Magoosh GRE

Do critical approaches Marxism, feminism, constructivism improve our understanding of international politics?

| February 8, 2017

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Abstract

In the contemporary era, the application of critical theoretical approaches is of significant importance if one is willing to develop a more comprehensive understanding of international politics and international relations. Theoretical approaches, such as Marxism, Constructivism and Feminism cannot alone provide such an understanding, but their convergence and can significantly contribute to our increased awareness of global inequalities and the dimensions in which they occur by placing emphasis in not only on the relationship between the structure and agency, but also question their very nature and scrutinised the normative codes which guide human agency. Despite some of the limitations which the theories have, their complementary use can be used successfully in order to gain a more critical perspective on the nature of world governance.

Introduction

In the contemporary era, the application of critical theoretical approaches is of significant importance if one is willing to develop a more comprehensive understanding of international politics and international relations. As this essay will demonstrate, although approaches such as Marxism, Constructivism and Feminism cannot alone provide such an understanding, their complementary use can significantly contribute to our increased awareness of global inequalities and the dimensions in which they occur.

Marxism

The impact of Marxist theory on the development of critical theorising in international politics is one the significance of which can hardly be denied. Despite this, Marxist theorist have often been accused of not taking into account factors such as nationalism, as well as the balance of power among states in order to sustain and structure world politics (Linklater, 2013). Moreover, Marxist theories in the late 1970s and early 1980s found it increasingly difficult to devise an analytical framework for explaining the relationship of nation-states and violence in period of increased globalisation, characterised by increased national fragmentation, as well the resurgence of violent conflicts based on ethnicity (Giddens, 1985). This can the attributed to the inability of traditional Marxist thought to move beyond theorising about the significance of class conflict and the importance of social relations in terms of modes of production. Despite this flaw, more contemporary neo-Marxist theorists have attempted to revitalise this critical approach by placing emphasis on the relationships between states, markets and the capitalist world economy in the era of globalisation (Teschke, 2003; Halliday, 1994; Rosenberg, 1994; Gamble, 1999). The application of Marxist thought has increasingly drawn attention to the problem of global inequality which the capitalist system has led to (Wallerstein, 1979; Thomas, 1999; Linklater, 2013). Thus, the importance of modes of production have successfully been utilised in order to challenge the economic discrepancy, which is characteristic of contemporary world markets and question the power relationships which exist between states on the international level. Being mainly preoccupied with material deprivation and inequality, however, Marxism has failed to take into account the norms and values which governance the structures of economics and politics, a question which has preoccupied constructivist theories of international relations.

Constructivism

By contrast to Marxism, Constructivism places emphasis not only on the importance of material structures, but as well as the normative dimension which is associated with it, as well the importance of identity formation and manifestation (Price and Reus-Smit, 1998). Thus, constructivism attempts to remedy the Marxist’s neglect of the importance of agency and its relationship to structure in the process of devising and implementing decisions related to international politics and relations among states in the era of globalisation (Reus-Smit, 2008).Therefore, Constructivism is complimentary to both more traditional approaches of theorising about international politics, such as Rationalism, as well as more critical approaches such as Marxism (Reus-Smit, 2013). More importantly, the significance of human agency is not deprived from the structure which determines the manifestation of the actor’s interests; in fact it calls for the critical evaluation of the institutionalised norms which are the mediator between structure and agency. This can be of considerable advantage of understanding the contemporary global inequalities which exists, between countries from the Third World and post-industrialist Western states, as it will question not only the existing states of affairs in international politics, but also the moral dimensions of the reasoning behind it. By placing emphasis on the development of normative frameworks which are used as guides and rationale for the implementation of specific decisions in relation to international politics, Constructivism can successfully scrutinise and ‘moralise’ the power inequality among states and if used alongside neo-Marxist theories it can question both structure and agency. What both fail to take into account, however, is that agency in the era of global inequality also has a specific dimension, a problem which is addressed by Feminism.

Feminism

By contrast to both Marxism and Constructivism, feminist theories of international politics and international relations took prominence only in the early 1990s, though their impact for the development of the academic disciplines has been considerable (True, 2003). Feminism as an intellectual tradition questioned the very nature of the agency which had an impact on the development of international politics and introduced in the notion of ‘gender’ as an empirical category and analytical tool through which global inequality and unequal power distribution could be understood (True, 2013). Thus, Feminism, alongside Constructivism could be considered as a major breakthrough as both of them questioned the more traditional discourse of power relations and moved beyond the singular focus on inter-state relations that characterised more traditional theories in the field of International Relations (ibid.). Feminist thought has attracted attention to the specific dimensions of global inequality, resulting from the transformation of economic world markets. In fact, it has been suggested that the process of globalisation has increased the inequality between men and women worldwide, ultimately resulting in a ‘feminisation of poverty’ (Chant, 2007; Chant, 2008). The increased emphasis on export and outsourcing reflecting the priorities of the global financial markets, have disproportionately affected women (Marchand and Runyan 2010). This rise in inequality and insecurity is also linked to the development of violent conflicts in states where inequality between genders is high (Goldstein, 2003). On the other hand, gender equality in states is said to reduce the likelihood of the use of violence in intra-state disputes (Caprioli, 2005; Caprioli and Boyer, 2001). Therefore, it could be argued that the use of more critical perspectives in theorising about international politics could significantly contribute to our understanding of global politics and could potentially results in less violent conflicts in the future if emphasis is placed on the reduction of global inequality and its gendered dimension.

Conclusion

As this essay has demonstrated, the critical theories of Marxism, Constructivism and Feminism could further our understanding of the nature of global inequalities by placing emphasis in not only on the relationship between the structure and agency, but also question their very nature and scrutinised the normative codes which guide human agency. Despite some of the limitations which these theories have, their complementary use can be used successfully in order to gain a more critical perspective on the nature of world governance.

Bibliography

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Chant, S. (2008). The ‘feminisation of poverty’and the ‘feminisation’of anti-poverty programmes: Room for revision?. The Journal of Development Studies, 44(2), 165-197.
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