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Journal Articles New Political Economy Year : 2016

Good in a crisis: the ontological institutionalism of social constructivism


This paper seeks to recover and establish the distinct (and distinctly) institutionalist social ontology that underpins social constructivism as an approach to political economic analysis. It views social constructivism as a profoundly normative mode of political inquiry which seeks to discern, interrogate and elucidate the contingency of social, political and economic change – restoring politics (broadly understood) to processes and practices typically seen to be inevitable, necessary and non-negotiable. More controversially, perhaps, it also sees social constructivism, after both Berger and Luckmann and Searle, as ontologically institutionalist. Social constructivism, it is argued, has its origins in the attempt to establish the ontological distinctiveness of institutions as ‘social’ (as distinct from natural or ‘brute’) facts. This leads it to a distinct understanding of the relationship between actors and the environment (both natural and social) in which they find themselves and to its characteristic emphasis on the ideational mediation of that relationship. That in turn leads it to a particular type of analytic purchase on political economic realities, reflected in its distinctive emphasis on interpretive ambiguity, the social construction of political and economic imperatives and on disequilibrium. The argument is illustrated and developed further through an elucidation of the implications of such a social constructivism for the analysis of the period of crisis through which we now acknowledge ourselves to be living.

Dates and versions

hal-02186355 , version 1 (17-07-2019)



Colin Hay. Good in a crisis: the ontological institutionalism of social constructivism. New Political Economy, 2016, 21 (6), pp.520-535. ⟨10.1080/13563467.2016.1158800⟩. ⟨hal-02186355⟩
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