The problem of change in constructivist theory: Ontological security seeking and agent motivation

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Constructivism has a problem in accounting for agent-led change and for what motivates agents to make up their minds about how to put their agency to use. I show that constructivism?s problem of change is related to tensions between constructivism's own key assumptions about the mutually constitutive relationship between structure and agency, understanding of change and to an essentialist conception of identity. I argue that agency is constituted through processes of ?identification? involving identity and narrative constructions and performance through practice and action. I make the perhaps controversial move to regard ontological security as a precondition for agent-led change and to identify ontological security maximisation as functionally equivalent to rationalist theories? agent assumption of utility maximisation. I identify two strategies for maximising ontological security; a ?strategy of being? to secure a stable and esteem-enhancing identity and a strong narrative; and a ?strategy of doing? to ensure cognitive consistency through routinised practice whilst also undertaking action contributing to a sense of integrity and pride. The article concludes that although humans are endowed with agency, their actual ability to utilise their agency is severely constrained by their need for maintaining ontological security, which may explain why change appears so difficult to achieve.
TidsskriftReview of International Studies
Udgave nummer5
Sider (fra-til)799-820
StatusUdgivet - 2016
Udgivet eksterntJa


  • Narrative, Social Identity Theory, Agency, Practice, Ontological Security, Identity

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