Bridging the Rational-Choice / Constructivist Gap? Theorizing Social Interaction in European Institutions

This article establishes points of contact between rationalism and social constructivism in the study of social interaction in EU institutions.

ARENA Working Paper 11/2000 (html)

Jeffrey T. Checkel

The debate between rationalists and social constructivists, which has played out in the broader discipline for many years, has finally reached studies of integration. While much still separates these schools, there are accumulating signs this gap is closing -- at least within international relations theory. My memo contributes to this emerging dialogue by theorizing social interaction within European institutions. Typically, mainstream constructivists argue that fundamental agent properties have been reshaped by prevailing social norms, but fail to theorize or empirically document the process of social interaction through which this occurs; agents act "as if" their behavior becomes rule-governed. Given this state of affairs, the good news from Europe is that both soft rationalists and soft constructivists are beginning to theorize this missing element of social interaction. For constructivists, this has meant a much-needed (re)turn to questions of agency and decisionmaking; for rationalists, it has meant a new emphasis on language and communication.

The memo proceeds as follows. I begin by asking what it means to theorize social interaction from a constructivist perspective, noting points of contact/overlap with rationalist arguments. Next, I explore how one could empirically operationalize such an approach. Finally, I suggest why theories of social interaction are important for students of European institutions, as well as for institutional theorists who study the EU.

Tags: integration theory, institutions, socialization
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM