What makes the world hang together? Neo-utilitarianism and the social constructivist challenge

TitleWhat makes the world hang together? Neo-utilitarianism and the social constructivist challenge
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsRuggie, JG

Main Argument: My aim is to provide an analytical account of social constructivism in international relations: a critical reflection on the limits of neo-utilitarianism. I locate its roots in the sociology of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, who resisted the tide of utilitarianism and methodological individualism in late 19th century. I inventory the increasingly extensive empirical results produced by constructivism in international relations in order to dispute the claim – Goldstein and Keohane 1983 – that constructivism “remains more an expression of understandable frustration than a working research program.” I identify the common features of constructivist approaches and how they differ from neo-utilitarianism.

Emergence of Social Constructivism

Neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism are drawn directly from microeconomics. Although social constructivism in IR is strongly influenced by the sociological tradition, no corresponding theorye xists elsewhere for it simply to import. Among antecedents, neofunctionalism, English school, and structuration theory (Giddens) affected the emerging constructivist project.

The constructivist project has sought to open up the relatively narrow theoretical confines of the field -- by pushing them back to problematize the interests and identities of actors; deeper to incorporate intersubjective bases of social action and social order; and into the dimensions of space and time to establish the "duality" of structure, in Gidden's terms, at once constraining social action but also being (re)created and therefore potentially transformed by it.:

Differences between constructivism and neorealism/neoliberalism:
1. Interests and Identity
2. Ideational causation (contrast with neoliberalism and neorealism)
3. Collective intentionality (intersubjective beliefs and ideas).
4. Constitutive rules
5. Transformation (structuration through dimension of time; social practices inscribed in space).
6. The question of agency

The Social Constructivist Project

Constructivism addresses many of the same issues that neo-utilitarianism has addressed, though typically from a different angle. But it also concerns itself with issues that neoutilitarianism treats by assumption, discounts, ignores, or simply cannot apprehend within its ontology and/or epistemology.

Key features:
1. Ontology: Human consciousness in international life. structure and ideational factors, constitutive rules, deonic, relational social realism.
2. Logic, methods: Constructivism is not a theory but a theoretically informed approach to IR.
3. Explanatory form: narrative protocols, not nomological, deductive accounts.

1. Neo-classical constructivism: pragmatism, Haas, Finnemore, Adler, Ruggie, etc.
2. Postmodernist constructivism: Foucault, Ashly.
3. Naturalistic constructivism: scientific realism, Wendt, Dessler