IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Good in a crisis: the ontological institutionalism of social constructivism


  • Colin Hay


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Colin Hay, 2016. "Good in a crisis: the ontological institutionalism of social constructivism," New Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 21(6), pages 520-535, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:cnpexx:v:21:y:2016:i:6:p:520-535
    DOI: 10.1080/13563467.2016.1158800

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Niamh Hardiman & Saliha Metinsoy, 2017. "How do ideas shape national preferences? The Financial Transaction Tax in Ireland," Working Papers 201710, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:taf:cnpexx:v:21:y:2016:i:6:p:520-535. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Chris Longhurst). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.