Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action and Constructivism in International Relations





Published date: 

June, 2012


Hsuan-hsiang Lin


One of the well-known debates in International Relations is between rationalism and constructivism, in which rationalism submits that the actions of states observe “the logic of consequentialism”while constructivism “the logic of appropriateness”. In recent years a branch of constructivism attempts to appropriate Habermas’s theory of communicative action and argues that the actions of states follow a third logic, the “logic of truth seeking or arguing,” which takes the form of communicative action. These constructivists believes that the theory of communicative action can help to illuminate the “micro-mechanism” through which states’ preferences or interests change over the course of interaction, and they argue this change can be caused by “the force of better argument”. This paper aims to explore how the theory of communicative action is appropriated by this branch of constructivism and examine whether communicative actions actually take place in international arena. It further investigates what challenges and queries that this approach may encounter, and then provides an assessment of the achievements and limits of this approach. By so doing this paper aims to show that even though the appropriation of the theory of communicative action by constructivists has produced a new research program, empirical studies suggest that constructivist explanation, which relies on the idea of communicative action, does not overwhelmingly prevail over rationalist explanation, which relies of the idea of strategic action, and constructivist explanations will continue to be beset by rationalist explanations. This leads to the conclusion that since Habermas’s theoretical enterprise is by nature a critical theory, its positivist appropriation in IR is not very productive.