Skip to main content

Anarchy is what states make of it: the social construction of power politics


The debate between realists and liberals has reemerged as an axis of contention in international relations theory. Revolving in the past around competing theories of human nature, the debate is more concerned today with the extent to which state action is influenced by “structure” (anarchy and the distribution of power) versus “process” (interaction and learning) and institutions. Does the absence of centralized political authority force states to play competitive power politics? Can international regimes overcome this logic, and under what conditions? What in anarchy is given and immutable, and what is amenable to change?

Hide All

1. See, for example, Grieco Joseph, “Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation: A Realist Critique of the Newest Liberal Institutionalism,” International Organization 42 (Summer 1988), pp. 485507; Nye Joseph, “Neorealism and Neoliberalism,” World Politics 40 (01 1988), pp. 235–51; Keohane Robert, “Neoliberal Institutionalism: A Perspective on World Politics,” in his collection of essays entitled International Institutions and State Power (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1989), pp. 120; Mearsheimer John, “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War,” International Security 13 (Summer 1990), pp. 556, along with subsequent published correspondence regarding Mearsheimer's article; and Emerson Niou and Peter Ordeshook, Realism Versus Neoliberalism: A Formulation,” American Journal of Political Science 35 (05 1991), pp. 481511.

2. See Keohane Robert, “International Institutions: Two Approaches,” International Studies Quarterly 32 (12 1988), pp. 379–96.

3. Behavioral and rationalist models of man and institutions share a common intellectual heritage in the materialist individualism of Hobbes, Locke, and Bentham. On the relationship between the two models, see Turner Jonathan, A Theory of Social Interaction (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1988), pp. 2431; and Homans George, “Rational Choice Theory and Behavioral Psychology,” in Calhoun Craig et al. , eds., Structures of Power and Constraint (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 7789.

4. On neorealist conceptions of learning, see Tetlock Philip, “Learning in U.S. and Soviet Foreign Policy,” in Breslauer George and Tetlock Philip, eds., Learning in U.S. and Soviet Foreign Policy (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991), pp. 2427. On the difference between behavioral and cognitive learning, see ibid., pp. 20–61; Nye Joseph, “Nuclear Learning and U.S.-Soviet Security Regimes,” International Organization 41 (Summer 1987), pp. 371402; and Haas Ernst, When Knowledge Is Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 1749.

5. See Krasner Stephen, “Regimes and the Limits of Realism: Regimes as Autonomous Variables,” in Krasner Stephen, ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 355–68.

6. See Nye, “Nuclear Learning and U.S.-Soviet Security Regimes”; Jervis Robert, “Realism, Game Theory, and Cooperation,” World Politics 40 (04 1988), pp. 340–44; and Keohane Robert, ”International Liberalism Reconsidered,” in Dunn John, ed., The Economic Limits to Modern Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 183.

7. Rationalists have given some attention to the problem of preference-formation, although in so doing they have gone beyond what I understand as the characteristic parameters of rationalism. See, for example, Elster Jon, “Sour Grapes: Utilitarianism and the Genesis of Wants,” in Sen Amartya and Williams Bernard, eds., Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 219–38; and Cohen Michael and Axelrod Robert, “Coping with Complexity: The Adaptive Value of Changing Utility,” American Economic Review 74 (03 1984), pp. 3042.

8. Kratochwil Friedrich and Ruggie John, “International Organization: A State of the Art on an Art of the State,” International Organization 40 (Autumn 1986), pp. 753–75.

9. Keohane, “International Institutions.”

10. See Onuf Nicholas, World of Our Making (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989).

11. On Science, see Keohane, “International Institutions”; and Keohane Robert, “International Relations Theory: Contributions of a Feminist Standpoint,” Millennium 18 (Summer 1989), pp. 245–53. On Dissent, see Walker R. B. J., “History and Structure in the Theory of International Relations,” Millennium 18 (Summer 1989), pp. 163–83; and Ashley Richard and Walker R. B. J., ”Reading Dissidence/Writing the Discipline: Crisis and the Question of Sovereignty in International Studies,” International Studies Quarterly 34 (09 1990), pp. 367416. For an excellent critical assessment of these debates, see Lapid Yosef, “The Third Debate: On the Prospects of International Theory in a Post-Positivist Era,” International Studies Quarterly 33 (09 1989), pp. 235–54.

