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Theory in Action: Constructivism

Theory in Action: Constructivism

So in The Matrix, you know, what you’ve got is the whole world is a computer program. And what makes Neo special is that he can break the rules of the program. And so that’s what gives him his phenomenal sort of cosmic powers in the digital realm that descend into a really, really bad film by the third installment. What Neo can do is change the rules that the world is based on. And for a constructivist, that’s what people are doing all the time. Some people are better placed to do it than others. So, it’s much easier for Barack Obama to change some of the rules that the world is based on than for me or you, just because people will listen. And that itself is a product of some of the rules that the world is based on. So there’s this sort of endless cycle where we’re constantly changing these rules, we’re constantly changing the way social life works in little bitty ways that are themselves framed by the way social life already works. Well, constructivists want to see the world as something that we build out of the way we relate to each other. So think about this: if everybody woke up tomorrow morning and we decided that the United States just doesn’t exist, well, it really doesn’t exist anymore. Because, you know, what makes up the United States isn’t the buildings and the bombs and the votes, it’s everybody thinking that those things make up the United States, and that we agree that we act and we treat each other as if the United States is there. And it’s all of that agreement and all of those beliefs and ideas that give us the United States. And so for a constructivist, the same thing applies to the whole rest of social life, and that includes international relations. You just can’t have international politics unless you have a set of ideas. You know, you have to have a set of ideas about, there are states, states have foreign policies; when I want to talk to a state I go talk to the head of the state; you know, I don’t just talk to a random person from that state. You have an idea that there are authority structures, there are legitimate governments. And that’s how you carry out international
relations. And the interesting part for a lot of constructivists is the sort of question of, how much of that belief structure do you have to share before you can have international relations at all? So, you could imagine, you know, some alien comes down from Mars and doesn’t share any of our belief structures, has no idea what states are. You couldn’t establish diplomatic relations with Mars if the alien doesn’t even know what a state is. So a lot of questions that constructivists ask take place at much longer time scales than questions that realists or liberals might ask. So whereas a realist might ask, okay, what would have been the best way for a state to maximize its security in the 1600s, a constructivist would ask, what made people think there were states in the 1600s? You know, I had the example of, if everybody woke up tomorrow and decided the U.S. didn’t exist anymore, right? At the end of the Cold War, that was kind of what happened to the USSR, is people got up one day and they started thinking that maybe this shouldn’t exist anymore. Or actually what happens is people get up one day and they decide that maybe it’s not that important that that wall is there. And they start going through the wall. And then the soldiers that are guarding the wall decide, well, maybe it’s not that important that I shoot these people when they go through the wall. And then it goes from there, and the government starts deciding, well, all right, maybe it’s not that important that we keep these people out of the wall. And then it continues, and people start to say, well, maybe it’s not that important that we’re part of the USSR anymore. And very, very rapidly, this whole house of cards disintegrates. And there’s all sorts of reasons why: there were economic problems, there were political issues. And this should not at all be taken to think that there weren’t. But at the end of the day, the USSR would’ve kept going until everybody decided it was time to stop. And 1989 to 1991, they decided it was time to stop. And it stopped. You know, all of these things that you take as being natural and given just because they’re habitual, you have to be able to realize could be some other way, and are at some level the choices arbitrary. At some level, you know, what we do that red means stop is a random choice. It could have been green, could have been yellow, could have been purple. And there’s so much of the way we live everyday life that’s like that, because if we had to stop and think about those things all the time our brains would explode. You know, you have to kind of make your brain explode a little bit.

100 comments on “Theory in Action: Constructivism

  1. What is interesting about social constructivism in IR, or in general epistemology for that matter, is that it decides that everything is "constructed" by the interactions between humans. However, one would, to preserve the general/explanatory power of the theory, have to accept that the theory of social constructivism has itself been constructed through the interactions of humans, and that it's validity is simply subject to human agreement alone, in other words, it refutes itself.

