UG COURSEWORK COVERSHEET
School of Politics and International Relations
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Seminar Tutor: Richard Saull
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MODULE CODE/TITLE: 240
COURSEWORK TITLE/NUMBER: 2
WORD COUNT: 2000
First Class Upper Second
Quality of Argument
Representation of Sources
Lower Second Third Deficient
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How convincing is the social constructivist claim that ‘anarchy is what states make of it’ (Alexander Wendt, 1992)?
The above quote by Alexander Wendt sums up Social constructivists assertion that anarchy is an
‘imagined community’ possible of having multiple meanings for different actors in the system.
Social constructivists put more emphasize on the role of ideas and argue that states decide what anarchy will be like- conflictual or cooperative. This essay sets out in the following manner.
First, it explains the neo-realists conception of anarchy followed by constructivist’s criticism of structural realism. This would help in highlighting the key features of anarchy existing in each approach. The essay then follows on to shed light on the role of regional institutions like the
European Union, as well as explore the event of the Cold War, which would detail constructivists conception of anarchy .While discussing the constructivist conception of anarchy, criticism will follow throughout the essay to demonstrate the frailty of constructivist’s claim of anarchy. It is argued that constructivist’s claim is convincing as it introduces the role of norms and has challenged the traditional view of anarchy provided by Neo-realists. Whilst social constructivists claim might seem convincing in some areas, it’s certainly not concrete and definitive when criticisms are taken into account.
In order to understand social constructivism, we need to take a step back and explain its opposite theory of Realism, which has been the dominant theory of security studies for a long period of
time. This will not only help us in defining their key features of anarchy, but also in exploring the differences existing in each approach.
Realists identify the state as a key unit in international politics that must always pursue power in order to enhance its interests. Anarchy denotes that there is no superior authority in the international system that could ensure security to all states in the system (Waltz, 2000:5). The absence of higher central government leads to a self-help system where states compete with each other in order to improve their security. Structural realism, often associated with the work of
Waltz, asserts that states behavior is determined by anarchy According to Waltz, anarchy is the
‘permissive cause of war’, and not even the increasing number of democratic states or global institution would help in overriding the structure of the international system (Waltz, 2000:10).
More importantly, realists emphasize that there is uncertainty about the present and future intentions of other states. In such an anarchy provided by realists, security seeking states can be misread by others, which leads to the issue of a security dilemma (Jackson & Sorensen,
2007:172). In other words, the rules of the