A Meta-Theoretical Critique of the Social Ontology Understanding in International Relations


Klevis KOLASİ*


Although the understanding of social ontology has been the subject of intense debate among constructivists in the discipline of International Relations the prevailing view drawn from these debates tends to equate social ontology with an intersubjective ontology. This stand, which is prominent among the constructivists adopting an interpretive epistemology, obstructs the conceptualization of the objective aspect of social ontology which is independent of intersubjective meanings. This article aims to rethink the social ontology understanding prevalent among the constructivists. This article argues that social ontology cannot be reduced to an intersubjective ontology. The article, based on the insights provided by scientific realism, suggests that the prevalent social ontology understanding in IR is derived from the interpretive epistemological concerns of constructivism and that the conceptualization of the objective aspect of social reality would remain inadequate in case we equate social ontology with intersubjective meanings. Specifically, it is argued that if we try to reduce social structure into the level of practices constituted by intersubjective meanings, we are forced to reduce the significance of social conditions into the significance of norms, rules or discourses. On the other hand, a proper conceptualization of social relations in international relations like hierarchy and dependency, which cannot be reduced to intersubjective meanings, requires considering the objective dimension of social reality.

Keywords: Social Ontology, Intersubjective Ontology, Interpretivism, Social Relations, Scientific Realism


* Lecturer, Department of International Relations, Ankara University, Ankara.