Rationality, Norms, and Identity in International Relations
This article examines major debates between rationalism and constructivism. It presents that there are politically significant motives of social actions, including norms and identity, which cannot be completely subsumed by the concept of instrumental rationality. These ideational or social-psychological motivations are governed primarily by thymos or affect (the moral or emotional part of the human personality) and/or value-oriented rationality. We need more flexible assumptions about main actors and their motives than those of rationalism to explain appropriately the politics of anger, loyalty and a sense of justice at international levels. However, constructivism’s emphasis on ideational motivations cannot totally replace rationalism in explaining international political life. Constructivism maintains that identity or norms are causally prior to actors’ interests. Yet when there is conflict between pursuit of interests and maintenance of identity or norms, actors’ strong and well-defined self-interests can overrule their contested or unstable identity or norms. In short, causal arrows can flow in either direction between identity or norms and interests. This implies that rationalism and constructivism are complementary rather than competitive in explaining international political life.
Choi, Ji Young, "Rationality, Norms, and Identity in International Relations" (2015). Politics & Government Faculty Work. 3.
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