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ECPR Virtual Methods School 2020

Constructivist Theory and Global Constitutionalism

Political Theory
Jan Wilkens
Universität Hamburg
Jan Wilkens
Universität Hamburg

Constructivism and the study of Global Constitutionalism developed a prolific relationship over recent years. The article will show that this is based on the epistemological and
ontological assumptions of Constructivism as a social science approach more generally. Further, the increasing influence of Constructivism within IR scholarship and its analytical
interest is strongly interrelated with the concept of Global Constitutionalism. This article will highlight the importance of both levels, the philosophical tradition of Constructivism and the contributions of Constructivism in IR, in the study of Global Constitutionalism.

Notably, the relationship between international politics and international law has been an issue for scholars of international relations (IR) since the founding of the discipline.
Following the epistemological and ontological positivism of early IR theories, the interested here revolved around why international law is ‘followed’, ‘acknowledged’ or ‘neglected’ by states focusing on the formality of law and the question of “obligation”. With the growing influence of Constructivism in IR, scholarship has moved beyond this narrow focus on (international) law.

In most general terms Constructivism in IR is often seen as particularly helpful in regard the understanding of international law and, one can add, global constitutionalism following two grand themes Constructivism is substantially concerned with.

First, Constructivism’s focus on norms constitutes the fundamental ‘bridge’ to the discipline of international law. Here, a common interest lies in the way norms work, to what extent it makes sense to distinguish between social and legal norms and, if so, how the relationship between the two can be characterised. This vibrant scholarship at the nexus of law, norms and politics clearly constitutes a first important aspect for the understanding of global constitutionalism.

Second, scholars of Constructivism in IR have substantially advanced the debate on (global) order. This article argues that, on the one hand, Constructivism’s focus on the increase of international (legal) structures helped to develop an understanding of processes of constitutionalisation and raised questions about ‘constitutional quality’ in the global realm other IR approaches would rather neglect. On the other hand, Constructivism’s rejection to take concepts like ‘the state’ for granted, enables researchers to dissect how existing structures, like the modern state system, that are seen as given are changing.

The concept of Global Constitutionalism opens up the space to analyse not only modes of governance, but also problematizes the relation between forms of governance and those affected by them. Similarly, Constructivism invites scholars to focus on the construction and emergence of normativity. This will continue to be a key issue since Global Constitutionalism raises questions about normative questions about democratic and legitimate forms of governance. In order to answer what these terms mean in a particular context. Insights from Constructivism are particularly helpful, since it does not assume a priori universal or general existing interest, but rather focuses on how particular meanings of fundamental norms are in use and re-shaped through social interaction. Hence, the analysis of normativity is of central importance for Constructivism and Global Constitutionalism.
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