Games Real Actors Play: Actor-Centered Institutionalism in Policy Research

By Fritz W. Scharpf | Go to book overview
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about the capacity of different types of institutional structures to deal effectively with different types of policy problems. These are large claims that can only be justified through the successful explanation of important puzzles in empirical policy research. The present book is not intended to do this. Its main concern is the presentation and explication of the tools that could be used in such work.

Burns et al. ( 1985, 7) appropriately characterize the integrative intent of their own approach by opposing it to James S. Duesenberry's famous quip that "economics is all about how people make choices. Sociology is about why they don't have any choices to make."
The neorealist theory of international relations, it is true, also tries to get much mileage out of assumptions specifying the relevant actors (nation-states), their preferences (to maximize relative gains in the balance of power), their perceptions (empirically accurate), and their mode of interaction (noncooperative games). It is clear that these assumptions, if generally correct, would greatly reduce the need for empirical data -- but it has also been pointed out that empirical research has mainly found them to be very poor predictors ( Moravcsik 1992 and the studies cited there).
There is a philosophically and psychologically important debate on whether these beneficial effects should be conceptualized as external constraints (or negative and positive incentives) that do not affect the intrinsic preferences of self-interest-maximizing actors, or whether norms and values should be construed as a type of actor orientation that is logically distinct from self-interest ( Elster 1991) -- with the implication that the intrinsic preferences of individuals may be transformed by the socialization effect of institutions. Freud ( 1915), for instance, distinguished sharply between the control of egotistic drives through positive and negative incentives (which would cease to be effective when controls are removed), and their "civilization" through the internalization of cultural norms. However, since we are not primarily concerned with individual action but rather with collective and corporate actors, whose goals can clearly be shaped by the rules that constitute them, the resolution of this dispute one way or another is not of paramount importance for policy research.
By contrast, we should not claim the ability to predict policy outcomes. Given the pervasiveness of "Cournot effects" (i.e., the accidental intersection of unrelated chains of causation) in social and political interactions ( Lübbe 1975; Boudon 1984; Mayntz 1995), even theoretically well-founded predictions may turn out to be wrong -- which does not invalidate the usefulness of the same knowledge for design purposes.
The plural form is used to indicate that there will often be separate interactions, such as voting in two chambers of a legislature, linked through negotiations in a conference committee, that produce the outcome.
This includes the ability of ego, who has control over outcomes that are of interest to alter, to influence alter, who in turn has control over the outcome that is of interest to ego. That is the essence of Coleman's concept of a political exchange ( 1990, chap. 6), which has strongly influenced the research on policy networks.
It has also been suggested that Theodore Lowi's suggestive typology of distributive, regulatory, and redistributive policies could be reformulated in terms of different types of


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Games Real Actors Play: Actor-Centered Institutionalism in Policy Research


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