Constructivism, Social Psychology, and Elite Attitude Change: Lessons from an Exhausted Research Program
31 Pages Posted: 31 May 2012
Date Written: February 26, 1998
Over the past decade, constructivist students of international relations have argued that national preferences are shaped at least in part by socially constructed norms and understandings at the international level. Students of the European Union in particular have argued that national officials may be socialized in the EU’s deeply institutionalized setting into new understandings of their own preferences and identities, and EU scholars have begun to test these claims empirically. The aim of this paper is simply to serve as a sort of prologue - and a warning - to this new generation of empirical researchers. More specifically, I demonstrate how, four decades before constructivist analyses became well known in international relations, students of social psychology predicted that participants in international organizations like the United Nations and the European Community would become socialized into new international roles, and as a result would experience cognitive and affective attitude changes making them more 'international' or “European” in outlook. In the 1960s and 1970s, these social psychologists and integration theorists undertook a collective, decades-long research program, extensively surveying participants in both global and regional organizations. Yet these scholars, in spite of the range and sophistication of their empirical research methods, found little or no evidence of the predicted attitude changes, and the generally positive attitudes toward international organizations found among many such participants could be attributed to self-selection rather than socialization in those organizations.
Keywords: European Union, international organizations, elites, socialization, attitude change, identity, self-selection
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation