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

By Fritz W. Scharpf | Go to book overview

3

Actors

In the framework of actor-centered institutionalism, actors are characterized by their orientations (perceptions and preferences) and by their capabilities. What I have to say on the aspect of capabilities in this book can be extremely brief. They are obviously critical to any explanation of policy outcomes since, in the absence of action resources, even the most enlightened perceptions and preferences will fail to make a practical difference. From a theoretical point of view, however, capabilities appear to be highly contingent. On the one hand, policy actors may, under certain circumstances, benefit from employing any and all of the eight Lasswellian "values" ( Lasswell/ Kaplan 1950), from "wealth" and "power" all the way to a reputation for "rectitude," as action resources and instruments of political influence. 1 But which of them will be effective under which conditions depends so much on the specifics of the case and on situational factors that nothing worthwhile could be said in the context of a general framework. 2 On the other hand, in institutionalized interactions, at least some of the prepolitical endowments that actors may have are neutralized or superseded by the assignment of institutionalized competencies and veto rights. Thus the allocation of political power through general elections on the basis of equal votes will at least reduce some of the preexisting power differences in society, and the creation of a specialized agency within the machinery of the state may significantly increase the power resources of otherwise politically impotent groups. These institutional aspects are of course of central concern within the framework of actor-centered institutionalism, and they will be discussed throughout this book, but it does not seem useful to attempt a general classification here.

What need to be discussed under general aspects, however, are the conditions under which it is appropriate to apply actor-centered concepts to units that include several or many human beings. The issue is of no concern either to microlevel rational-choice theorists, who are firmly committed to the principles of methodological individualism, or to macro-level systems theorists, who can only ridicule the pretensions of actor-centered approaches that would need to account for "the billions of simultaneously acting actors" ( Luhmann 1988a, 132). In actor-centered institutionalism, however, the question is of crucial interest. This

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