Missing Epistemology: The ‘Social’ and the ‘Theoretical’ in Wendt’s Social Theory
Paper prepared for the 4th CEEISA Conference in Tartu, Estonia 25-27 June, 2006
Silviya Lechner, PhD student, University of Wales, Aberystwyth
In this paper I engage critically Alexander Wendt’s ontological reading of constructivism, as developed in Social Theory of International Politics. My task is to defend the view that constructivism, properly understood, presents a sort of epistemology. In ‘Wendt’s World’, Steve Smith articulated powerfully a similar position yet there are important distinctions between Smith’s and my criticism, the key being that I locate constructivist epistemology within the tradition of double hermeneutics or double interpretation. As Wendt, among many, pointed out, constructivism is not another IR theory--it does not address issues such as the end of the Cold War, the polarity of the international system, or the dynamic of alliance formation.  It is a philosophy of social science that over the past 20 years or so has generated a vast literature, associated with Andre Kukla, Gerard Delanty, and Ian Hacking, to mention few prominent authors.  Interestingly, constructivism seem to be an extraordinary approach, since it does not merely occupy conceptual space within social science but attempts to redefine social science, the way positivism did almost a century earlier. That constructivism is a philosophical orientation, and that it raises fundamental queries about the constitution of reality, especially social reality, is a starting premise of my essay. Most commentators have explored Wendt’s theory in the context of IR but I address it from a philosophical perspective and focus on the first part of the book.
Social Theory of International Politics hardly needs an introduction--it is a widely known work. It articulates constructivism as a master paradigm that emerges at the intersection...