Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999

Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999

Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999

Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999

Synopsis

Ted Hopf challenges contemporary theorizing about international relations. He advances what he believes is a commonsensical notion: a state's domestic identity has an enormous effect on its international policies.

Excerpt

In February 1993 I received a phone call from the Grand Rapids World Affairs Council. They asked if I would give a talk on U.S. interests in central Asia. They must have figured that, as a Sovietologist, I knew something about that part of the former Soviet Union. They were wrong, but, being a political scientist, I did not let my lack of area expertise dissuade me from accepting their invitation.

A little research made it clear, to me at least, that the United States had precious few interests in central Asia. But, having written a book on deterrence theory and U.S. foreign policy in the Third World during the Cold War, I knew the lack of substantive interests had never been an obstacle to U.S. interventions around the world. My assumption thus was that, if Russia had interests in central Asia, then the United States would derive whatever interests it had there from the Russian presence, in tried and true Cold War fashion.

But I then had to ask why would Russia itself care about central Asia? It occurred to me that the Russian diaspora in these countries might provide such an interest, that there might be some kind of ethnonational bond between Russians in, say, Uzbekistan and Russians in Russia. I could see how certain political elites in Moscow could try to garner electoral support by offering to protect Russians in the near abroad from putative abuses by their new governments, but I wondered whether these Russians in central Asia even thought of themselves as Russians any more, rather than as merely Uzbek citizens.

At this point, my research stalled because I did not know how identities worked. I then fortuitously attended a talk by a visiting anthropologist, Dru Gladney, on Uighur identity in Sinkiang, China. I learned from that talk that what I should be doing was figuring out how Russians themselves were constructing their identities on an everyday basis in a variety of different social contexts in Uzbekistan.

I gave my talk in Grand Rapids in the Gerald Ford Presidential Library, but it was a talk that ended with question marks about how Russians abroad might in fact understand who they were.

Several different events came together to shape how I pursued my new interest in identity and foreign policy. I was already teaching a course on qualitative methods at the University of Michigan. I developed a course on . . .

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