12. The fact that I draw on these approaches aligns me with modernist constructivists, even though I also draw freely on the substantive work of postmodernists, especially Richard Ashley and Rob Walker. For a defense of this practice and a discussion of its epistemological basis, see my earlier article, The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory,” International Organization 41 (Summer 1987), pp. 335–70; and Ian Shapiro and Alexander Wendt, “The Difference That Realism Makes: Social Science and the Politics of Consent,” forthcoming in Politics and Society. Among modernist constructivists, my argument is particularly indebted to the published work of Emanuel Adler, Friedrich Kratochwil, and John Ruggie, as well as to an unpublished paper by Inayatullah Naeem and Levine David entitled “Politics and Economics in Contemporary International Relations Theory,” Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y., 1990.

13. See Gecas Viktor, “Rekindling the Sociological Imagination in Social Psychology,” Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 19 (03 1989), pp. 97115.

14. Waltz Kenneth, Man, the State, and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), p. 232.

15. Ibid., pp. 169–70.

16. Ibid., p. 232. This point is made by Suganami Hidemi in “Bringing Order to the Causes of War Debates,” Millennium 19 (Spring 1990), p. 34, fn. 11.

17. Waltz Kenneth, Theory of International Politics (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1979).

18. The neorealist description is not unproblematic. For a powerful critique, see Lumsdaine David, Ideals and Interests: The Foreign Aid Regime, 1949–1989 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, forthcoming).

19. Waltz , Theory of International Politics, pp. 79101.

20. Walt Stephen, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987).

21. See, for example, Blumer Herbert, “The Methodological Position of Symbolic Interactionism,” in his Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969), p. 2. Throughout this article, I assume that a theoretically productive analogy can be made between individuals and states. There are at least two justifications for this anthropomorphism. Rhetorically, the analogy is an accepted practice in mainstream international relations discourse, and since this article is an immanent rather than external critique, it should follow the practice. Substantively, states are collectivities of individuals that through their practices constitute each other as “persons” having interests, fears, and so on. A full theory of state identity-and interest-formation would nevertheless need to draw insights from the social psychology of groups and organizational theory, and for that reason my anthropomorphism is merely suggestive.

22. The phrase “distribution of knowledge” is Barnes's Barry, as discussed in his work The Nature of Power (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988); see also Berger Peter and Luckmann Thomas, The Social Construction of Reality (New York: Anchor Books, 1966). The concern of recent international relations scholarship on “epistemic communities” with the cause-and-effect understandings of the world held by scientists, experts, and policymakers is an important aspect of the role of knowledge in world politics; see Haas Peter, “Do Regimes Matter? Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control,” International Organization 43 (Summer 1989), pp. 377404; and Ernst Haas, When Knowledge Is Power. My constructivist approach would merely add to this an equal emphasis on how such knowledge also constitutes the structures and subjects of social life.

23. For an excellent short statement of how collective meanings constitute identities, see Berger Peter, “Identity as a Problem in the Sociology of Knowledge,” European Journal of Sociology, vol. 7, no. 1, 1966, pp. 3240. See also Morgan David and Schwalbe Michael, “Mind and Self in Society: Linking Social Structure and Social Cognition,” Social Psychology Quarterly 53 (06 1990), pp. 148–64. In my discussion, I draw on the following interactionist texts: Mead George Herbert, Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934); Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality; Stryker Sheldon, Symbolic Interactionism: A Social Structural Version (Menlo Park, Calif.: Benjamin/Cummings, 1980); Perinbanayagam R. S., Signifying Acts: Structure and Meaning in Everyday Life (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985); Hewitt John, Self and Society: A Symbolic Interactionist Social Psychology (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1988); and Turner, A Theory of Social Interaction. Despite some differences, much the same points are made by structurationists such as Bhaskar and Giddens. See Bhaskar Roy, The Possibility of Naturalism (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1979); and Giddens Anthony, Central Problems in Social Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

