Saving Identity from Postmodernism? The normalization of constructivism in International Relations

Nik Hynek, Andrea Teti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


International Relations's (IR's) intellectual history is almost always treated as a history of ideas in isolation from both those discursive and political economies which provide its disciplinary and wider (political) context. This paper contributes to this wider analysis by focusing on the impact of the field's discursive economy. Specifically, using Foucaultian archaeologico-genealogical strategy of problematization to analyse the emergence and disciplinary trajectories of Constructivism in IR, this paper argues that Constructivism has been brought gradually closer to its mainstream Neo-utilitarian counterpart through a process of normalization, and investigates how it was possible for Constructivism to be purged of its early critical potential, both theoretical and practical. The first part of the paper shows how the intellectual configuration of Constructivism and its disciplinary fortunes are inseparable from far-from-unproblematic readings of the Philosophy of Social Science: the choices made at this level are neither as intellectually neutral nor as disciplinarily inconsequential as they are presented. The second and third parts chart the genealogies of Constructivism, showing how its overall normalization occurred in two stages, each revolving around particular practices and events. The second part concentrates on older genealogies, analysing the politics of early classificatory practices regarding Constructivism, and showing how these permitted the distillation and immunization of Constructivism – and thus of the rest of the mainstream scholarship which it was depicted as compatible with – against more radical Postmodernist/Post-structuralist critiques. Finally, the third part focuses attention on recent genealogies, revealing new attempts to reconstruct and reformulate Constructivism: here, indirect neutralization practices such as the elaboration of ‘Pragmatist’ Constructivism, as well as the direct neutralization such as the formulation of ‘Realist’ Constructivism, are key events in Constructivism's normalization. These apparently ‘critical’ alternatives that aim to ‘provide the identity variable’ in fact remain close to Neo-utilitarianism, but their successful representation as ‘critical’ help neutralize calls for greater openness in mainstream IR. Rather than a simple intellectual history, it is this complex process of (re)reading and (re)producing that counts as ‘Constructivism’, which explains both the normalization of Constructivism and the continued marginalization of Postmodernist/Post-structuralist approaches in mainstream IR's infra-disciplinary balance of intellectual power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-199
Number of pages30
JournalContemporary Political Theory
Issue number2
Early online date14 May 2010
Publication statusPublished - May 2010

Bibliographical note

We thank Jozef Bátora, Theo Farrell, Yale Ferguson, Stefano Guzzini, Audie Klotz and Cecelia Lynch and three anonymous reviewers and the editors for comments on earlier drafts. Financial support from the Czech Academy of Science (grant number KJB708140803) is gratefully acknowledged.


  • international relations theory
  • Constructivism
  • Postmodernism/Post-structuralism
  • Foucault
  • Philosophy of Social Science


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