Renewing Realist Constructivism: Does It Have Potential as a Theory of Foreign Policy?

Eva Michaels


This article raises the possibility of de- and reconstructing realist constructivism for the purpose of studying foreign policy, with an emphasis on explaining and forecasting change and continuity. I discuss why Samuel Barkin’s explication of realist constructivism has in my view struggled to take off as an IR perspective and which tenets appear problematic, especially when applying them to foreign policy. I suggest a way of revitalising realist constructivism across three layers of theorising: political ontology, explanatory theory, and praxis. Constructivism’s “open ontology”offers a meeting point with classical realism, together with its (less deterministic and more interpretivist) explanatory approach. Classical realism adds to the third layer with its focus on practice sensibility, including the choices actors make in highly uncertain contexts. Its strong interest in discovering the truth of politics is important here. I argue that such a synthesis, which is informed by Ned Lebow’s conceptualisation of causation as “inefficient”, could be well-suited to unpack the complex reality of foreign policy. I seek to make the case for realist constructivism as a dynamic thinking tool, among others when investigating the effects of material, intersubjective and subjective factors on foreign policy decisions and outcomes. While my propositions can only be sketched here, the goal is to encourage further debate about the value of realist constructivism, which has ebbed since the mid-2000s.

Słowa kluczowe: realist constructivism, classical realism, constructivism, foreign policy, practice, inefficient causation

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