24. Berger , “Identity as a Problem in the Sociology of Knowledge,” p. 111.

25. While not normally cast in such terms, foreign policy scholarship on national role conceptions could be adapted to such identity language. See Holsti Kal, “National Role Conceptions in the Study of Foreign Policy,” International Studies Quarterly 14 (09 1970), pp. 233309; and Walker Stephen, ed., Role Theory and Foreign Policy Analysis (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987). For an important effort to do so, see Walker Stephen, “Symbolic Interactionism and International Politics: Role Theory's Contribution to International Organization,” in Shih C. and Cottam Martha, eds., Contending Dramas: A Cognitive Approach to Post-War International Organizational Processes (New York: Praeger, forthcoming).

26. On the “portfolio” conception of interests, see Hindess Barry, Political Choice and Social Structure (Aldershot, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 1989), pp. 23. The “definition of the situation” is a central concept in interactionist theory.

27. Foote Nelson, “Identification as the Basis for a Theory of Motivation,” American Sociological Review 16 (02 1951), p. 15. Such strongly sociological conceptions of interest have been criticized, with some justice, for being “oversocialized”; see Wrong Dennis, “The Oversocialized Conception of Man in Modern Sociology,” American Sociological Review 26 (04 1961), pp. 183–93. For useful correctives, which focus on the activation of presocial but nondetermining human needs within social contexts, see Turner , A Theory of Social Interaction, pp. 2369; and Gecas Viktor, “The Self-Concept as a Basis for a Theory of Motivation,” in Howard Judith and Callero Peter, eds., The Self-Society Dynamic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 171–87.

28. In neo-Durkheimian parlance, institutions are “social representations.” See Moscovici Serge, ”The Phenomenon of Social Representations,” in Farr Rob and Moscovici Serge, eds., Social Representations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 369. See also Barnes, The Nature of Power. Note that this is a considerably more socialized cognitivism than that found in much of the recent scholarship on the role of “ideas” in world politics, which tends to treat ideas as commodities that are held by individuals and intervene between the distribution of power and outcomes. For a form of cognitivism closer to my own, see Adler Emanuel, “Cognitive Evolution: A Dynamic Approach for the Study of International Relations and Their Progress,” in Adler Emanuel and Crawford Beverly, eds., Progress in Postwar International Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 4388.

29. Berger and Luckmann , The Social Construction of Reality, p. 58.

30. See Giddens, Central Problems in Social Theory; and Wendt Alexander and Duvall Raymond, “Institutions and International Order,” in Czempiel Ernst-Otto and Rosenau James, eds., Global Changes and Theoretical Challenges (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1989), pp. 5174.

31. Proponents of choice theory might put this in terms of “interdependent utilities.” For a useful overview of relevant choice-theoretic discourse, most of which has focused on the specific case of altruism, see Hochman Harold and Nitzan Shmuel, “Concepts of Extended Preference,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 6 (06 1985), pp. 161–76. The literature on choice theory usually does not link behavior to issues of identity. For an exception, see Sen Amartya, “Goals, Commitment, and Identity,” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 1 (Fall 1985), pp. 341–55; and Higgs Robert, “Identity and Cooperation: A Comment on Sen's Alternative Program,” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 3 (Spring 1987), pp. 140–42.

32. Security systems might also vary in the extent to which there is a functional differentiation or a hierarchical relationship between patron and client, with the patron playing a hegemonic role within its sphere of influence in defining the security interests of its clients. I do not examine this dimension here; for preliminary discussion, see Wendt Alexander, “The States System and Global Militarization,” Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1989; and Wendt Alexander and Barnett Michael, “The International System and Third World Militarization,” unpublished manuscript, 1991.

33. This amounts to an “internationalization of the state.” For a discussion of this subject, see Duvall Raymond and Wendt Alexander, “The International Capital Regime and the Internationalization of the State,” unpublished manuscript, 1987. See also Walker R. B. J., “Sovereignty, Identity, Community: Reflections on the Horizons of Contemporary Political Practice,” in Walker R. B. J. and Mendlovitz Saul, eds., Contending Sovereignties (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1990), pp. 159–85.

