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Constructivism and the Problem of Explanation: A Review Article

  • David Dessler (a1) and John Owen (a2)

Mlada Bukovansky, Legitimacy and Power Politics: The American and French Revolutions in International Political Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

Neta Crawford, Argument and Change in World Politics: Ethics, Decolonization, and Humanitarian Intervention (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Martha Finnemore, The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs about the Use of Force (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).

Ted Hopf, Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies; Moscow, 1955 and 1999 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002).

The four books under review here offer insightful and penetrating analyses of the role of such factors as legitimacy, ideas, norms, culture, and identities in world politics. Martha Finnemore's The Purpose of Intervention demonstrates that great powers intervene in small states for reasons significantly different from those in the past. Neta Crawford's Argument and Change in World Politics chronicles arguments for and against Western imperialism over the past five centuries and contends that those arguments helped bring about the birth, long life, and death of Western formal empires. Mlada Bukovansky's Legitimacy and Power Politics examines the social, economic, and political forces at work in the American and French revolutions; she asserts that those events wrought changes in prevailing notions of what makes a state legitimate. Ted Hopf's Social Construction of International Politics analyzes discourses in Moscow in 1955 and 1999 and maintains that these discourses are an important cause of Soviet or Russian foreign policy attitudes in the two periods.David Dessler is an associate professor at the College of William & Mary ( John Owen is an associate professor at the University of Virginia ( The authors thank Jeffrey Legro, Jack Snyder, Michael Tierney, David Waldner, Joshua Yates, two anonymous reviewers, and Greg McAvoy for comments on previous versions of this article. John Owen presented an earlier version to the research seminar at the Centre for International Relations at the University of British Columbia, and the authors also thank those who participated in that seminar, especially Mikulas Fabry and Richard Price. All errors are the sole responsibilities of the authors.

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Perspectives on Politics
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