  2. So, I should point out that I'm not a professor, and I can't claim to be a "top IR theorist," but I hope you folks found this helpful. — Caleb

  3. giving a short summary presentation on constructivism for a world politics class. mighty sure the students will appreciate this! cheers.

  4. Yup. The constructivist theories are all prone to the reflectivity issue. This is well known amongst the contructuvist theorists though.

  5. any thought or idea can refute itself. That's why humans never stop arguing about things. At least constructivists realize that their own believe system is nothing more than an artificial construct of a human mind.

  6. What if we all woke up tomorrow and decided the theory of constructivism is wrong? The theory is self contradicting insomuch as the possibility exists that the very set of truths that it purports describe reality can be turned against themselves, given the people all decide they should.

    It's like if the majority all decided that "falsity" is "truth" and that "truth" is falsity." It doesn't change the existence of truth, obviously, so their "choice" is irrelevant and deceptive.

  7. I'm sitting here with my mouth open because the speaker just expressed some of my own thoughts and musing on the world. I didn't know there was a theory that went so well with the stuff pinging about in my skull.

  8. Great explanation.

    However, red is the color of blood–that is why it means stop. It's not completely arbitrary, there is a "natural foundation" to it.

  9. Great explanation, but there is one thing you omitted which I believe is the best part of the story. (Some) Constructivists make the absolute claim that everything is constructed, hence this claim is constructed. If it is constructed it can never be absolute (=true in any given time or circumstance) because that would disqualify it as a construct. So if this claim about constructivism is true, it can never be true!

    Kind of like the claim "this is my first lie" or "this statement is not true".

  10. It's not just a claim, it's an axiom. And of course all axioms are constructed by definition. This is why from a (radical) constructivist point of view there is no absolute truth. Keep in mind that the existence of an absolute truth can only be resolved by belief (faith). Constructivists believe (hypothesize) there is none, realists hypothesize there is one.

  11. Then, the theory of constructivism would vanish. There is nothing self-contradictory about it and it's not really an issue of majority. The theory says that reality is constructed from the fusion of individuals' perceptions and they interact in society. It doesn't say that the reality constructed by the majority becomes absolute.

  12. Where is the evidence for constructivism? This theory seems to me like an academic's excuse to do what he pleases and believe what he wills. Why should I believe that reality is constructed by humans if reality doesn't become any more real when people are born, and it doesn't become any less real when people die?

  13. Where is the evidence for existentialism or objectivism or any other epistemology? You can't discuss these matters in terms of "evidence". Depending on the epistemological system you choose, the very meaning and use of "evidence" will be different. In this sense everyone does and believes what they please, not only constructivists. The mistake many scientists do is that they consider their own positivist views as "pre-philosophical". Well, they are not. It is just another belief system.

  14. So if I convince myself (for selfish or self preserving or whatever reasons) and possibly others that this video or even you do not exist or that I even viewed it, then you and it really didn't occur? Even though really and physically and factually you and it do?

    Are there no absolute truths? Things that are true whether I choose to believe in them or not? I can disbelieve that I can walk in front of a speeding car and not get hit but reality will disprove my disbelief.

  15. Mm.. The example with the USSR is not historically quite illuminating (Not quite true) (In a realist sense).Is it because we agree upon it that the holocaust happened? (Nope.) Is it because we agree that the sun gives warmth that it does? (Apart from the signs use to signify these ideas. Such as the the word warmth: signifies temperature (i.e. vibrations in matter), but another word such as chaud (french) might do the same. The basic concept however is not constructed.  

  16. Constructivism comes from social marxism and is wrong to it's very core. No matter what you do. Let's say suddenly the US opened it's borders (i know it's against pop. belief), mexicans will start flooding the US, and let's say all Americans move up north. Suddenly mexico invades the US and it is allowed since the US has now such a high mexican pop. The USA doesn't exist, but in the minds of the Americans up north it still does. It's a people that make a nation. You can say the the USSR was socially constructed because it was an empire consisting of many nations. Nations will always exist in the contentiousness of a people.

