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What Are The Principle Insights Of Constructivism In Understanding International Politics

Introduction-What Are The Principle Insights Of Constructivism In Understanding International Politics

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In the context of international relations, (IR) constructivism as a social theory plays a significant role and it described that the IR is built upon ideational factors and not just driven by material factors. This essay is going to address the concept of constructivism in the context of international politics. Furthermore, the core values that the constructivists believe in will be highlighted in this essay. Apart from that, the connection of one of the core values with international relations will be discussed in the essay. The influence of constructivism on the disciplines of IR will be enlightened through this essay. 

The main objective of this essay is to define the role of the principles of constructivism in understanding international politics.

Illustrating international politics

International politics incorporates study of major issues and problems, which are significant for almost across nations. According to Abebe and Ginsburg (2019), increasing judicialisation of international relations is the result of complete legalisation of international politics. It further exhibited that international politics is concerning a multitude of actors incorporating states as well as non-state actors such as terrorism, multinational organisations, and more. These are accountable for shaping the world. Mercer (2018) further argued that situations in international politics are somewhat different always, which demands clarity and simplicity. Discipline of international relations (IR) is largely benefited from constructivism, as it emphasises concepts and issues, which are mostly neglected by mainstream theories such as realism, liberalism, and others.

Considering its relevance in international politics, political constructivism is an approach, which produces and defends principles of legitimacy and justice in international politics. Issues can be largely varied in international politics, starting from BREXIT, COVID-19, the incident of 9/11, and many others. For instance, Biscop (2020) propounded the relationship between power and a recent global pandemic of COVID-19, which has a drastic influence on international politics. It further emphasised that starting from Trump’s initial insistence on determining corona as a Chinese virus to Russia’s aid to Italy instead of taking early measures in nation. In this context, Hagström and Gustafsson (2019) opined that narrative power has become more pertinent than ever in international relations and politics. Here, power shift while China’s rise as a global power politically, economically, and militarily can result in conflicts in international politics.

Wilsonian program in international politics

In context of international politics, essential elements are derived in Wilsonian program, which is intended to achieve permanent and general peace. It integrates elements such as international arbitration, international understanding, national self-determination, democracy, and others. Nevertheless, Gunitsky and Tsygankov (2018) argued that though Wilsonian tradition intends to shape a wide IR approach such as democratic peace theory, yet Wilsonian bias also persists. For instance, a pursuit of primacy in immediate negibourhood along with pursuit of peer recognition with Major Western powers has led to such bias in Russian foreign policy. In addition, supportive arguments related to the Wilsonian program are noticed to contribute to the West’s support for democracy (Grigoryan, 2020). A clear glimpse of international politics is observed in President of Ukraine’s decision to withdraw his nation from negotiations related to economic association from the European Union in 2013. Besides, under apparent pressure from Moscow, Ukraine was seen to sign a custom treaty with Russia instead, which exhibited power politics in an international context (Grigoryan, 2020). Thus, it is evident that international politics can often derive state incoherence while meeting political agendas with aspects such as alliances and others.

International politics and various international events


BREXIT can be regarded as a classic instance of international complexity, as a number of political forces within the United Kingdom along with its neighbours have shaped a new relationship between EU and Britain. BREXIT exhibits how geopolitics how often interacts with national or domestic politics (Political demands of Britain). Diamond et al. (2018) illustrated that emergence of BREXIT in international relations is responsible to shape security policy, political economy, legal frameworks, and various others. Under principles of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), though a degree of free trade is enjoyed by economies, a number of tariffs and non-tariff barriers hinder international trade.

In this regard, UK is a strong economy with adequate resources and capabilities (such as defence); however, BREXIT referendum is surely putting this nation at a distinct disadvantage. WTO report also shows that post-BREXIT has altered the UK’s way of interacting with WTO, which surely raises concerns and uncertainties related to dispute management, trades, and others (Wto.org, 2020). Along with that, this international political initiative has a drastic impact on UK, which is forecasted to witness a potential reduction of GDP by 4% (Bbc.com, 2021). It is undeniable that leaving the EU has resulted in international politics in trade and tariffs with European Union, which in turn, has worsened its economy and political aspects.


