The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions
DisciplinaCiências Políticas e Teoria do Estado622 materiais • 7.846 seguidores
of a more \u2018\u2018normal\u2019\u2019 condition in which actors\u2019 interests are once again made clear and transparent to them.As nature abhors a vacuum, so, it seems, political systems abhor uncertainty. Crises thus unleash short bouts of intense ideational contestation in which agents struggle to provide compelling and convincing diagnoses of the pathologies aZicting the old regime/policy paradigm and the reforms appropriate to the resolution of the crisis. Moreover, and crucially for his analysis, such crisis theories, arising as they do inmoments of uncertainty, play a genuinely constructive 10 It is perhaps again important to note that although constructivist institutionalists come to a position very similar to that of their fellow constructivists in international relations suggesting, for instance, that \u2018\u2018crises are what states make of them\u2019\u2019 (cf. Wendt 1992), this is an empirical observation not a logical correlate of a prior ontological commitment. 11 The following paragraphs draw on and further develop the argument Wrst presented in Hay (2004b, 207 13). constructivist institutionalism 67 role in establishing a new trajectory of institutional evolution. They are, in other words, not reducible to the condition they seek to describe and explain. The implications of this are clear\u2014if we are to understand path-shaping institu- tional change we must acknowledge the independent causal and constitutive role of ideas, since the developmental trajectory of a given regime or policy paradigm cannot be derived from the exhibited or latent contradictions of the old regime or policy paradigm. It is, instead, contingent upon the ideational contestation unleashed in the moment of crisis itself. Though this is not an inference that Blyth himselfdraws, there is, then,nohopeof apredictive scienceof crisis resolution, capable of pointing prior to the onset of crisis to the path of institutional change\u2014for the causal chain is incomplete until such time as the crisis has been successfully narrated. This is an important intervention and it provides a series of correspondingly signiWcant insights into the developmental trajectories of Swedish and US capital- ism in the twentieth century. In particular, it draws attention to the role of business in proselytizing and sponsoring new and/or alternative economic theories and in setting the discursive parameters within which inXuential crisis narratives are likely to be framed, and to the crucial relationship between business, think tanks, and professional economists. It also reminds us, usefully, that in order to prove inXuential, (economic) ideas need not bear much relationship to the reality they purportedly represent. In a classically constructivist institutionalist vein, it demonstrates that, if believed and acted upon, economic ideas have a tendency to become self-fulWlling prophecies (see also Hay and Rosamond 2002). Yet its limitations also show that constructivist institutionalism is still very much a work in progress. Blyth raises just as many theoretical, methodological, and, indeed, empirical questions as he answers. Moreover, the text is characterized by some signiWcant and by no means unrepresentative tensions, contradictions, and silences. None of these are insurmountable impediments to the development of a more consistently constructivist institutionalism. Yet they do perhaps serve to indicate the work still required if the profound challenge that constructivism poses to more conventional approaches to institutional analysis, and the insights it oVers, are both to be more widely appreciated. In the context of contemporary neoinstitutionalism, it is Blyth\u2019s comments on the relationship between ideas and interests that are likely to prove most controversial. It is in these comments that the distinctiveness of the constructivist variantof institutionalismresides.His core claim is, in essence, that actors\u2019 conduct is not a (direct) reXection of their material interests but, rather, a reXection of particu- lar perceptions of their material interests (see also Wendt 1999, 113\u201335). Our material circumstances do not directly determine our behavior, though our perceptions of such circumstances (and, indeed, of our stake in various conceivable outcomes), may.12 In his own terms, it is ideas that render interests \u2018\u2018actionable\u2019\u2019 (Blyth 2002, 39). 12 The parentheses are important here. There is something of a tendency in the existing literature to treat the issue of interest formation and representation as a question solely of the accuracy of the information actors have about their external environment. If there is a disparity between an actor\u2019s 68 colin hay However intuitively plausible or obvious this may seem, it is important to note that it sits in some considerable tension to almost all existing neoinstitutionalist scholarship. For, conventionally, it is actors\u2019 material interests rather than their perceptionsof those interests thatareassumedthekeydeterminantsof their behavior. Though convenient and parsimonious, this is unrealistic\u2014and this is the construc- tivist\u2019s point. Yet, there is some ambiguity and inconsistency in themanner inwhich he operationalizes this important insight, which speaks to a potentially wider ambiguity within constructivist institutionalism. For, on occasions, Blyth refers to interests as \u2018\u2018social constructs that are open to redeWnition through ideological contestation\u2019\u2019 (2002, 271; see also Abdelal, Blyth, and Parsons 2006). All trace of a materialist conception of interest is eliminated at a stroke. At other points in the text, however, interests are treated as materially given and as clearly separate from per- ceptions of interests, as for instance when he counterposes the \u2018\u2018ideas held by agents\u2019\u2019 and \u2018\u2018their structurally-derived interests\u2019\u2019 (2002, 33\u20134). Here, like many other con- structivists, Blyth seems to fall back on an essentiallymaterial conception of interests (see also Berman 1998;McNamara 1998;Wendt 1999).Obviously itmakes no sense to view the latter as social constructs. To be clear, though these two formulations are mutually exclusive (interests are either social constructs or given bymaterial circum- stances, they cannot be both), neither is incompatible with Blyth\u2019s core claim (that in order to be actionable, interests have to be capable of being articulated). They are merely diVerent ways of operationalizing that core assumption. Yet it does serve to hide a potentially more fundamental lacuna. This only becomes fully apparent when Blyth\u2019s second core premise is recalled: crises are situations in which actors\u2019 interests (presumably here conceptualized as social constructs rather than material givens) become blurred. In itself this is far from self-evident and, given the centrality of the claim to the overall argument he presents, it is perhaps surprising that Blyth chooses not to defend the claim. It is not clear that moments of crisis do indeed lead to uncertainty about actors\u2019 interests. Indeed, whilst crises might plausibly be seen to provide focal points around which competing political narratives might serve to reorient actors\u2019 sense of their own self-interest, in the Wrst instance are they not more likely to result in the vehement reassertion, expression, and articulation of prior conceptions of self-interest\u2014often in the intensity of political conXict? Is it not somewhat perverse, for instance, to suggest that during the infamous Winter of Discontent of 1978\u20139 (as clear an instance of crisis as one might imagine), Britain\u2019s striking perceived interests and those we might attribute to them given an exhaustive analysis of their material circumstances, this is assumed to be a function solely of the incompleteness of the actor\u2019s information.