Foreign policy and identity

O'Dwyer, Emma (2018) Foreign policy and identity. In: Hewer, Christopher and Lyons, Evanthia, (eds.) Political psychology: a social psychological approach. Chichester, U.K. : Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 189-206. ISBN 9781118982389


This chapter considers the relationship between foreign policy and identity, drawing on research from international relations and social psychology. While the former discipline, in line with its ‘constructivist turn’ (Checkel, 1998), now focuses to a greater extent on identity-related concerns in addition to realist (or instrumental) factors in the construction and practice of foreign policy, nevertheless it is argued here that there is relatively little attention to the participation of citizens in these processes. States do not somehow operate independently of their citizens - foreign policy concerns the thoughts, actions and representations of citizens, and the outcome of international relations’ focus on the behaviour of nation states is that this agentic potential has been underexplored. In this chapter, it is argued that a social psychological approach to these issues is well-placed to recognise the central role played by citizens in the construction, practice and maintenance/resistance of foreign policy. Further, social psychological theory can contribute to an understanding of the ways in which historical processes underpin the specific foreign policy actions of nation states. It is argued here that the crux of social psychology’s potential contribution stems from its recognition of the nation state as a constellation of identities, representations and narratives associated with a particular group – the national in-group. Illustrating such a perspective, this chapter will reference empirical work conducted on the case of Irish neutrality (O’Dwyer, Cohrs & Lyons, in press), which has utilised the theoretical framework of social representations theory (Elcheroth, Doise & Reicher, 2011; Moscovici, 1961/76). This research reveals the dynamic relationship between national identity and the Irish state’s foreign policy, and considers possibilities for social change in light of this relationship. The chapter closes by outlining possibilities for further social psychological research.

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