Competing Paradigms or Birds of a Feather? Constructivism and Neoliberal Institutionalism Compared

  • Citation: Sterling-Folker, Jennifer. "Competing Paradigms or Birds of a Feather? Constructivism and neoliberal institutionalism compared." International Studies Quarterly 44.1 (2000): 97-119.
    • Topics:
    • IR Theories
    • Keywords:
    • constructivism
    • neoliberal institutionalism
    • cooperation

This article compares constructivism and neoliberal institutionalism and argues that in their reification as paradigms in competition, the IO theoretical community is making far too much of what are relatively small differences between them in the metatheoretical scheme of things. These claims are substantiated by comparing functionalism, neo-functionalism, neoliberal institutionalism, and constructivism. Such an examination reveals that they all depend on the same mechanism of functional institutional efficiency in order to account for social change. Thus when constructivism has been utilized as an explanation for change and transformation, it has tended to reach many of the same conclusions, and in the same manner, as other variants of liberal IR theory. In addition, this comparison reveals that, despite its assumption of exogenous interests, neoliberal institutionalism relies implicitly on an identity transformation in order to account for cooperation’s maintenance. Such a transformation is entirely consistent with constructivist expectations. The choice between neoliberal institutionalism and constructivism is not paradigmatic and is merely a choice between explaining short-term, behavioral cooperation in the moment or its development into communal cooperation in the future. The article concludes with some general observations regarding why this parallel has occurred and what its implications are for our understanding of IO.

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