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The Purpose and Pitfalls of Constructivist Forecasting: Insights from Strategic Culture Research for the European Union’s Evolution as a Military Power


  •  The author acknowledges past support from a Postdoctoral Marie Curie Research Fellow (HPMF-CT-2002-01791) as well as a Starting Investigator Grant of the European Research Council for the Foresight project (No 202022). A previous version of the paper was presented at the 2009 ISA Convention in New York. The author thanks Felix Berenskoetter and Ed Lock for detailed comments on the paper as well as the editors and three anonymous reviewers of ISQ. The paper benefited indirectly from the many discussions the author had with members of the Foresight team: Chiara de Franco, John Brante, and Florian Otto. The usual disclaimer applies.


The paper discusses the epistemological and normative problems arising for constructivists when attempting to forecast international events but argues that forecasting is both scientifically rewarding as well as normatively desirable. Constructivism has strengths in conceptualizing forecasting as a social activity that can shape the future itself but also weaknesses in formulating substantive mid-range theories and drawing on insights from other areas. The paper uses the debate about the European Union as an evolving military power to exemplify the normative as well as the epistemological potential of constructivist forecasting. It argues that insights from strategic culture research are particularly suited to outline trajectories of the likely when combined with the assessment of internal and external drivers of ideational and material change, the examination of discontinuities, and key uncertainties.