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Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge Studies in International Relations) Paperback – 7 Oct 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 447 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (7 Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521469600
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521469609
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.9 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 253,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'… a dense and sophisticated work of International Relations theory, concerned with the biggest of big questions, 'what kind of 'stuff' the international system is made of' … Social Theory of International Politics is destined to become perhaps the most discussed book in International Relations theory in a generation.' The Times Literary Supplement

'Alexander Wendt has drawn on an exceptional range of theoretical literature in his effort to reconceptualize the nature of the international system. His discussion of scientific realism ought to be required reading for any student of international relations, or political science.' Stephen D. Krasner, Review of International Studies

'Alex Wendt's Social Theory of International Politics … admirably attempts to do in an explicit manner what most scholars in the discipline do only implicity and often accidentally: suggest a social theory to serve as the foundation for theorizing about international relations … Social Theory tells an excellent story and will surely gain an important place in the annuals of international relations theory.' Roxanne Lynn Doty, Review of International Studies

'Alexander Wendt's Social Theory of International Politics is so impressive an achievement that it has a good chance to become a standard text of the mainline, American-oriented, professional International Relations literature.' Hayward R. Alker, Review of International Studies

'Alexander Wendt's book is virtually certain to become a classic work on international relations theory, standard on graduate reading lists. Wendt's distinctive combination of scientific realism, holism, and what he calls 'idealism', will certainly spark much conversation and, it is to be hoped, a great deal of thought. Robert O. Keohane, Review of International Studies

'… this book demonstrates that Wendt is among the top IR thinkers. This is a well-thought-out and philosophically inclined book, packed with ideas … Social Theory of International Politics is an excellent, comprehensive and illuminating book on international relations theory. Wendt's arguments are varied and fascinating. I recommend this book highly to IR scholars and postgraduate students who take theory seriously.' International Affairs

'This is the most academic of these books … it has caused a stir in its field and may be the most important … Many previous theorists have ignored social factors and rejected the idea of international society, preferring to see the world as an 'anarchy' of states operating without moral or social restraint. But even anarchy, argues Mr Wendt, is a social construct - and anything which is the product of our ideas can be changed, if we want to change it strongly enough.' Economist

Book Description

In Social Theory of International Politics, Wendt argues that states can view each other as enemies, rivals or friends. These roles can change over time, so that the international system is not condemned to conflict and war.

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In recent academic scholarship it has become commonplace to see international politics described as "socially constructed." Read the first page
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ben on 4 Nov 2007
Format: Paperback
International Relations theory is certainly not an easy field and most theorists shy away from creating anything truly new-- they will tweak old theories to create another -ism resembling "pluralist neo-structuralist neo-institutionalism". Wendt has put himself on the line, and has created something new.

His main point that "anarchy is what we make of it", is revolutionary in IR theory, and stands against centuries of political philosophy. While still remaining state-centric in his approach, Wendt is also looking beyond the state by including perspectives from other social sciences.

This is a bold opening of a debate, which should continue. The state-centric approaches that have been used (and that Wendt certainly continues to use here), do not correspond with the reality we see in many war-torn countries. We need new approaches, but where case studies and conflict studies have gone forward full steam ahead, theory lags behind. Lack of theoretical advancement is making theoretical IR increasingly irrelevant to actual practice of International Politics. A true shame, as a theoretical foundation would give guidance of how an agent should behave.

Certainly, I wish that Wendt would have developed his argument even further. Such a wish is easy to voice now, but when this book was published it was revolutionary and opened a whole new world in IR. Wendt also showed immense academic bravery for putting himself on the line, as he did.

I recommend this book to everyone and anyone doing IR theory.
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9 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Feb 2002
Format: Paperback
an appauling book. philosophically incoherent and pretentious, this is exactly the kind of text that will help to destroy any thoughtful debate in international relations. Unlike the above reviewer i think that the book renders constructivism even more vague than before, that it replaces Waltz's ridiculous ahistoric determinism with a frankly even more implausible 'cultural' determinism! such is the state of the social sciences in general and IR in particular that if you stick the label 'culture' in somewhere ('cultures of anarchy' for Wendt! god help us!) then you have made a profound contribution to the discipline. I defy anyone to give me an explanation as to what it is that Wendt's work offers IR that hasnt been said far more clearly by historical sociologists from Marx and Weber to Moore, Skocpol and Tilly. If this is reflective of IR as an academic discipline, heaven help the students...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
42 of 63 people found the following review helpful
So this is what Professor Wendt had been up to... 14 Feb 2000
By An IR student - Published on
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.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Must Read for Students of IR 28 Feb 2013
By IR Student - Published on
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.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The good things are that 9 Oct 2014
By jinjunda0244 - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified 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.
14 of 27 people found the following review helpful
A bold synthesis of constructivism & realism in IR 21 Mar 2001
By A Customer - Published on
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.
34 of 91 people found the following review helpful
Why there is such thing as the poverty of IR Theory. 1 Jan 2004
By Peter D'Autry - Published on
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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