An Appraisal Of The Place Of Realism And Constructivism In Sustainable Development

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The quest for sustainability remains one of the outstanding priorities of the modern world. Popularly defined as the ability for society to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the capacity to fulfill future demands, the meaning of the concept is straightforward. However, the process of achieving it is not, as it is constrained by several issues, many of which are contentious. Examples of sensitive areas include environmental degradation, social inequalities, and racism. The practice is presented with a plethora of theories on how to respond to these issues. Nevertheless, these theories, especially realism and constructivism, offer competing positions that can further complicate the quest for sustainability. How can these theories be applied objectively? Which method provides a better approach to sustainability? In the appraisal of realism and constructivism, this paper argues that both theories are relevant but limited to specific contexts. In particular, constructivism merits as a suitable approach for addressing social inequalities and other engendered topics such as racism, while realism suits areas such as environmental sustainability issues.

Constructivism vs. Realism

Constructivism asserts that much about the sustainability issues are mediated by historically and socially constructed ideas, which cannot be otherwise attributed to the inevitable consequences of humans, nature, and other elements of the world order. Its solution is idealistic. To address the sustainability issues, this theory advocates for the deconstruction of problematic ideologies. For instance, it would want society to revise its thinking about particular problems. After all, some of them are more engendered than real.

            Realism, on the other hand, rejects the constructivism position. It argues that sustainability issues are an attribute of human nature and other aspects of the world order. It is materialistic. This theory posits the need to revisit history and reverse the materials causing the problems to respond to sustainability challenges. It all follows that some issues are too real to be engendered.

Constructivism and Social Inequalities

Constructivism particularly applies to engendered areas such as racism. Here, the realist orientation is characterized by its strong focus on empirically and historically defined differences that could be discerned from the political structure and economic status between racial groups. It would attack the social stratification that is rooted in society, which the advocates wanted to be addressed. The only way these issues would be addressed, according to realists, is to revisit history and attempt to reverse the forces and the power that led to the problematic status quo, even if it means reallocating resources, power, or privilege.

The constructivist orientation sets itself apart from the realist approach based on its soft attitude towards the problematic status quo. It imagines racism as only existing in a conceptual and discursive world. This new approach emphasizes the power of narratives, stereotypes, texts, and scripts. The more people interact with race-bearing material, the more they become inclined to be part of the racist agenda. These materials can be passed from one generation to another through conversations or books, or even media contents. People can become racially charged actively or passively. From this thinking, society can address racism by getting rid of ideas, texts, narratives, and meanings that follow them. In its place, these ideas can be replaced by inclusive discourses that valorize diversity.

Therefore, the most popular side to identify with is the constructivist faction. While constructivist thinking runs away from the harsh reality of historical judgment and even departs from the actual forces that strained racial relationships, it is nevertheless a progressive stand. It offers a solution to various engendered structural problems, such as relations with indigenous communities. For instance, the issue of social exclusion can be resolved through decolonization or redefinition of racism (Oyate, 2020). It can also be applied beyond racism to address many problems such as those listed by Bevan-Baker (n.d.), including short-term thinking, rugged individualism, and apathetic populace, among others.

 Indeed, applying the realist stand will be met with unprecedented resistance. The realists, for instance, would demand a state in which society goes back in history and addresses all the forces of the dark past. For example, they would want resources and power reallocated afresh. Ideally, this change is not possible. The current status quo has some sort of permanence that cannot be changed. Constructivist thinking becomes a feasible solution. After all, racism did not just happen in the past. It has continued to take place through the social construction of differences. Constructivist thinking could serve society right in addressing some of the related problems where realism fails to offer a probable solution.

Realism and Environmental Sustainability

Realism is suited to address topics that are beyond engendering. For instance, realism explains the causes of environmental degradation beyond what can be possibly challenged by constructivism. Indeed, the problem of the worsening environment is real to the extent that it cannot be engendered. For example, the issue of reducing the problem of salmon results partly from acid rainfall (Halfyard, 2020). Similarly, cases such as global warming and environmental degradation are real and can be attributed to anthropogenic factors. Addressing it requires society to confront pollution and engage in restoration activities.


Both the constructivist and realist theories are an important guide for resolving some of the sustainability issues. Constructivism merits as a suitable approach for addressing social inequalities and racism, while realism fits the environmental sustainability issue. Constructivism is only limited to engendered situations. On the other hand, realism suits materialistic contexts where engendering does not apply.

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GradShark (2023). An Appraisal of the Place of Realism and Constructivism in Sustainable Development. GradShark.

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