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What is the agent-structure problem? How does constructivism address it in ways that neo-realism and neo-liberalism cannot? Is the constructivist treatment convincing in this regard?

This is an essay, submitted at the University of Reading, by an Italian Erasmus Student. This essay took a FIRST mark, but it presents some grammatical errors. However, it is still a very good quality essay.
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  Statement of Original Authorship All coursework submitted for assessment must be accompanied by a copy of this sheet. Computer user ID (e.g. bp2304982) np022055 Degree course: Politics and International Relations Module: Politics: International Relations and Strategic Studies Seminar group (if applicable)  (essential at Part 1) Title of assignment: What is the agent-structure problem? How does constructivism address it in ways that neo-realism and neo-liberalism cannot? Is the constructivist treatment convincing in this regard? Class Tutor Dr. Jonathan Boyd Are you registered as having a learning disa-bility which you wish to be taken into ac-count in the assessment of this assignment? No, I’m not.  If yes to above, please specify the learning disability which you wish to be taken into ac-count? (eg dyslexia)  Word count   - There will be a penalty reduction of 5 marks for any essay that does not meet the word count, including footnotes but excluding the bibliography [10% either way is allowed]. If an essay is grossly under or over the word limit by one third it will not be accepted 1633 I certify that this is my own work and that the use of material from other sources has been properly and fully acknowledged in the text. I understand that the normal consequence of cheating in any el-ement of an examination, if proven and in the absence of mitigating circumstances, is that the rele- vant Faculty Examiners’ Meeting will be directed to fail the candidate in the Examination as a whole.    By submitting this assignment via Blackboard, I confirm that I have read the Information for Stu-dents ( and understand that this work will be submitted to the JISC plagiarism detection service. Date: 06/12/2013 What would happen if slavery was still considered? Or if the women's right to vote was not recognized in all Countries in the world, except Saudi Arabia? These statements were abso-lutely valid over a century ago, but since then, the world has transformed. We all think now that slavery is a crime against humanity, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, can only prove this significant change in the interna-tional society. But what caused these alterations? There are several ways to approach this question: one is to look at the States' behaviours, and how these have changed the world we live in. For example, we could hypothesize that Iceland's decision to abolish slavery in 1117 was taken autonomously, without any international pressure. A second approach to this query is the one that looks priorly on the system we live in: some can in fact argues that Maurita-nia's abolishment of slavery in 1981 was strongly influenced by the international norms, or by the other States' common thoughts. However, there is a third theory, more convincing than the  previous ones, because it’s not focused on one entity or another (States' behaviour or i n-ternational structure), but rather it recognizes that agents and structure are never totally inde-  pendent of one another, and they can’t be separated. With regard to t his last example, some others can argue that Mauritania's decision to abrogate slavery was certainly persuaded by the international structure, but at the same time all the international norms are the product of States' own decisions. While the first theory is the one of realists and liberals, and the second theory is the one of neorealists and neoliberals, the last theory is called Constructivism. In showing which of these theories better explain the relationship between agents (States,  NGOs, IGOs) and structure, I will focus on the last two theories, since classical realist' and classical liberals' theories were both reformulated into the neoclassical theories after the Sec-ond World War by the behaviouralist movement.   (Jackson & Sørensen, 2007)  Neorealism and neoliberalism, despite their divergences over many specific topics, such as  priority of States' goals (with neoliberalists more concerned on economy and wealth, and ne-  orealists more concerned on security), and despite their different view on international rela-tions (neoliberals are much more optimistic than the neorealists are), they share some basic ideas of the same approach: the rationalism. Both are materialist, and think that the reality is constituted of tangible things. They reduce the world to matter and to what is observable. Both of them see the world as anarchical, as there is not any inter-State government with a  powerful authority in condition to organize units and actors under its control. Both of the the-ories think that the international structure influences our actions. For the neorealist Kenneth Waltz (1979), the international structure in which we live in «is a set of constraining condi-tions». States, which are the main actors for both neorealists and neoliberals, are constrained  by the structure within which they act. The world, as we know it today, presents a lack of a central superpower: this brings Waltz to the conclusion that the structure is given by the way  power (and in particular the military power) is distributed among the States, and this power demarcates the differences between each State, and their distinctive choices in international relations. According to Waltz (1988), a bipolar world such as that before the First World War, with two alliances (the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente) with similar amount of  power, could break down when one of the two parties decides to change the status quo. So that «if Austria-Hungary marched, Germany had to follow; the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have left Germany alone in the middle of Eu-rope. If France marched, Russia had to follow; a German victory over France would be a defeat for Russia. And so the vicious circle continued». Thus, States have to follow the signals from the structure: during the Cold War, both the USA and the USSR were compelled to live with each other. An outbreak from one of these two su- perpowers would have broken the balance, potentially leading to the collapse of one or the other. I have said that neoliberals and neorealists share many aspects from the same basic approach, which is rationalism. Neoliberals indeed see the world as anarchical, and think that the struc-ture influences the actors' behaviours in international relations. Nevertheless, unlike neoreal-ists, they have a more optimistic view concerning the history of the world. The presence of an anarchical structure does not mean that a war is inevitable. States can instead cooperate in or-der to achieve absolute gains, and international institutions acquire a great value in helping to transform the international system from a «jungle of chaotic power politics to a zoo of regu-  lated and peaceful intercourse» (Jackson & Sørensen). Despite these differences, these two theories can be considered together, since besides their view of a compelling structure over actors, they both think the world as made up of tangible matter. Indeed, there are some weaknesses and contradictions in the neoliberal and neorealist theo-ries, especially in the way Kenneth Waltz considered the agent-structure problem. Consider-ing the structure as an independent variable is a way to simplify the reality of international relations, and Waltz is aware of it. As a matter of fact, it is no coincidence that Waltz himself (1990) states: «In reality, everything is related to everything else, and one domain cannot be separated from all others. Theory isolates one realm from all others in order to deal with it in-tellectually». Therefore, there is a dichotomy in Waltz's thought: it seems that for Waltz, the structure really comes before agents, and that structure really shapes our actions and creates the agents, an assumption which Waltz actually refuses. If «reality will be congruent neither with a theory nor with a model that may represent it» (1990), how can we accept a theory that is not representative of the world in which we live in? Another imperfection of the neos theo-ries is that both of them concentrate too much on facts and they discard the importance of ideas and values. In 1987, a German scholar named Alexander Wendt suggested in his article “The agent - structure problem in international relations theory” , the important solutions to this dilemma. Wendt is one the major representatives of the Constructivist theory. Constructivism goes be-yond the neos theories, as it rejects the assumption that the world is based on brute facts, which are totally independent from the human control. Certainly, it cannot be denied that matter has its importance, but for constructivists, social facts are more essential (Brown & Ainley, 2009). We all live in «a world of our making» (Onuf, 1989), since we all have differ-ent ideas: even a brute fact as a State's military power, can be seen in different ways, so that we are more afraid of 10 nuclear weapons from North Korea, instead of 290 from France. What is crucial in the constructivist theory is the idea behind a fact: in this example, even if we are much closer to France than to North Korea, we are not threatened by France's military  power, since we consider it our ally. At the same time, some other Countries in the world may find France's military power more threatening. Therefore, according to Wendt (1992), the international system is not anarchical, because «anarchy is what States makes of it». This is also why the international system is in continuous evolution: the structure changes as our ideas about it changes. Moreover, Wendt argues that we cannot separate agents and structure
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