34. On the spectrum of cooperative security arrangements, see Kupchan Charles and Kupchan Clifford, “Concerts, Collective Security, and the Future of Europe,” International Security 16 (Summer 1991), pp. 114–61; and Smoke Richard, “A Theory of Mutual Security,” in Smoke Richard and Kortunov Andrei, eds., Mutual Security (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991), pp. 59111. These may be usefully set alongside Jencks' Christopher “Varieties of Altruism,” in Mansbridge Jane, ed., Beyond Self-interest (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), pp. 5367.

35. On the role of collective identity in reducing collective action problems, see Fireman Bruce and Gamson William, “Utilitarian Logic in the Resource Mobilization Perspective,” in Zald Mayer and McCarthy John, eds., The Dynamics of Social Movements (Cambridge, Mass.: Winthrop, 1979), pp. 844; Dawes Robyn et al. , “Cooperation for the Benefit of Us–Not Me, or My Conscience,” in Mansbridge , Beyond Self-Interest, pp. 97110; and Calhoun Craig, “The Problem of Identity in Collective Action,” in Huber Joan, ed., Macro-Micro Linkages in Sociology (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1991), pp. 5175.

36. See Risse-Kappen Thomas, “Are Democratic Alliances Special?” unpublished manuscript, Yale University, New Haven, Conn., 1991. This line of argument could be expanded usefully in feminist terms. For a useful overview of the relational nature of feminist conceptions of self, see England Paula and Kilbourne Barbara Stanek, “Feminist Critiques of the Separative Model of Self: Implications for Rational Choice Theory,” Rationality and Society 2 (04 1990), pp. 156–71. On feminist conceptualizations of power, see Tickner Ann, “Hans Morgenthau's Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation,” Millennium 17 (Winter 1988), pp. 429–40; and Wartenberg Thomas, “The Concept of Power in Feminist Theory,” Praxis International 8 (10 1988), pp. 301–16.

37. Waltz , Theory of International Politics, p. 91.

38. See Waltz, Man, the State, and War; and Jervis Robert, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30 (01 1978), pp. 167214.

39. My argument here parallels Rousseau's critique of Hobbes. For an excellent critique of realist appropriations of Rousseau, see Williams Michael, “Rousseau, Realism, and Realpolitik,” Millennium 18 (Summer 1989), pp. 188204. Williams argues that far from being a fundamental starting point in the state of nature, for Rousseau the stag hunt represented a stage in man's fall. On p. 190, Williams cites Rousseau's description of man prior to leaving the state of nature: “Man only knows himself; he does not see his own well-being to be identified with or contrary to that of anyone else; he neither hates anything nor loves anything; but limited to no more than physical instinct, he is no one, he is an animal.” For another critique of Hobbes on the state of nature that parallels my constructivist reading of anarchy, see Landesman Charles, “Reflections on Hobbes: Anarchy and Human Nature,” in Caws Peter, ed., The Causes of Quarrel (Boston: Beacon, 1989), pp. 139–48.

40. Empirically, this suggestion is problematic, since the process of decolonization and the subsequent support of many Third World states by international society point to ways in which even the raw material of “empirical statehood” is constituted by the society of states. See Jackson Robert and Rosberg Carl, “Why Africa's Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Juridical in Statehood,” World Politics 35 (10 1982), pp. 124.

41. Waltz , Theory of International Politics, pp. 7477.

42. See Morrow James, “Social Choice and System Structure in World Politics,” World Politics 41 (10 1988), p. 89. Waltz's behavioral treatment of socialization may be usefully contrasted with the more cognitive approach taken by Ikenberry and the Kupchans in the following articles: Ikenberry G. John and Kupchan Charles, “Socialization and Hegemonic Power,” International Organization 44 (Summer 1989), pp. 283316; and Kupchan and Kupchan, “Concerts, Collective Security, and the Future of Europe.” Their approach is close to my own, but they define socialization as an elite strategy to induce value change in others, rather than as a ubiquitous feature of interaction in terms of which all identities and interests get produced and reproduced.

