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Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics

Alexander Wendt
International Organization
Vol. 46, No. 2 (Spring, 1992), pp. 391-425
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2706858
Page Count: 35
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Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics
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Abstract

The claim that international institutions can transform state interests is central to neoliberal challenges to the realist assumption that "process" (interaction and learning among states) cannot fundamentally affect system "structure" (anarchy and the distribution of capabilities). Systematic development of this claim, however, has been hampered by the neoliberals' commitment to rational choice theory, which treats interests as exogenously given and thus offers only a weak form of institutional analysis. A growing body of international relations scholarship points to ways in which the identities and interests of states are socially constructed by knowledgeable practice. This article builds a bridge between this scholarship and neoliberalism by developing a theory of identity- and interest-formation in support of the neoliberal claim that international institutions can transform state interests. Its substantive focus is the realist view that anarchies are necessarily self-help systems, which justifies disinterest in processes of identity- and interest-formation. Self-help is a function not of anarchy but of process and, as such, is itself an institution that determines the meaning of anarchy and the distribution of power for state action. The article concludes with an examination of how this institution can be transformed by practices of sovereignty, by an evolution of cooperation, and by critical strategic practice.

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