The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions
835 pág.

The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions


DisciplinaCiências Políticas e Teoria do Estado622 materiais7.848 seguidores
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to refer to
constructivist institutionalism as a new addition to the family of institutionalisms.
Yet this can, I think, be justiWed. Indeed, sad though this may well be, the prospect
of such a common research agenda is perhaps not as great as the above comments
might suggest. That this is so is the product of a recent \u2018\u2018hollowing-out\u2019\u2019 of
historical institutionalism. Animated, it seems, by the (laudable) desire to
build bridges, many of the most prominent contemporary advocates of historical
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institutionalism (notably Peter Hall (with David Soskice, 2001) and Paul Pierson
(2004)) seem increasingly to have resolved the calculus\u2013cultural balance which
they discern at the heart of historical institutionalism in favor of the former. The
bridge which they would seem to be anxious to build, then, runs from historical
institutionalism, by way of an acknowledgment of the need to incorporate micro-
foundations into institutionalist analysis, to rational choice institutionalism. This
is a trajectory that not only places a sizable and ever-growing wedge between
cultural and calculus approaches to institutional analysis, but one which essentially
also closes oV the alternative path to a more dynamic historical constructivist
institutionalism.
2 The Analytical and Ontological
Distinctiveness of Constructivist
Institutionalism
.........................................................................................................................................................................................
In the context, then, of contemporary developments in new institutionalist schol-
arship, the analytical and ontological assumptions of constructivist institutionalism
are highly distinctive. They represent a considerable advance on their rationalist
and normative/sociological predecessors, at least in terms of their capacity to
inform an endogenous account of complex institutional evolution, adaptation,
and innovation.8
Actors are strategic, seeking to realize certain complex, contingent, and con-
stantly changing goals. They do so in a context which favors certain strategies
over others and must rely upon perceptions of that context which are at best
incomplete and which may very often prove to have been inaccurate after the
event. Moreover, ideas in the form of perceptions \u2018\u2018matter\u2019\u2019 in a second sense\u2014
for actors are oriented normatively towards their environment. Their desires,
preferences, and motivations are not a contextually given fact\u2014a reXection of
material or even social circumstance\u2014but are irredeemably ideational, reXecting
a normative (indeed moral, ethical, and political) orientation towards the context
8 This is an important caveat. Ontologies are not contending theories that can be adjudicated
empirically since what counts as evidence in the Wrst place is not an ontologically neutral issue.
Thus, while certain ontological assumptions can preclude a consideration, say, of disequilibrium
dynamics (by essentially denying their existence), this does not in itself invalidate them. On the
dangers of ontological evangelism, see Hay (2005).
constructivist institutionalism 63
in which they will have to be realized. As this suggests, for constructivists, politics
is rather less about the blind pursuit of transparent material interest and rather
more about both the fashioning, identiWcation, and rendering actionable of such
conceptions, and the balancing of (presumed) instrumentality and rather more
aVective motivations (see also Wendt 1999, 113\u201335).9 Consequently, actors are not
analytically substitutable (as in rational choice or normative/sociological institu-
tionalism), just as their preference sets or logics of conduct cannot be derived
from the (institutional) setting in which they are located. Interests are social
constructions and cannot serve as proxies for material factors; as a consequence
they are far more diYcult to operationalize empirically than is conventionally
assumed (at least, in a non-tautological way: see also Abdelal, Blyth, and Parsons
2005; Blyth 2003).
In common with rationalist variants of institutionalism, the context is viewed in
largely institutional terms. Yet institutions are understood less as functional means
of reducing uncertainty, so much as structures whose functionality or dysfunction-
ality is an open\u2014empirical and historical\u2014question. Indeed, constructivist insti-
tutionalists place considerable emphasis on the potentially ineVective and
ineYcient nature of social institutions; on institutions as the subject and focus of
political struggle; and on the contingent nature of such struggles whose
outcomes can in no sense be derived from the extant institutional context itself
(see, especially, Blyth 2002).
These are the basic analytical ingredients of constructivist institutionalism\u2019s
approach to institutional innovation, evolution, and transformation. Within this
perspective, change is seen to reside in the relationship between actors and the
context in which they Wnd themselves, between institutional \u2018\u2018architects,\u2019\u2019 institu-
tionalized subjects, and institutional environments. More speciWcally, institutional
change is understood in terms of the interaction between strategic conduct and the
strategic context within which it is conceived, and in the later unfolding of its
consequences, both intended and unintended. As in historical institutionalism,
such a formulation is path dependent: the order in which things happen aVects how
they happen; the trajectory of change up to a certain point itself constrains the
trajectory after that point; and the strategic choices made at a particular moment
9 The aYnities between constructivism in international relations theory and constructivist insti
tutionalism are, perhaps on this point especially, considerable. And, on the face of it, there is nothing
terribly remarkable about that. Yet however tempting it might be to attribute the latter\u2019s view of
preference/interest formation to the former, this would be mistaken. For while the still recent labeling
of constructivist institutionalism as a distinctive position in its own right has clearly been inXuenced
by the prominence of constructivism within international relations theory (Abdelal et al. 2005), the
causal and constitutive role accorded to ideas by such institutionalists predates the rise of construct
ivism in international relations (see, for instance, Blyth 1997; Hall 1993; Hay 1996). As such, con
structivism in international relations and constructivist institutionalism are perhaps best seen as
parallel if initially distinct developments.
64 colin hay
eliminate whole ranges of possibilities from later choices while serving as the very
condition of existence of others (see also Tilly 1994). Yet, pointing to path depend-
ence does not preclude the identiWcation of moments of path-shaping institutional
change, in which the institutional architecture is signiWcantly reconWgured.
Moreover, and at odds with most existing new institutionalist scholarship, such
path-shaping institutional change is not merely seen as a more-or-less functional
response to exogenous shocks.
Further diVerentiating it from new institutionalist orthodoxy, constructivist
institutionalists emphasize not only institutional path dependence, but also
ideational path dependence. In other words, it is not just institutions, but the
very ideas on which they are predicated and which inform their design and
development, that exert constraints on political autonomy. Institutions are built
on ideational foundations which exert an independent path dependent eVect on
their subsequent development.
Constructivist institutionalism thus seeks to identify, detail, and interrogate
the extent to which\u2014through