43. Regarding individualism, see Ashley Richard, “The Poverty of Neorealism,” International Organization 38 (Spring 1984), pp. 225–86; Wendt, “The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory”; and Dessler David, “What's at Stake in the Agent-Structure Debate?International Organization 43 (Summer 1989), pp. 441–74. Regarding structuralism, see Walker R. B. J., ”Realism, Change, and International Political Theory,” International Studies Quarterly 31 (03 1987), pp. 6586; and Hollis Martin and Smith Steven, Explaining and Understanding International Relations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). The behavioralism evident in neorealist theory also explains how neorealists can reconcile their structuralism with the individualism of rational choice theory. On the behavioral-structural character of the latter, see Latsis Spiro, “Situational Determinism in Economics,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 23 (08 1972), pp. 207–45.

44. The importance of the distinction between constitutive and causal explanations is not sufficiently appreciated in constructivist discourse. See Wendt , “The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory,” pp. 362–65; Wendt , “The States System and Global Militarization,” pp. 110–13; and Wendt , “Bridging the Theory/Meta-Theory Gap in International Relations,” Review of International Studies 17 (10 1991), p. 390.

45. See Blumer , “The Methodological Position of Symbolic Interactionism,” pp. 24.

46. See Grafstein Robert, “Rational Choice: Theory and Institutions,” in Monroe Kristen, ed., The Economic Approach to Politics (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp. 263–64. A good example of the promise and limits of transaction cost approaches to institutional analysis is offered by Keohane Robert in his After Hegemony (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984).

47. This situation is not entirely metaphorical in world politics, since throughout history states have “discovered” each other, generating an instant anarchy as it were. A systematic empirical study of first contacts would be interesting.

48. Mead's analysis of gestures remains definitive. See Mead's Mind, Self, and Society. See also the discussion of the role of signaling in the “mechanics of interaction” in Turner's A Theory of Social Interaction, pp. 7479 and 92–115.

49. On the role of attribution processes in the interactionist account of identity-formation, see Stryker Sheldon and Gottlieb Avi, “Attribution Theory and Symbolic Interactionism,” in Harvey John et al. , eds., New Directions in Attribution Research, vol. 3 (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1981), pp. 425–58; and Crittenden Kathleen, “Sociological Aspects of Attribution Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 9, 1983, pp. 425–46. On attributional processes in international relations, see Rosenberg Shawn and Wolfsfeld Gary, “International Conflict and the Problem of AttributionJournal of Conflict Resolution 21 (03 1977), pp. 75103.

50. On the “stagecraft” involved in “presentations of self,” see Goffman Erving, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1959). On the role of appearance in definitions of the situation, see Stone Gregory, “Appearance and the Self,” in Rose Arnold, ed., Human Behavior and Social Processes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962), pp. 86118.

51. This discussion of the role of possibilities and probabilities in threat perception owes much to Stewart Johnson's comments on an earlier draft of my article.

52. On the role of “reassurance” in threat situations, see Lebow Richard Ned and Stein Janice Gross, “Beyond Deterrence,” Journal of Social Issues, vol. 43, no. 4, 1987, pp. 572.

53. On “reciprocal typifications,” see Berger and Luckmann , The Social Construction of Reality, pp. 5458.

54. Coulter Jeff, “Remarks on the Conceptualization of Social Structure,” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 12 (03 1982), pp. 4243.

55. The following articles by Noel Kaplowitz have made an important contribution to such thinking in international relations: Psychopolitical Dimensions of International Relations: The Reciprocal Effects of Conflict Strategies,” International Studies Quarterly 28 (12 1984), pp. 373406; and National Self-Images, Perception of Enemies, and Conflict Strategies: Psychopolitical Dimensions of International Relations,” Political Psychology 11 (03 1990), pp. 3982.

56. These arguments are common in theories of narcissism and altruism. See Kohut Heinz, Self-Psychology and the Humanities (New York: Norton, 1985); and Hoffmann Martin, “Empathy, Its Limitations, and Its Role in a Comprehensive Moral Theory,” in Kurtines William and Gewirtz Jacob, eds., Morality, Moral Behavior, and Moral Development (New York: Wiley, 1984), pp. 283302.

57. See Alexander C. Norman and Wiley Mary Glenn, “Situated Activity and Identity Formation,” in Rosenberg Morris and Turner Ralph, eds., Social Psychology: Sociological Perspectives (New York: Basic Books, 1981), pp. 269–89.

