Before getting to how I define and study politics, I must first set out the building blocks of my analytical framework, and in particular its ontology of economic activity. In line with a range of leading political scientists (Hay, 2006a & 2007; Mangenot & Rowell, 2010; Abdelal, Blyth & Parsons, 2010), economic sociologists (Dobbin, 1994; Francois, 2011) and the occasional economist (Boyer, 2015), I explicitly and consistently adopt a constructivist epistemology which refutes claims made by material determinists that the government of the economy is simply the result of confrontations between the ‘interests’ they assume actors to hold (e.g. Gourevitch, 2005; Amable & Palombrini, 2009). Instead, constructivism guides research to closely examine the role of ‘social representations’ within key components of economic activity: the industries in which goods and services are produced and marketed, together with the ‘transindustry’ regulations which constantly criss-cross them. My focus is thus upon representations of reality and how actors seek to ‘naturalize’ them through social interaction within and between firms, professions, interest groups, and public authorities.

Crucially, however, the perceptions, preferences, and positions developed within and through such a process do not take place in a social or political vacuum where the possible framings of an industry’s difficulties and antidotes are limitless. On the contrary, at individual, intra-organisational, and organisational levels, these perceptions, preferences, and positions are all heavily structured by institutions, i.e. by sets of norms, rules, and conventions (Hall and Taylor, 2009). Here, the key contribution of allying constructivist epistemology to compatible institutionalist theory (Hay, 2006a, 2015) is to stress that rules, norms, and conventions not only constrain how actors establish their perceptions, interests, and preferences; they also set parameters on how practitioners think and allow themselves to express their thoughts. More precisely, a constructivist and institutionalist approach to governing economies is essential.1 This ontology postulates:

  • • that the ‘issues’ dealt with when governing economic activity are contingent and thus need studying as the products of agency, choice, deliberation, and power struggles;
  • • such contingency is structured not only by institutions backed by the threat of sanctions (notably the law), but also by institutionalized cognition and symbols (the ‘thinkable’ and ‘unthinkable’); and
  • • that the actors involved in all the above are also deeply affected by the interactions and webs of interdependencies through which they operate.

In order to systematically study and compare processes of institutionalization in specific industries, policy domains, across different polities, and over time, the analytical framework proposed here is structured around four key concepts: Institutionalized Relationships, Institutional Orders, Trans-Industry Regulations, and Scales of Government.

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