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43 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Judging by the titles that overlap purchases of this book, it would appear that most readers thus far have been of the sympathetic variety.
If so, it is a shame. This book deserves a wide audience. Wendt engages competing approaches with a rare sincerity. Arguing with what may be called frightening rigor, Wendt endeavors to carve a "via media" between the (falsely posed) choices of rationalism and constructivism.
The extent to which he succeeds will largely be played out in ongoing debate. And this book certainly seems designed to provoke it. Wendt's defense of scientific realism - "I am a positivist" - will not sit well with some.
Therein lies its greatest potential contribution: rescuing constructivism from itself. Students with substantive interests in, for example, environmental politics have long been wary of "ideas all the way down" approaches to International Politics. At least this student feels that it gives the lie to "radical" constructivism.
In brief summary, those who suspect that there may be a place in IR theory for both constitutive and causal understanding will find this text to be a powerful ally.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2013
Format: Paperback
Alexander Wendt's "Social Theory of International Politics" is probably the most important book for the field of International Relations since Keohane's "After Hegemony." For that reason alone it is worth the read. In the early chapters Went carefully justifies his epistemology and examines if his constructivist theory really is "ideas all the way down." Later, he includes his view of the role of institutions, peace and conflict, and change within the international system. It is a comprehensive view of the constructivist ideology. Although I believe Wendt's discussion of institutional change is probably the weakest part of the book, it is still an overall compelling and engaging argument.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is an important book of constructivism. The good things are that: (1) Wendt seeks to find some common ground for radical criticism and mainstream scientific rationalism, so the book is not typically something that topples your common sense. (2) Wendt provides a nice summary himself to make his points clear. (3) He indeed has some good points about how perception works in international politics.
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14 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
Alexander Wendt makes an extremely well written attempt to find common ground amongst various approaches to international relations. The first four chapters alone are worth the price of the book. While at first glance the book may seem to be of interest only to academics, his methods do bear quite interesting consequences for the way we can all view global politics. By encouraging us to think more clearly about causal and constitutive questions, readers of this book will find it of continuing relevance in understanding the way politicians, CEO's and NGO's contest and negotiate in various institutional forums over issues of critical importance. The only drawback of the book is that it does reinforce the bias, common in IR circles, of remaining silent about the extreme malleability between "politics" and "the economy". This is where constructivism comes into it's own against the stronger strands of positivist realism. That Wendt discusses corporate agency without discussing actual corporations, or more importantly, the constitutive features and problems of capitalism as a form of institutionalized power that constantly challenges the current contours of "the state" and at the same time shapes the ideational realm he scrutinizes, is, perhaps, the only drawback of this otherwise fine book.
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34 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
Reading Wendt's latest book reminded me a joke of Woody Allen : "The food in this restaurant is bad, and the portions are small". The aim of Wendt is twofold: firstly claim that IR theory needs for analytic purposes reified states that act like human beings, second, achieve through this 'attempt' an entry ticket to the ivy league cocktail party of mainstream IR theory.
The theoretical effort of Wendt consists of serving bigger portions of the same bad food. Lets quote Wendt's understanding of what he understands as science, the activity that lends his theory the necessary credibility : "I am a strong believer in science - a pluralistic science to be sure, in which there is a significant role for 'understanding' but science just the same. I am a 'positivist'. In the same sense this puts me in the middle of the Third Debate, not because I want to find an eclectic epistemology, which I do not, but because I do not think an idealist ontology implies a post-postivist epistemology". This example of academic chitchat (Wendt writes being high on "its feels so great to represent just a bit of everything") illustrates the position that allows Wendt to secure a place within a theoretical discussion that already floats in midair above the dissociated reality it claims to explain. His one-sided (he talks from the rationalist-mainstream side of the fence) but fancy 'Via Media' between "rationalist mainstream" and "post-positivism" compares to putting the toothpaste back into the tube, a safe but essentially meaningless venture that should allow him finally a 'name' within mainstream IR. The result is a theory that will always be true, but essentially empircally meaningless (like the statement 'tomorrow it will rain or not rain' is always true). Wendt's science of IR builds heavily on reification (something professors warn against in undergraduate sociology courses), a prelude to the transformation of his "realist" social kinds (the state) into antropomorphic beings that have identity, act rationally etc... See the often repeated statement page 318 : "States are purposive actors to which we can legitimately apply the anthropomorphic concepts of social theory like identity, interest, and intentionality". This notion of "legitimately" (what prevents us from using other antropomorphic concepts such as sexual identity, perversion, kinship, etc...), is never explained, neither defined - despite devoting a whole chapter 5 to it - because it can only be understood ideologically, in answering "What does the author really want to achieve with his theory" ? The answer will delineate the acceptable from the frivolous in defining his notion of 'legitimately'. The chapter where Wendt argues for regarding the state as a human actor contains a paragraph as why antropomorphizing the state is still problematic. This paragraph is a necessary security valve, substituting hypocrisy for intellectual honesty.
The last sentence of his book answers in similar Wendt style what IR Theory is for "This is not a question that can be answered by social scientists alone, but by helping us to become reflexive Idealism at least gives us a choice". The Wendtian answers to very important questions within IR Theory compare to those given by the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece: never precise and open to any interpretation, always serving the interest of those submitting a question. Wendt is a high-priest of an Oracle build on an egoistic interpretation of science, a science that serves above all the narrow personal interests of himself and his peers. It is a perverted interpretation of science, one promoting a vision that knowing more and more about less and less is good for all of us. His language and argument might be complicated and sophisticated - smoke and mirrors with snifs of Kant, Weber, Marx, Hegel, Grotius, Hobbes, Rousseau, Durkheim etc.. whose interpretations serve to strut countless interpretational contortions and IOU's -, but this does not exclude him from being an academic charlatan within mainstream IR who's work will be inflicted on generations of students to come.
Paul Fayerabends claim "anything goes" is the most appropriate label for Professor Wendts analytical constructivism. Sigh ! This emperor has no clothes either.
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9 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
A theory intends to explain reality and make a truth claim. In this book, the theory presented does not apply to any form of social reality, and its truth claim can neither be verified, neither falsified. The author presents, somewhere from the dimness of deep metaphysical outerspace, a series of half baked philosophical assertions about IR theory that are at best incoherent and erroneous. In essence it is a pot of opportunistic eclecticism that nowhere achieves a synthesis that smells of coherence. Although he wants to explain all IR questions, he achieves to provide an understanding for none of them. What pretends to be a theory is nothing but a wolkenkuckucksheim that demonstrates the limits of a 'science' based on opportunism rather than truth, and its devoted students would probably continue joyfully to sing its praise even if it had been shown to anyones satisfaction that its presumptions were outlandish; because nothing whatsoever would count as a falsification of their beliefs. Do not buy this book if you sincerely intend to learn something about international politics, because there are much better choices around. Although the author might still be regarded as a fashion icon in his field, all he does is celebrate - under the label of positivism - the ambiguous and dubious as positive in itself. (...)
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