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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: March 2016

5 - The responsibility to accommodate: ideas and change

from Part I - Mechanisms of accommodation


T.V. Paul notes in Chapter 1 that constructivist IR scholarship has not developed a theory of power transitions. Despite the fact that once such a statement gets put into print, someone is bound to come forward and contest it, the claim is plausible enough if one views constructivism not so much as a theory of international politics, but rather as a set of ontological and epistemological commitments respecting the role of ideas in constituting social and political life, including (but not limited to) international politics. Beyond the assertion that ideas are central to making a society what it is, there are many different forms of constructivism. At the most general level, a constructivist perspective brings at least three things to the table in analyzing the problem of peaceful accommodation: (1) a delineation of the ideational contours of the society or order into which emerging powers should be accommodated; (2) a more refined understanding of the identities of those involved, especially considering the question of who is doing the accommodating, and who is to be accommodated; and (3) some specification of the role of ideas in the process of accommodation. This chapter deploys a constructivist orientation in reviewing and assessing approaches grounded primarily in the liberal and realist traditions, but including also the international society school, security communities literature, and the “practice turn” in IR, with the aim of fleshing out these three dimensions of the problem of accommodation. My analysis leads me to conclude that ultimately, accommodation is a moral responsibility falling both on the dominant and the aspiring powers. With so much at stake, both hegemon and aspirant must draw on some common stock of ideas in order to intentionally develop meaningful practices of accommodation; institutions alone will not “solve” the problem of accommodation.

Although, because of their focus on the role of ideas, constructivists tend to emphasize that international order is malleable in principle because it is a social construct, they are unified neither in how they conceptualize the current international order, nor in regarding the actual malleability of international society at any given time, nor about the process by which international orders are transformed.