Notes on Structuralism
Research traditions and theory in comparative politics: an introduction * Influenced heavily by Marx and Weber * Draw together long-standing interests in political and social institutions * Emphasize, for example, formal organizations of governments, class relations (Marxist), political parties and interest groups, how states and societies interact, themes of political economy. * Explore relations among actors in an institutional context * Study the historical dynamics of real social types – realism Lichbach – the Three Exemplars Example: Skocpol’s study of revolutions * ONTOLOGY: relations among actors / holism * Ontology = the foundational ideas about the way the world is constructed; that is, assumes something about the nature of existence, the entities and their properties that populate our lives. *
Always concerned with relationships among individuals, collectivities, institutions or organizations; social, political and economic connections among actors => study networks linkages, interdependencies and interactions among parts of some system. Historically rooted and materially based processes of distribution, conflict, power and domination, thought to drive the social order and social change, are their particular concern. * Reject a focus on actors themselves. * A structuralist ontology explores how relations among social agents are concretely structure in an institutional context. * METHODOLOGY: social types with causal powers; structures with laws of dynamics * Methodology = explanatory strategies * Structuralists study structures and hence adopt a realist philosophy of sciences. Realism is characterized by 2 basic principles: * They adopt an entity-centred ontology (rather than event-centred) => assume that entities/objects exist in the world and thus that structures are real entities/objects => social structures are real and social scientists should search for “social kinds” (fundamental entities in a domain of inquiry) e. g. riot, revolution, class, religion, constitutional monarchy, market economy etc. *
These social kinds have causal powers; structures have actualities and potentialities and that form determines development. Implication: social structures must be analysed in macro-historical and macro-developmental perspective. * Concerns: state building, war, capitalism, industrialization, urbanization * Structural mechanisms: competition, conflict, consensus, division of labour, differentiation, inequality * Structuralists analyze real social types with causal powers and hence study the historical dynamics of structures => opposed to rationalists’ atomistic reductionism * COMPARISON: realism; comparative history; causality Divide into species/genera *
Achieve generality by partitioning cases into subsets and establishing classificatory frameworks. * Structuralists discover the categories, classify into categories then investigate the historical dynamics associated with each category. * This typological approach limits generalizability of one’s findings to the type of case examined. Basically there are 3 steps: classification (where they locate different configurations of bounded and path-determined action and interactions); morphology (specify the principles that structure the relationships among the parts, or the theme/logic/rules that establish the functioning of a configuration or form); dynamics (a structure’s development, institutionalization, and change are studied) * LACUNAE: iron cage determinism/voluntarism absent * Structural theories lack people with agency, miss human activity, creativity and ingenuity => deterministic, i. e. given structure, outcomes follow. Structure is fate, and this perspective leads to a historical fatalism and the absence of voluntarism. * SUBTRADITIONS: state/society; Pluralism-Marxism-statism Katznelson – Structure and configuration in Comparative Politics * The macroanalytical/structuralist turn insisted that social life and action in particular places is shaped by processes, relationships, and forms of interaction whose scale is both greater (as in global trade or the cross-border circulation of ideas) and lesser (asin patterns of kinship or regional cultures) than any single societal container can hold.
In turn, they resisted the decomposition of social relations and processes into a congeries of undersocialized individuals whose cognition and choice motors their behaviour without a consideration of how structured and relational situations constrain and enable human action. (83) * The most significant processes shaping human identities, interests and interaction are such large-scale features of modernity as capitalist development, market rationality, state-building, secularization, political and scientific revolution, and the acceleration of instruments for the communication and diffusion of ideas. Society” in this orientation is replaced by the structured concatenation of processes. (83) * These, while not determinant of behaviour in any strict sense, establish in specific times and places a calculus of cognitive and behavioural probabilities by creating situational orders within which individuals think, interact, and choose. Persons, in this view, are embedded agents operating within relational structural fields that distinguish the possible from the impossible and the likely from the less likely. 83) *
Max Weber: social science should aim to construct situations so that individuals can ascertain the possible, either in the past or the present; that is, what they or other actors can, as opposed to what they must, do. (98) * This orientation… considers ethical imperatives not as independent motivators or explanations but as only operative inside determinate situations analytically ordered by social and political analysts who reveal “constellations of norms, institutions, etc. (Weber 1979) by focusing on conceptually organized interconnections of elements in conjunction with narratives of events. (98) * Read together, Toqueville, Weber, and Mill point to a distinctive way of constructing cases for comparative analysis, focusing less on the causal importance of this or that variable contrasted with others but more on how variables are joined together in specific historical instances. 99) * action and identity must firmly be placed inside structural macrofoundations that are not constantly in flux. Relations among collectivities and individuals are characterized by strong and quite persistent relations. Of course, structures themselves are the products of human agency, but in a wider scholarly division of labour it makes sense for configurative Comparativists to focus mainly on the obverse – that is, on how structures constitute and cause identities and actions by tilting and organizing probabilities.
The linkage between structure and agency in this perspective is primarily institutional, in the sense of institutions both as composing rules and as formal organizations that are loci for human interaction under conditions of differential power and authority. (102) * institutions understood both as rules of transaction between these sites and as the actual array of formal organizations inside each macrostructure and astride their interactions. 103) * Institutions emerged as ligatures fastening sites, relationships, and large-scale processes to each other. (103) *
The NI demanded that agents always be understood as embedded in institutional milieus; that causal relations of elements and variables are always patterned by context and circumstance; and that historical developments are contingently shaped by choices taken by actors about the content of institutional links connecting state, economy, and society at key moments of historical indeterminacy. 104) * Power and promise of this approach: shifts focus from only macrostructures to transactions across macrostructural boundaries; connects institutional design to the formation/existence of political agents who possess particular clusters of preferences, interests and identities. * Historical institutionalism has been vitally concerned with how particular configurations of preferences, interests and identities come to be political salient at particular times as products, not just causes; but as causes as well as products.
The institutionalist epistemology thus is relational, crossing the divide between structure and agency without seeking to eliminate the heuristic distinction between them. (104) * From weak to strong, institutions confer identities by assigning properties to categories, by polarizing, excluding, and grading, and by distinguishing the visible and the obvious from the less visible and the murky. Institutions name and classify. They shape the very categories of plausible and possible thought. But institutions themselves are not natural, they are caused. (104-5) *