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Global Liberalism Versus Political Islam: Competing Ideological Frameworks in International Politics

Fiona B. Adamson
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2486.2005.00532.x 547-569 First published online: 1 December 2005

Over the past decade, a vibrant international relations (IR) research agenda has developed around the role of norms and the dynamics of normative change in world politics (for reviews, see Adler 1997; Checkel 1998; Desch 1998; Hopf 1998). From an initial concern with demonstrating that “norms matter” (for example, Katzenstein 1996) to more recent research that delineates the specific actors, mechanisms, and causal processes by which particular norms come to be accepted by actors in the international system (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998; Keck and Sikkink 1998: Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink 1999; Risse 2000), the study of international norms has emerged as a core constructivist concern in IR. Despite this progress, however, one cannot fail to note that the constructivist research agenda on norms and normative change appears to be curiously ill-equipped to shed light on many recent developments in world politics, such as the use of violence by ideologically motivated actors and transnational networks or the role of religion and culture in international affairs. Ironically, it is the work of someone far removed from the social constructivist research agenda—Samuel Huntington (1996) in The Clash of Civilizations—who generated the most public debate in the 1990s on the role of ideational factors in world affairs. And, in the aftermath of September 11, Huntington's controversial thesis appears to resonate even more strongly, while the “meat and bones” of the mainstream constructivist research agenda—the benign power of international norms, global civil society, and strategies of communicative action, argumentation, and persuasion—appear to have lost some of their sway.

This essay will argue that the failing of social constructivism to grapple with some of the issues that have come to the fore in world politics over the past several years is the result of two theoretical limitations that have …

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