Practice theory and relationalism as the new constructivism

David M. McCourt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this theory note, I address two new approaches in international relations theory gaining adherents and producing insightful applications: practice theory and relationalism. Practice theory draws attention to everyday logics in world politics. It stresses how international actors are driven less by abstract notions of the national interest, identities, or preferences than by context-dependent practical imperatives. Relationalism rejects the idea that entities-like states and international organizations-are the basic units of world politics. It replaces them with a focus on ongoing processes. Noting similarities in their arguments to those advanced by early constructivists, I argue that, taken together, practice theory and relationalism represent the New Constructivism in International Relations (IR). A practice-relational turn became necessary because the meaning of constructivism narrowed over time, becoming tied to a specific scientific ontology focusing on the role of identity, norms, and culture in world politics. This ontology unduly narrowed constructivism's theoretical lenses, which practice theory and relationalism productively reopen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-485
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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