Social Constructivism

Authored by: Colin Hay

Routledge Handbook of Interpretive Political Science

Print publication date:  July  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415657143
eBook ISBN: 9781315725314
Adobe ISBN: 9781317533627


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This chapter seeks to establish the ontological, epistemological, and methodological distinctiveness of social constructivism as an approach to social and political analysis. It views social constructivism as a profoundly normative mode of political inquiry which seeks to discern, interrogate, and elucidate the contingency of social and political change– restoring politics (broadly understood) to processes and practices typically seen to be inevitable, necessary, and uncontestable. 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 analytical purchase on social and political realities, reflected in its distinctive emphasis on the social construction of social and economic necessity. The chapter considers the contribution of social constructivism to the analysis of crisis dynamics in particular. It compares constructivism with interpretivism, asking whether all constructivists are interpretivists and, indeed, all interpretivists constructivists. It concludes by exploring the synergies between constructivism and contemporary interpretivist and institutionalist analysis.

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