Work in Progress

Habits and Policy: The Social Construction of Foreign Policymaking Processes

My book project seeks to answer why countries with similar formal rules of the game for making foreign policy follow fundamentally different policymaking practices from each other; how does this happen; and, with what consequences for both security and trade policies directed toward the United States.

Despite indications of the influence of domestic institutions on policymaking, little has been written about why and how democracies with similar rules of the game for making foreign policy have fundamentally different foreign policymaking processes from each other. Much of my research program involves investigating the effects of habits of decision-making—i.e. the systematic behavior policymakers automatically engage in when making foreign policy—on foreign policy. At the turn of the twenty-first century the “practice turn” in international relations theory stresses that much of what people do as actors in the social world is not conscious or deliberate, but rather unconscious and habitual. Through semi-structured interviews with senior foreign policymakers in Argentina, Brazil and Chile (including, but not limited to, former Presidents, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ambassadors) and the close analysis of other in-country primary and secondary sources, I show the effects of habits in the foreign policies of Argentina, Brazil and Chile, by comparing their foreign policymaking processes toward the United States. Argentina, Brazil and Chile have strikingly similar formal institutions of foreign policy decision-making. Yet despite this similarity, the processes are very different. In some cases decision-makers embrace certain habits in which Presidents have sole discretion in making policy, whereas in others other actors weigh in. That is, one of the most important findings from this research is that, when an opportunity to make a critical foreign policy decision opens up—such as a decision to go to war or to negotiate a hemispheric trade agreement—the behavior of policymakers tends to follow automatically from habitual practices of decision-making, rather than from parchment institutions that, in theory, ought to determine who should decide what and how. This reveals how important habits can be to how countries behave in international affairs and helps explain some policy processes and outcomes—even in the national security arena—that a focus solely on domestic institutions would not.

Tacking Stock and Moving Forward: Constructivism in International Relations

Since the beginning of the 1990s, constructivism has gained a prominent role as an approach to the study of international relations. IR students have enjoyed access to several excellent guides to constructivist theories and even methods, yet those wanting to do constructivist research have had to synthesize enormous literatures on their own, with no guide pointing to the many alternatives—or the shortcomings—of the approach.

Together with Professors Patrick James and Jarrod Hayes, I am charting such road map by assembling the first data set on constructivist scholarship in international affairs. Our goal is to identify the main substantive, methodological and research-goals patterns of constructivist work in IR. During Spring 2015 we held a workshop with prominent constructivists and IR theorists at USC’s Center for International Studies on “Constructivism and Its Critics,” aimed at producing a co-edited volume from the workshop’s contributions to be published by a major university press. The editor at Cambridge University Press has already indicated approval of concept.