Emergence of a global pandemic has definitely changed international relations, as activities during this crisis are largely driven by power politics in an international context. According to Davies and Wenham (2020), though COVID-19 has affected almost every single nation, yet national governments’ responses were largely dictated by international politics. It further illustrated how an international healthcare body, WHO has witnessed an increasing combative as well as divisive political realms, with a battle raging between international powers such as United States and China. Moreover, in international relations, WHO is often considered to be either highly political by inclining towards China, or not at all political (Thinkglobalhealth.org, 2020). It would not be wrong to mention that the COVID-19 pandemic is about international politics of aid and mask diplomacy, which is further extended to geopolitical competition.

Vaccine nationalism and distributions among a couple of nations are criticised under international politics. For instance, strong economies such as Russia and China have faced controversial foreign policy circles (Policyforum.net, 2021). Some are concerning their distributions across borders while avoiding the nations in need also called these as bad Samaritans. Nevertheless, Kobierecka and Kobierecki (2021) reflected Chinese diplomacy in response to a global pandemic, where this nation has been the first one to overcome it and to exert its power across borders; it has integrated ‘Coronavirus diplomacy’.

Conversely, incidents are noticed how instead of taking early preventive measures in response to a global pandemic, Russia and China have sent aid to Italy and other coronavirus-stricken nations (Foreignpolicy.com, 2020). It assumes Russian forces in Ukraine and Syria. In addition, these two economies of China and Russia are noticed to beat the United States regarding their vaccine diplomacy in international politics. Their extended strategies to donate and sell their vaccines (China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm, and Russia’s Sputnik V) across borders have allowed them to expand their political forces and influences across the world (Nbcnews.com, 2021). Hence, their international politics even amid global crises such as COVID-19 have raised eyes and controversies in international relations.

Defining constructivism

Constructivism portrays a fundamental picture, which defines that it is an idea that people construct or make new things actively by relying on previous experiences. Hence, constructivism is considered as a theory, which exerts that learners construct knowledge rather than acquire mere information. Nevertheless, in the context of international relation theory, constructivism exhibits that states can obtain multiple identities, which are socially constructed by interacting with other actors, which drives rationality (Fedyk and Xu, 2018). In this regard, a primary assumption of constructivism is that fundamental structures or mechanisms of international politics are social, where these structures can shape identities and interests of state and non-state actors. Nevertheless, arguments are derived considering the fact that since constructivism is socially constructed, hence it is highly paradoxical (Peltonen, 2017). It further emphasised that journey of social constructivism in international relations (IR), from an initial position of ‘dissent’ to ‘normal science’ has delivered a number of contributions.

In theory of constructivism of international relations, a belief that reality is constructed socially allows constructivists to place an emphasis on ideational power, norm development, identity, and others. Thereby, ideas, norms, and identity emerge to be key essentials in constructivist theory in international relations. Koschut (2018), who opined that constructivist approaches in international relations emphasise the significance of language while attempting to construct identity, reality, and power relations, brings a supportive argument. It also depicted how emotion-based discourse can reinforce relational structures of resistance and dominance, yet results in a transformation of social hierarchies in the context of international politics. Walter (2019) further called for new constructivism within a realm of international relations, which can open conceptions and constitute an international order. Thus, constructivism can be a foundational ground for international relations with regard to world politics.

Constructivism can put a greater emphasis on existing international laws and practices to initiate constructions. Moreover, social constructivism rests on a comprehensible understanding of causal chains in international politics, while offering prescriptions, which are politically feasible as well as in compliance with possible trade-offs (Jung, 2019). It is undeniable that social constructivism has evolved largely from mainstream international relations (IR) paradigm. Hence, value can be added to social and international realities by emphasising norms, identity, and ideas, which can shape international politics along with state and domestic preferences.

