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

By Fritz W. Scharpf | Go to book overview
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Unilateral Action in Anarchic Fields and Minimal Institutions

In Chapter 4 I discussed how real-world policy problems may be mapped on constellations of actors with given preferences and given capabilities to generate a variety of "actor constellations" differing in the degree to which interests converge or conflict. The remaining chapters will deal with the modes of interaction through which these game constellations are converted into policy outcomes. This already suggests that we cannot restrict analysis to the solution concepts provided by the theory of noncooperative games but need rather to consider the full range of empirically possible modes, from unilateral action through varieties of negotiations and voting to hierarchical direction. As I pointed out in Chapter 2, these modes have a structural as well as a procedural dimension. The distinction is theoretically significant since the same procedure of interaction -- say, negotiations-may be employed in quite different structural settings -- say, in a market, in a network, in a parliamentary arena, or within a bureaucratic hierarchy (Table 2.1). The assumption is that these modes will change their character when employed in different institutional settings. Negotiations "in the shadow of hierarchy" differ in their problem-solving capacity from negotiations in a market setting.

A further assumption is that the institutionalization of different structures is associated with different degrees of difficulty or improbability. The default condition -- or, more appropriately, the "background condition" -- is the anarchic field in which actors respond to each other by mutual adjustment or in noncooperative games. Markets, though they also have some of the characteristics of unstructured fields, are institutionally more demanding since they depend on the prior definition and protection of property rights and on the exogenous enforcement of contracts. Networks may evolve from the same institutional foundations, but they are more effective, and at the same time more selective, than markets in facilitating cooperative interactions. By comparison, the establishment of an arena in which collectively binding decisions can be taken by majority vote, or by hierarchical direction, is institutionally much more demanding. 1


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