The Constructivist Turn: Critical Theory after the Cold War

Author/s (editor/s):

Chris Reus-Smit

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 1996/4 (PDF, 2.74MB)

Chris Reus-Smit, 'The Constructivist Turn: Critical Thoery after the Cold War', IR Working Paper 1996/4, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, August 1996.

This paper explores the relationship between Third Debate critical theories and the emerging 'constructivist' perspective on international relations. Modern and postmodern critical theories of the Third Debate exhibited a distinctive metatheoretical profile, privileging epistemological, methodological, and normative critique over substantive analysis of world politics. From the late 1980s onward, three factors reoriented critical theory, prompting a 'constructivist turn': the neorealist and neoliberal backlash, the end of the Cold War, and generational change. Constructivists, or second-generation critical theorists, have sought to clarify the core ontological and conceptual precepts of broadly defined critical theory, and to engage in substantive historical and empirical analyses of aspects of world politics. Despite claims to the contrary, constructivism remains true to the core intellectual commitments of the Third Debate, and should be seen as a positive development, furthering the broad critical theoretic project, and representing a more powerful challenge to neorealism and neoliberalism than Third Debate critical theories, modern or postmodern.

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