In comparison with other IR theories, such as Realism, Marxism, Liberalism, and others, social constructivism focuses on accurate social factors alongside significance of ideas, and hence, problems can be addressed that are not even in the scope of realism. Choi and Eun (2018) further drew IR theory has exhibited insights concerning states’ behavioural motivation in the contexts of cooperation and conflicts in international politics. It emphasised that democratic peace and economic gains are obtained from liberalism, while material power, identity, and norms can be derived by realism and constructivism respectively. Hence, with regard to new constructions of small states and others, and in geopolitics, constructivism appears to be a winning factor.

Core values or mandates of constructivism

Several ideational factors such as rules, norms, and identity have helped in the development of IR based on social constructivism. Fedyk and Xu (2018) mentioned that constructivism discusses the main issues that have been avoided by several mainstream theories like realism. It is believed that the introduction of constructivism in IR happened during the end of the cold war, as it was such an event that traditional theories like liberalism or realism failed to explain. Although constructivism is considered a very new entrant in IR, several constructivists have turned it into the first viewpoint in response to the production of knowledge. Besides that, it is believed that constructivism came into existence as a position of ‘third debate’ in IR and it lies between Neoliberalism and Neorealism that was a combination movement to make IR more knowledge-based. In this context, constructivism has succeeded to make its position between the two IR theories (Jung, 2019). Both of these theories consist of similar ideas and describe ‘material resources’ that are fundamental for the development of IR. However, constructivism believes that the world is socially constructed and the expansion of IR is not only based on material resources.

Constructivism believes that reality is always positioned under construction that allows it for change and it can be changed based on beliefs and ideas. It has been found that social norms belong at the center of constructivism (Theys, 2018). There are multiple core values or mandates of constructivism that include social construction of reality, mutual constitution of agents and structure, influence of ideational factors, and international anarchy. In the context of social construction of reality, constructivists believe that reality of the world is not constant and it is not ideal to treat the social world as a pre-given entity. Rather, constructivists force on describing the social world as ‘world as coming into being’. In this context, Peltonen (2017) opined that intersubjective knowledge of human beings about the social world is the main source of development of social reality and it is completely different from functionality of celestial body. For instance, social reality is not the same as the Moon, Sun, Earth, or other planets working with certain laws and thinking or understanding of human beings cannot create any impact on its functionality.

Rather social reality is the knowledge shared by human beings and it alters or influences social relations. In this context, Alexander Wendt described the construction of knowledge in an intersubjective way in his powerful article, ‘Anarchy is what States make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics’ through the story of ‘Ego’ and ‘Alter’ (Varghese, 2021). In this ‘Alter’ and ‘Ego’ are two characters that meet for the first time and do not know about each other. However, their interaction with each other gives them the idea of the nature of the other person whether they are reliable, trustworthy, or friendly and this similar thing happens in the case of international relations where two nations come on one page and learn about each other. On the other hand, the influence of ideational factors addresses that social reality cannot be built only based on material factors. Rather than it required both the material factors and ideational factors which include social norm, culture, and identity (Hayes, 2017). In order to make this idea easier to understand, the example of nuclear weapons of North Korea and nuclear weapons of France can be mentioned. 

It has been found that the nuclear weapons used by the countries are similar in the terms of destructive effects and material attributes. However, the concern of the USA revealed that the nuclear weapon of France is not as powerful and dangerous as North Korea. Therefore, the factor ‘identity’ is the ideational factor that delivers different meanings to different weapons (Varghese, 2021). Besides that, mutual constitution of agents and structure is another major assumption of constructivism. Structuration theory introduced by Giddens describes the mutual relation between structure and agents (Hollebeek et al. 2018). Based on a theory, the mutual relation of these two factors in terms of international relationships has been discussed by constructivists like Alexander Wendt and Nicholas Onuf. It has been found that it is international politics that influence the behaviour of nation-states that are considered as agents by this theory (Nekliudov, 2017). In contrast with that, Alexander Wendt mentioned that the international system and nation-states are both mutually regulative.

