hamburg review
of social sciences

Volume 1, Issue 3 (September 2006)

Focus: Informality

Informal Politics Download PDF

Burkhard Conrad, University of Hamburg


This article strives to explain the phenomenon of informality within the political sphere by referring to essential notions of social theory. It argues that there are two kinds of informality: “traditional” informality which is based on a process of traditional Vergemeinschaftung and “modern” informality, based on modern Vergemeinschaftung or social integration. Against that, formal political behaviour must be conceptualised in the context of modern law-based Vergesellschaftung. In order to support these hypotheses, the article refers to central ideas within German social theory, esp. M. Weber, N. Luhmann and J. Habermas, and stresses the necessity of a dialectic approach in the study of political phenomena such as informality and formality.

Informal Institutions: Political Action and the Social and Historical Contextualization of the “homo oeconomicus” Download PDF

Markus Göbel and Tobias Thomas, Helmut-Schmidt-University of the Armed Forces, Hamburg


Political reforms can be understood as the reconfiguration of formal institutions. The rational choice of formal institutions is the core topic of the New Institutional Economics research program. While bounded rationality is a core assumption of the New Institutional Economics and the reason for suboptimal behavior there, additional reference is made to the individual aspiration to intrapersonal consistency and interpersonal conformity here. These sources of a systematic deviation from the standard model of the homo oeconomicus result in systematic “weaknesses” of perception and deviations of behavior. This contribution connects shared mental models as informal institutions in the sense of North with well-established social psychological approaches and thereby leads to an integrative reflection of the insights in a stringent model framework.

The Social Forums as the New International? The Politics of the ESF & WSF from a Deconstructive Point of View Download PDF

Fabian Schuppert, University of Helsinki


The European Social Forum (ESF) and the World Social Forum (WSF) are key-actors of the anti-capitalist protest movement. Their scope is international, and their unifying power immense. Thus, it seems valid to ask, whether the social forums are on their way to become a New International in the Derridean sense of the term. In this paper I argue that the social forums show indeed many similarities with Derrida’s concept but also some significant differences in respect to their theoretical underpinnings which influence the forums’ political efficiency. I will argue, that the social forums have to focus stronger on their concrete political effectiveness in order to maintain their role as key-actors in the movement.

The Differential Impact of Communicated Ideas. Bridging the Gap between Rationalism and Constructivism Download PDF

Diana Panke, Free University Berlin


Constructivist and rationalist approaches to IR generate competing hypotheses and often refer to empirical evidence as the debate on the influence of the European Commission in the European Unions illustrates. Instead of rejecting rationalist accounts on the basis of constructivist arguments or vice versa, bridge-building approaches develop scope conditions for competing hypotheses. However, due to one-sided action theoretical assumptions, prominent bridge-building approaches suffer from biases towards either rationalism or constructivism. The systemic approach as developed in this paper, by contrast, abstains from action-theoretical recurrences and instead relies on behavioural assumptions. It identifies contextual variables (polity and policy) which influence the varying impact of communicated ideas between changes of substantial interests (best grasped by constructivism), over adaptations of strategic positions (best grasped by rationalism) to no changes at all. Contrary to prominent bridge-building approaches, this paper concludes that the shadow of votes and different voting procedures do not facilitate bargaining dynamics, while a high norm diversity is not conducive for arguing.


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