towards each other, and cooperative if they behave cooperatively
towards one another. Therefore, it might be compelling to argue that there is
no pre-given “nature” to international anarchy, but it is states themselves
that determine anarchy’s nature (Behravesh, M. 2011). Anarchy is rendered in
the cultural rather than materialist’s terms. Anarchy is also a result of a
process through formation of identities and interests. Cultures of anarchy
therefore affect the meaning of power and content of their interests, creating the
behaviours exhibited in the international system.

In Conclusion Alexander Wendts
Social Theory of International Politics has
significantly shaped the way we think about international relations by suggested
an alternative to the theory of international relations that is based on the theory
of social constructivism.  Wendt’s Social
Theory attempts to present a perspective different from that of Neorealism.
Although Wendt’s theories are not entirely original and instead are viewed as an
extension on work done before him, Wendt instead makes a more important
contribution that is the lucid rendering of the debate between realists,
liberals, and idealists. Wendt shows how great the gulf is between these views
— but also develops a language that will allow them to talk to one another (Ikenberry,
J. 1999). However, despite Wendts theory being widely accepted, it is not
without its criticism, realists such as Dale Copeland who states
‘Notwithstanding Wendt’s important contributions to international relations
theory, his critique of structural realism has inherent flaws. Most important, unit
does not adequately address a critical aspect of the realist worldview: the
problem of uncertainty’ (Copeland, D. 2000). Although despite this, Wendt’s
Social Theory successfully presents a perspective different from that of Neorealism,
one that accounts for the transformations in the international system that cannot
be accounted for by Waltz and others. Additionally, Wendts social theory continues
to be the most highly regarded theory almost two decades on.


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