Furthermore, to discuss it more elaborately Wendt in his article ‘Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics’ forced upon nation-states (agents) more than international system (structure) to elaborate one's influence over another (Varghese, 2021). In the context of IR, anarchy is considered a social system that lacks appropriate legislation or authority. At the time of debate between neoliberals and neorealists, both groups accepted that the lack of world government is the main reason to create international anarchy (McConaughey et al. 2018). As a result, to inscript international anarchy, neorealists put weight on self-help mechanisms. On the other hand, to mitigate anarchy, neoliberalism focused on interdependence. Nevertheless, the beliefs of constructivists are completely different from these two groups and constructivists like Onuf do not believe that the absence of world government is the main reason for developing international anarchy, violence, and disorder. In addition to that, Onuf mentioned there are several rules depending upon which international relations are built which include instruction rules, commitment rules, and directive rules, which are a set of principles to build international relations. Apart from that, Wendt also disproved the definition of international anarchy provided by neorealists and neoliberals. Wendt opined that there are no relations between anarchy and interaction among nation-states.

Connection of one core value with IR

The value of social construction of reality can be taken to understand the relation between constructivism and international relations. International politics are driven by some set of legislation rules and standardised frameworks, which are responsible for the occurrence of multiple actions. Based on international systems these rules and norms are institutionalised and social construction work on caching these norms. As social norms consist of a large part of international politics; therefore, the world leaders also try to better fit the constructed actions and interests.

Case of Brexit

Brexit is the departure of the UK from the EU depending upon the majority of votes. Political, historical, and cultural substances are responsible for social construction of identities and identities often influenced by interactions. Wessel (2018) mentioned that identities have a strong dividing power. After the Second World War, Britain became one of the leading countries of the Commonwealth and the unique political situation of this country played a significant role in building stronger ties even outside Europe. This unique identity of Britain become important at the time of Brexit referendum and not only the historical situation of the country was behind it, geographical situation was also a crucial part. It has been found that the present foreign policy of Britain is based on geographical influence foreign policy because the country is an island nation (Albinger, 2020). In the context of discussing the integration and disintegration of policies of the UK in the EU, the ‘Island Identity’ of this country is hugely used. However, in reality, even after Brexit some cultural, identical concepts of the EU can be seen in Britain's identity. 

This identity of the EU is not uniform and hence can be seen as a 'Europeanisation of national identity (Smith, 2019). In the voting patterns of British people, these European identities can be followed, as people mostly with the focus of national identity vote for leaving the EU and people with the focus of dual nation identity remain the voters of both the nations. After this voting incident, the government of Britain had trouble due to disputes in legitimacy. In this situation following the constructivist approach, non-material power becomes necessary to influence ideational factors like norms. 

Sept 11 event

September 11 attacks also known as 9/11 is a series of four terrorist attacks that occurred in the USA in 2001 by an Islamists terrorist group named al-Queda. This attack resulted in the killing of about 2911 people and many of them were working at the World Trade Center (Krishnankutty, 2021). The psychological and political impact of this attack creates a long-term impact on the engagement of the USA with the world. Vandenbelt (2021) mentioned that this attack has mostly influenced the foreign policy of the country and created a requirement of 'war against terrorism. In order to strengthen the security of the country, it becomes important to appoint an even more powerful military, better intelligence that may not have been presented before. However, the budgets for this new foreign policy have become a subject of a question in the country. It has been found that after about one month of the attack an act named the USA PATRIOT Act that strengthened and united the country against terrorism was administered by Bush (Krishnankutty, 2021).

