Ch. 1 – Institutionalism and Constructivism
Lecture on: Jan. 16
Institutionalism was inspired by IPE scholars' work on international regimes
(“a set of prescriptions and proscriptions for state behaviour”).
Realists explained institutions as an outcome of an exercise of power—that
is, exercised by a hegemonic power for its own benefit—and that once power
was decentralized, institutions would collapse or weaken.
However, even as the US declined relative to Western Europe and Japan in
the 1980s, international regimes remained.
Core Assumptions of Rationalist Institutionalism
1) Actors are self-interested, rational utility maximizers
2) International regimes can facilitate the making of agreements by
3) Actors are interested in the pursuit of goals which are not always zero-
sum in nature
Keokane drew on literature on domestic institutions, arguing that institutions
providing benefits to its members would remain even absent a hegemon.
This is because the participants themselves will have an interest in
maintaining the institution.
Thus, rationalist institutionalism explains institutions by viewing them as
mechanisms for actors.
Art Stein saw two sorts of problems: dilemmas of common interest
(Prisoner's Dilemma) and dilemmas of common aversion (Chicken).
Institutions matter because, no matter which dilemma is present, they can
help actors achieve their jointly preferred outcomes.
There is also a second 'reflective' or 'sociological' approach to
institutionalism. This approach emphasizes subjectivity and the
embeddedness of existing international institutions and regimes.
Structural realists assume too much to be established and fixed; rationality is
Existing institutions and norms shape the ways in which preferences—
including the desire for power itself—are defined.
Reflectivist approaches stress that regimes are rarely the product of purely rational design. In reality, they emerge gradually, often in a convoluted and
irrational manner. This also means that utility maximization is not so clear-
cut when creating institutions.
Keokane noted that power is relative; when one state has more, another has
less, meaning that power exchanges are zero-sum; that is, the sum of the
changes is zero.
However, other factors, such as material goods, can be measured and
quantified in an absolute rather than negative manner; thus, trade in