Feminism and Constructivism: A Comparison

Essay by phoenixmolochia89University, Master'sA-, June 2006

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The discipline of international relations (IR) is one that has witnessed a multitude of variations and shifts. It has produced a fair amount of debate between academics within the international relations scholarship. Due to a plethora of circumstances scholars have subjected the traditional rationalist theories of neorealism and neoliberalism to critical re-evaluations. As a result, constructivism is a concept that has emerged as an alternative approach to dominant IR theories. It focuses on the importance of state identities in defining and gaining knowledge of state interests, actions and goals. There are theorists who purport that the rise of constructivism allows for a further understanding of another international theory, feminism. This is a branch of critical social theory that illlustrates how gender has been thought of or avoided in traditional international relations. While they are fundamentally different in many respects, it is the purpose of this essay to illustrate that similar ontological commitments allow both constructivists and feminists to share a focus centering on the concept of social construction.

The paper will provide a brief explication of constructivism and feminism before engaging in a comparative analysis of both theories, including a discussion of strengths, weaknesses and contemporary examples.

In order to gain a fuller understanding of the components involved it is first necessary to provide a brief introduction to the concepts. Theories of international relations were developed through three major debates and as such, IR ideas were traditionally dominated by the perspectives of realism, idealism and behaviouralism . Criticisms leveled by critical theorists, combined with the end of the Cold War and a generational change, led to the displacement of established axes of debate by a new constructivist approach to IR literature . Rooted in sociology, constructivism is about human consciousness and the role of this feature in international life .