A constructivist argument claims that people do one thing and not another due to the presence of certain ‘social constructs’: ideas, beliefs, norms, identities, or some other interpretive filter through which people perceive the world. We inhabit a ‘world of our making’ (Onuf, 1989), and action is structured by the meanings that particular groups of people develop to interpret and organize their identities, relationships, and environment. Non-constructivist scholarship, by contrast, like that surveyed in Chapters 1 (Behaviouralism), 2 (Rational Choice), and 7 (Marxism), suggests that our interpretive filters do not greatly affect how we act. Instead we inhabit a ‘real’ landscape of features like geography, resources, and relative power, to which we respond fairly directly. Some institutionalists (Chapter 3) also make non-constructivist arguments, though other institutionalists overlap with constructivism. The institutionalists — defined by Lowndes as offering a rational choice account — tend to treat organizations and rules as fairly clear, ‘real’ objective obstacle courses to which we respond directly. But as Lowndes highlights, another key variant of the new institutionalism understands institutions through a more constructivist lens, where ‘institutions’ are themselves meaningful social constructs. For this chapter, the key point is that an approach is only constructivist to the extent that it argues that subjective interpretation of some sort affects what people do.
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