The Ethics of Constructivism

Richard Price

in The Oxford Handbook of International Relations

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199219322
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:


 The Ethics of Constructivism

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Social constructivism has increasingly been seen as one of the chief theoretical contenders in contemporary scholarship in international relations. As a research program, one of its main substantive contributions to the field has been to show that moral norms — and thus ethics — matter in world politics. In this very agenda itself, constructivist scholars have embodied ethical commitments — at its most basic level this most often has been one of challenging realist scepticism concerning the possibilities for progressive moral change. Yet the plausibility of such ethical positions has typically been defended by constructivists on rigorous empirical terms — showing that human rights norms or norms of warfare can matter, for example — rather than on comparably rigorous normative grounds (that such norms are ethically desirable). This article briefly outlines the trajectory of the constructivist research programme, arguing that its development and responses to its critics have now led it — and its challengers — centrally to explicit engagement with ethical questions. It then considers the extent to which constructivism can be said to entail a distinctive ethic at all, and outlines its potential contributions to addressing global ethical challenges.

Keywords: international relations; social constructivism; ethics; world politics

Article.  4278 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations ; Political Theory

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