58. Stryker Sheldon, “The Vitalization of Symbolic Interactionism,” Social Psychology Quarterly 50 (03 1987), p. 93.

59. On the “maturity” of anarchies, see Buzan Barry, People, States, and Fear (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983).

60. A similar intuition may lie behind Ashley's effort to reappropriate classical realist discourse for critical international relations theory. See Ashley Richard, “Political Realism and Human Interests,” International Studies Quarterly 38 (06 1981), pp. 204–36.

61. Waltz has himself helped open up such a debate with his recognition that systemic factors condition but do not determine state actions. See Waltz Kenneth, “Reflections on Theory of International Politics: A Response to My Critics,” in Keohane Robert, ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 322–45. The growing literature on the observation that “democracies do not fight each other” is relevant to this question, as are two other studies that break important ground toward a “reductionist” theory of state identity: Bloom's WilliamPersonal Identity, National Identity and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Lumsdaine's Ideals and Interests.

62. See Berger and Luckmann , The Social Construction of Reality, p. 89. See also Maynard Douglas and Wilson Thomas, “On the Reification of Social Structure,” in McNall Scott and Howe Gary, eds., Current Perspectives in Social Theory, vol. 1 (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1980), pp. 287322.

63. See Ashley Richard, “Social Will and International Anarchy,” in Alker Hayward and Ashley Richard, eds., After Realism, work in progress, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, and Arizona State University, Tempe, 1992.

64. See Turner Ralph, “Role-Taking: Process Versus Conformity,” in Rose , Human Behavior and Social Processes, pp. 2040; and Howard Judith, “From Changing Selves Toward Changing Society,” in Howard and Callero , The Self-Society Dynamic, pp. 209–37.

65. On the relationship between commitment and identity, see Foote, “Identification as the Basis for a Theory of Motivation”; Becker Howard, “Notes on the Concept of Commitment,” American Journal of Sociology 66 (07 1960), pp. 3240; and Stryker, Symbolic Interactionism. On role salience, see Stryker, ibid.

66. On threats to identity and the types of resistance that they may create, see Breakwell Glynis, Coping with Threatened Identities (London: Methuen, 1986); and Northrup Terrell, “The Dynamic of Identity in Personal and Social Conflict,” in Kreisberg Louis et al. , eds., Intractable Conflicts and Their Transformation (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1989), pp. 5582. For a broad overview of resistance to change, see Kuran Timur, “The Tenacious Past: Theories of Personal and Collective Conservatism,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 10 (09 1988), pp. 143–71.

67. March James, “Bounded Rationality, Ambiguity, and the Engineering of Choice,” Bell Journal of Economics 9 (Autumn 1978), p. 600.

68. Fain Haskell, Normative Politics and the Community of Nations (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987).

69. This is the intersubjective basis for the principle of functional nondifferentiation among states, which “drops out” of Waltz's definition of structure because the latter has no explicit intersubjective basis. In international relations scholarship, the social production of territorial space has been emphasized primarily by poststructuralists. See, for example, Ashley Richard, “The Geopolitics of Geopolitical Space: Toward a Critical Social Theory of International Politics,” Alternatives 12 (10 1987), pp. 403–34; and Dalby Simon, Creating the Second Cold War (London: Pinter, 1990). But the idea of space as both product and constituent of practice is also prominent in structurationist discourse. See Giddens, Central Problems in Social Theory; and Gregory Derek and Urry John, eds., Social Relations and Spatial Structures (London: Macmillan, 1985).

70. See Ruggie John, “Continuity and Transformation in the World Polity: Toward a Neorealist Synthesis,” World Politics 35 (01 1983), pp. 261–85. In Mind, Self, and Society, p. 161, Mead offers the following argument: “If we say ‘this is my property, I shall control it,’ that affirmation calls out a certain set of responses which must be the same in any community in which property exists. It involves an organized attitude with reference to property which is common to all members of the community. One must have a definite attitude of control of his own property and respect for the property of others. Those attitudes (as organized sets of responses) must be there on the part of all, so that when one says such a thing he calls out in himself the response of the others. That which makes society possible is such common responses.”