  17. I disagree with the constructivist's view of the USSR's dissolution because people no longer felt they believed in the triumph of communism, or because they felt no more kinship with Moscow; they believed that better economic opportunities were in the West, and they pushed against the state in order to free themselves; they didn't just stop "being" Soviets. It sure helped that Gorbachev did nothing to stop them. Had he had enough power to stop them he would've.

  18. If I and my community were to wake up and think that the US doesn't exist anymore, I would quickly be brought back to reality if I tried to commit a crime. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the people think. If the government has control, it has control, and that's final. Syria under al-Assad and Iraq under Saddam had plenty of people who saw themselves as Arabs or part of their tribes, but both dictators were able to keep secure power. Muhammed Barre was successful in eliminating tribism in Somalia, and Marshal Tito was able to preserve Yugoslavia. Not because any of them were able to give the people real patriotic feeling; they were effective in consolidating and exercising power.

  19. Constructivism in regards to statecraft is like whipped cream on a sundae. It's nice to have a population that feels a bond with their government, but it's not completely necessary. If a government can keep control, it will keep control whether the people like it or not. But it's always nice for the sake of government sovereignty to have a population see their government as legitimate.

  20. Money is my favourite way of thinking about constructivism. Money is only important because we collectively give it value. If we all stopped believing that a ten pound note was worth anything it would be useless. Humans haven't always used money to trade goos and labour. And Nation States (may I remind my fellow youtubers) are very recent phenomenons, which come and go. We got a new country in 2009 (South Sudan), and we might get another one if Scotland leaves the UK. We can follow the process of the creation of the US easily, with the 13 states and expansion. Or we can look at the borders drawn by Europeans with rulers in Africa. Don't just dismiss Constructivism because you take your own country for granted. Someone designed that flag, wrote that song, and invented your national sport; and a few dollars can buy you a coffee because we all agree it can.  

  21. Exactly! I'm so happy I stumbled upon constructivist theory late last night and read about it on Wikipedia earlier today. It's harmoniously in tune with where I'm at right now on the journey of personal growth or development. Contructivist philosophy to me is all about taking back control, contrary to our minds or habits of thought controlling us; which of course has apparently devastating consequences that–one need not look far.

  22. Толстяк ошибается по поводу СССР и людей, которые проснулись и подумали иначе. Люди на референдуме голосовали за сохранение. Вендт бредит в основном.

  23. Constructivism is not perfect, but of the main schools of IR thought, I think it comes the closest to understanding the world and international relations. When you get down to it, international relations are a fight to maintain identities in a world where everyone else is trying to do the same. Survival for the sake of survival is the philosophy of animals, not humans. Everything in human interaction is underpinned by beliefs in abstract constructs and ideologies. Politics is simply a collective term for broad discourses in which people assert their worldview, and international relations is no different. Once you look beyond the military might, you realise that states are only using that might because they care about abstract, intangible things like sovereignty and identity. Without constructivist notions of motivation, studying international relations is superficial and pointless.

  24. Can someone help me understand? I understand that states do not appear in nature, and it exists completely in the human mind. That doesn't mean that it isn't real, it's just not the same kind of real as a piece of pie. As soon as people think it exists then it does, in the minds of those people. Therefore the power is also theirs to be rid of the state through their minds. Again I don't see this underlying principle as taking anything away from the reality or meaning of the state.

  25. Hi I'm arabic girl I study english cause I love it I have difficulties I can't understand every word I need help I want someone to help me!
    Thank you ❤

  26. It seems to me that constructivism is, to a certain extent, inspired by the philosophy of existentialism. There is recognition that choices are arbitrary and an appreciation that in subtle ways, human groups' existence precedes their essence.