This act controversially worked on expanding government power and many of the non-profit organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleged the government of USA for snooping on civilians using this act. Moreover, these attacks resulted in tightening security in the USA airports and gave birth to several hate crimes like islamophobia, crime against immigrants (Krishnankutty, 2021). In November 2002 about one year after the attack in the context of safeguarding the country, Bush created a Department of Homeland Security. In this department, several other government bodies were incorporated and they were accused that the lack of coordination was one of the main reasons behind the 9/11 event. However, in today's time, it has been found that the country has focused more on border security, immigration enforcement in the context of expanding IR than terrorism.

This event resulted in changing international relationship of USA with Arab and Muslim worlds forever. The relationships of USA in the context of maintaining Israel's military forces, bilateral relations, and energy security completely diverted into the goal of countering Islamist terrorism after this event. Besides that, the relationships of the country with Muslim countries build based on guilt even after two decades of the attack (Foreignpolicy, 2021). Furthermore, the unfair suspicions of the USA in issuing visas or fighting wars create tensions among the world population. The Bush administration focused on the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which failed due to lack of desired results. However, the administration of Obama put more focus on Afghanistan and withdrawal from Iraq. Furthermore, not only has the domestic and foreign policy of the USA changed due to this attack, but the political disclosure of the country has also suffered from the greatest collateral damage.

COVID-19 and US-China relation

The sudden breakout of COVID-19 pandemic from Wuhan, China has created a tragedy in the relationship between the USA and China and most probably a potential tragedy for the world. The political realities of these two countries resulted in mismanagement of the crisis. Besides that, interaction between these two countries and other factors like World Health Organisation (WHO) resulted in creating difficulties for tackling this common threat (deLisle, 2021). The politically driven acquisitions and finger pointing of both of these world-leading countries toward each other resulted in delivering catastrophic results and spreading of the virus even to the most poverty-stricken nations of the world. In order to understand the chaotic situation created all over the countries a short call of a ceasefire between Washington and Beijing happened and a commitment of international investigation was provided. As a conclusion of this situation, it is declared that the two countries will be cooperating in six areas. The share of best practices to mitigate the future expansion of the disease, development of effective vaccines as soon as possible, huge manufacturing and distribution of vaccine all over the world, maintain debt crisis, manage global trade and help the neediest countries to fight against the pandemic (Brookings, 2021).

As per the views of Christensen (2020), COVID-19 has completely changed the world order and there is no possible going back of China-US relation. It has been found that the relation between China and the US has gone through four important stages that are they become adversaries from enemies, then partners, and now due to the COVID-19 aging go back to the status of adversaries. The rivalry between the two countries began from the beginning of the Cold War. However, the relation between the two countries after COVID-19 will be completely different and it has been revealed by some polling agencies that in both countries negative views against each other are remarkably increasing with time (Yuan, 2020). Besides that, the goodwill of the US public toward China is continually declining and in today's time, it has reached the closest marks in the 40 years of diplomatic relationships.

COP 26

Climate Change Conference held by the United Nations (UN) every year known as COP, which stands for Conference of the Parties. COP 26 happened in Glasgow between countries where it is decided to cut down carbon emission by 45% within 2030 to limit Global Warming at 1.5 degrees celsius or above (Hill, 2021). The two largest emitters of the world, China and the US agreed to this conference and committed to working together besides the diplomatic relations shared by the countries. Besides that, around one hundred nations throughout the world agreed to cut down carbon emissions by about 30% to look after the planet and mitigate Global Warming and Climate Change (Hill, 2021). However, this conference failed as countries cannot show impactful progress in the context of climate financing. Nevertheless, the pledges made at the conference can be succeeded by introducing global courts that are powerful to bring all the nations over one page and drive international relations through climate actions.


This essay has concluded the role of constructivism in the context of world politics. It has been found that international politics in today's time is concerned about several factors such as multinational organisations, terrorism. Constructivism in relation to IR has been identified in an essay that revealed that social relations depend on ideational factors like cultural identity. Core values in constructivism have been found in an essay that includes identical factors, factors related to social reality. Finally, based upon social reality changes in international relations, foreign policy has been described with real examples like COVID-19 related issues between China and USA, the 9/11 event, and so on.



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