71. For a definition and discussion of “social closure,” see Murphy Raymond, Social Closure (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

72. See Ashley Richard, “Untying the Sovereign State: A Double Reading of the Anarchy Problematique,” Millennium 17 (Summer 1988), pp. 227–62. Those with more modernist sensibilities will find an equally practice-centric view of institutions in Blumer's observation on p. 19 of ”The Methodological Position of Symbolic Interactionism”: “A gratuitous acceptance of the concepts of norms, values, social rules and the like should not blind the social scientist to the fact that any one of them is subtended by a process of social interaction–a process that is necessary not only for their change but equally well for their retention in a fixed form. It is the social process in group life that creates and upholds the rules, not the rules that create and uphold group life.”

73. See, for example, Ayoob Mohammed, “The Third World in the System of States: Acute Schizophrenia or Growing Pains?International Studies Quarterly 33 (03 1989), pp. 6780.

74. See Coplin William, “International Law and Assumptions About the State System,” World Politics 17 (07 1965), pp. 615–34.

75. See Smith Anthony, “States and Homelands: The Social and Geopolitical Implications of National Territory,” Millennium 10 (Autumn 1981), pp. 187202.

76. This assumes that there are no other, competing, principles that organize political space and identity in the international system and coexist with traditional notions of sovereignty; in fact, of course, there are. On “spheres of influence” and “informal empires,” see Triska Jan, ed., Dominant Powers and Subordinate States (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986); and Robinson Ronald, “The Excentric Idea of Imperialism, With or Without Empire,” in Mommsen Wolfgang and Osterhammel Jurgen, eds., Imperialism and After: Continuities and Discontinuities (London: Allen & Unwin, 1986), pp. 267–89. On Arab conceptions of sovereignty, see Barnett Michael, ”Sovereignty, Institutions, and Identity: From Pan-Arabism to the Arab State System,” unpublished manuscript, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1991.

77. Strang David, “Anomaly and Commonplace in European Expansion: Realist and Institutional Accounts,” International Organization 45 (Spring 1991), pp. 143–62.

78. On “dynamic density,” see Ruggie, “Continuity and Transformation in the World Polity”; and Waltz, “Reflections on Theory of International Politics.” The role of interdependence in conditioning the speed and depth of social learning is much greater than the attention to which I have paid it. On the consequences of interdependence under anarchy, see Milner Helen, “The Assumption of Anarchy in International Relations Theory: A Critique,” Review of International Studies 17 (01 1991), pp. 6785.

79. See Taylor Michael, Anarchy and Cooperation (New York: Wiley, 1976); and Axelrod Robert, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984).

80. Mead, Mind, Self, and Society.

81. Strictly speaking, this is not true, since in iterated games the addition of future benefits to current ones changes the payoff structure of the game at Tl, in this case from prisoners' dilemma to an assurance game. This transformation of interest takes place entirely within the actor, however, and as such is not a function of interaction with the other.

82. In fairness to Axelrod, he does point out that internalization of norms is a real possibility that may increase the resilience of institutions. My point is that this important idea cannot be derived from an approach to theory that takes identities and interests as exogenously given.

83. On “European identity,” see Buzan Barry et al. , eds., The European Security Order Recast (London: Pinter, 1990), pp. 4563.

84. On “embeddedness,” see Ruggie John, “International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in a Postwar Economic Order,” in Krasner , International Regimes, pp. 195232.

85. See Grieco, “Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation.”

86. On the difficulties of creating cooperative security regimes given competitive interests, see Jervis Robert, “Security Regimes,” in Krasner , International Regimes, pp. 173–94; and Lipson Charles, “International Cooperation in Economic and Security Affairs,” World Politics 37 (10 1984), pp. 123.

87. See Mead, Mind, Self, and Society. For useful discussions of this distinction and its implications for notions of creativity in social systems, see Cronk George, The Philosophical Anthropology of George Herbert Mead (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), pp. 3640; and Howard, ”From Changing Selves Toward Changing Society.”

