chapter  3
23 Pages

Culture and constructivism

Nazi potentate Hermann Göring famously remarked that “when I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.”1 To some extent, a similar animosity towards culture can be found in the mainstream of the discipline of IR. In his path-breaking edited volume on the role of culture in international politics, Peter J. Katzenstein argues that for Realists, “culture and identity are, at best, derivative of the distribution of capabilities and have no independent explanatory power. For rationalists, actors deploy culture and identity strategically, like any other resource, simply to further their own self-interest.”2 Given the silence within IR theory on culture, it has largely been left to sociological approaches to examine the state as a social actor, embedded in social rules and conventions that shape its identity and constitute the normative backdrop of the “national interests” that motivate its actions. Since the mid 1990s, culture has made a gradual, long-awaited entry in the realm of IR with the works of scholars such as Nicholas G. Onuf, Yosef Lapid, Friedrich Kratochwil, and Katzenstein.3 Alexander Wendt’s study Social Theory of International Politics (1999) has gone farthest in developing a constructivist ontology dealing with the role of culture in politics.4