  27. When you say "I don't go out and just talk to any random person in an other state, I talk to the person in authority" that type of constructivism is more like Wendt's top down approach of the System influencing the actors…. But other constructivists would argue that the bottom up approach exists too. Actors can influence the state. By actors I mean non gov't actors. then you have the other constructivists who say both happen simultaneously… So I mean say I go to Spain blow some smoke up some Spaniard but hole and he eats my shit up like popcorn. What is to say he doesn't start re iterating what I told him to his friends and then what ever I told him spreads like wild fire… all of a sudden you see a change in the system based on what ever you felt like telling the guy. Though highly unlikely for this to happen and the circumstances and setting must be perfect… Your point of view does spread and have a rippling affect… Then of course the System and the Actors (in a modern democratic state) tend to keep themselves in check as to avoid jumping the gun on any low level politics or high level politics, but now I fear I'm going on a tangent.

    REFOCUS: I believe, based on what you said after your Neo Matrix movie example, that your ideology takes a more system down approach… and this does not reflect all of constructivism, but just a part of it.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong in thinking so and explain why. Much appreciated.

  28. Thank you Professor Gallemore. You totally saved me from a very confused research class this entire semester. 🙂

  29. This is the best educational video I've ever watched. Informative, yet short and simple. With loads of examples. Thank you very much!

  30. My professor sent this as an email to all of the students and I feel bad for any of them who ignored it. This helped me so much

  31. By far the most complex and difficult to understand of the main IR theories, also the one that is most quickly dismissed by many people.

  32. hello, can someone please help to understand, why we should agree with the theory of constructivism? and what the positive influences of constructivism might be?

  33. I love you! Okay, okay, I'm being a little dramatic but I appreciate this video so much. I was having a hard time trying to wrap my head around this theory and now I have a better sense of it.

  34. How is red as a stop light arbitrary? Maybe just a poor example? Isn't it proven that we respond to red differently than other colours?  Sure many things are constructions, but what does this guy think about gender? That's where I really disagree.

  35. I love the Intro and Ending

    "So in the Matrix….

    "….you kinda have to let your brain explode a little bit"


  36. there is one reason we believe we exist…perspective is nothing other than the realization we are in and self aware…this being said my perspective is mine alone. This self awareness allows us to criticize one another and hold each other to a higher standard..and still show forgiveness and relative understanding of another's perspective.I have great hopes that humanity will figure out that perspective is relative not the theory of relativity.Social science is no science at all.Best wishes

  37. Except the people of the USSR voted to continue the USSR. The USSR was only seen as not a thing anymore after it was overthrown, not before. This is a terrible explanation of constructivism. It's not arbitrary.

  38. I wonder how Robespierre got his moral and ethical justification for the Reign of Terror.


    Social Learning Theory,


    Is heroine more important than food?

    The Mice experiment with the pleasure plates would sure say that if all humans tried heroine the majority would probably say yes.

    If you could rebuttal these three arguments I’m going to join this school of thought.

  39. The background ambient music and the close-up on his face triggers slight aggressions. Despite that helpful content!

  40. Thank you so much for posting this! My lecturer made zero sense but after watching this video for one minute I already understand it completely!

  41. I think things aren't as random as he alludes to. For example, I think there is a good reason stop lights/signs are red as opposed to some other color despite what he said.

  42. That is too far from truth though that the USSR collapsed because everybody decided so. In fact there was a referendum where 70 percent voted for keeping it but part of the elites decided at a certain moment.

  43. yeah but why did they decide that it was time to stop? The economic downfall? So the structure still influences the agent

  44. constructivism is the IR version of noodling incessantly on a guitar for the sake of noodling incessantly on a guitar. cool, you can do it. now what?

  45. What a naive and childish example that of the ussr. Obviously the sovietblock didnt fall just bc everyone woke up tired of it one morning. Actuallyaround that time the duma carried a referendum to see if ppl wanted to keep the ussr and 70% of population agreed, and it disappeared however.
    Noteto that guy: GDR was not part of the ussr. If youre gonna use the example of the wall to simplify stuff to an absurd extent, at least read the first two lines of wikipedia.

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