88. Turner, “Role-Taking.”

89. On “character planning,” see Elster Jon, Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 117. For other approaches to the problem of self-initiated change, see Frankfurt Harry, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” Journal of Philosophy 68 (01 1971), pp. 520; Sen Amartya, “Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (Summer 1977), pp. 317–44; and Schelling Thomas, “The Intimate Contest for Self-Command,” The Public Interest 60 (Summer 1980), pp. 94118.

90. For useful overviews of New Thinking, see Gorbachev Mikhail, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World (New York: Harper & Row, 1987); Kubalkova Vendulka and Cruickshank Albert, Thinking New About Soviet “New Thinking” (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, 1989); and Lynch Allen, Gorbachev's International Outlook Intellectual Origins and Political Consequences (New York: Institute for East-West Security Studies, 1989). It is not clear to what extent New Thinking is a conscious policy as opposed to an ad hoc policy. The intense theoretical and policy debate within the Soviet Union over New Thinking and the frequently stated idea of taking away the Western “excuse” for fearing the Soviet Union both suggest the former, but I will remain agnostic here and simply assume that it can be fruitfully interpreted “as if” it had the form that I describe.

91. For useful overviews of these factors, see Snyder Jack, “The Gorbachev Revolution: A Waning of Soviet Expansionism?World Politics 12 (Winter 19871988), pp. 93121; and Meyer Stephen, “The Sources and Prospects of Gorbachev's New Political Thinking on Security,” International Security 13 (Fall 1988), pp. 124–63.

92. See Bar-Tal Daniel et al. , “Conflict Termination: An Epistemological Analysis of International Cases,” Political Psychology 10 (06 1989), pp. 233–55. For an unrelated but interesting illustration of how changing cognitions in turn make possible organizational change, see Bartunek Jean, “Changing Interpretive Schemes and Organizational Restructuring: The Example of a Religious Order,” Administrative Science Quarterly 29 (09 1984), pp. 355–72.

93. See Cox Robert, “Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory,” in Keohane , Neorealism and Its Critics, pp. 204–55. See also Fay Brian, Critical Social Science (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987).

94. Markus Hazel and Nurius Paula, “Possible Selves,” American Psychologist 41 (09 1986), pp. 954–69.

95. See Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life; Weinstein Eugene and Deutschberger Paul, “Some Dimensions of Altercasting,” Sociometry 26 (12 1963), pp. 454–66; and Earle Walter, “International Relations and the Psychology of Control: Alternative Control Strategies and Their Consequences,” Political Psychology 7 (06 1986), pp. 369–75.

96. See Boge Volker and Wilke Peter, “Peace Movements and Unilateral Disarmament: Old Concepts in a New Light,” Arms Control 7 (09 1986), pp. 156–70; Maoz Zeev and Felsenthal Daniel, “Self-Binding Commitments, the Inducement of Trust, Social Choice, and the Theory of International Cooperation,” International Studies Quarterly 31 (06 1987), pp. 177200; and Sakamoto V., “Unilateral Initiative as an Alternative Strategy,” World Futures, vol. 24, nos. 1–4, 1987, pp. 107–34.

97. On rewards, see Milburn Thomas and Christie Daniel, “Rewarding in International Politics,” Political Psychology 10 (12 1989), pp. 625–45.

98. The importance of reciprocity in completing the process of structural transformation makes the logic in this stage similar to that in the “evolution of cooperation.” The difference is one of prerequisites and objective: in the former, ego's tentative redefinition of self enables it to try and change alter by acting “as if” both were already playing a new game; in the latter, ego acts only on the basis of given interests and prior experience, with transformation emerging only as an unintended consequence.

99. Ferguson Yale and Mansbach Richard, “Between Celebration and Despair: Constructive Suggestions for Future International Theory,” International Studies Quarterly 35 (12 1991), p. 375.

100. For excellent discussions of this tension, see Walker, “Sovereignty, Identity, Community”; and Walker R. B. J., “Security, Sovereignty, and the Challenge of World Politics,” Alternatives 15 (Winter 1990), pp. 327. On institutional path dependencies, see Krasner Stephen, “Sovereignty: An Institutional Perspective,” Comparative Political Studies 21 (04 1988), pp. 6694.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 13
Total number of PDF views: 6593 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 14791 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.