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Two Versions of the Whole: On the Different Concepts of Structure in Neo-Realism and Post-Structuralism

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Abstract

Kenneth Waltz, first in Man, the sate and War (1959) , and foremost in Theory of International Politics (1979) is acknowledged among international relations (IR) theoreticians as having reinforced, if not introduced, the structural perspective on the study of international phenomena. Concerned about the level of what he named "reductionism" in the field, Waltz developed an analytical framework which he claimed capable of explaining and predicting state''s behavior without further domestic considerations. As an electrical system (Hollis, Smith, 1990) his own would kept functioning despite qualitative changes in the nature of its units. City-States, territorial Monarquies, Feudal political units and even 20th century Nations States were to face, according to neo-realism, the same international structure, in the form of the same external constrains.(Wight, 2006). Although that is the main stream conception of structure in IR, dated from half a century, it''s not, and had never been, the only one. Pos-structuralism conceives the same "whole", though certainly more than the "sum of its parts", in a way quite different from the neo-realist one. Inspired by french philosophers and the linguistic turn of the 60''s, the so called post-moderns, pos-positivists, or post-structuralists in IR considerer the category structure to be far more unit related, dispersed, omnipresent and at times microphysical, than the mere disposition of capabilities. This paper aims to appraise this very difference, between two holist approaches (Guzzini, 2001; Wendt, 1999), that appear to comprehend the term structure in a contradictory manner. It questions what is to be understood of beeing a structuralist in IR, as well as its practical implications. By posing the difference it aims also to clarify that the simplicity with which the agent-structure dichotomy is usually portrayed is quite misleading. Even when the whole is the ultimate "cause", there are at least two versions of it.