Adaptation

Adaptation is a fundamental aspect of a complex systems perspective, as discussed above. However, social constructivists of diverse theoretical stripes also use evolutionary logic and adaptive behavioral assumptions82— though at times implicitly. Coevolution is not foreign to constructivism. Norms arise as some agents accept new precepts as appropriate. When a group of agents accepts a new appropriate behavior, the resultant behavioral changes alter the social context (or the intersubjective understanding of what behavior is appropriate) for the other agents in a population, catalyzing change in other agents (as they strive to act appropriately).

Eventually, through this process, new intersubjective agreement is reached and a norm emerges. Indeed, intersubjective agreement does not materialize automatically from the logic of appropriateness—norms do not arrive fully formed. "Norms do not as a rule come into existence at a definite point in time, nor are they the result of a manageable number of identifiable acts. They are, rather, the resultant of complex patterns of behavior of a large number of people over a protracted period of time."83

An overarching adaptive process thus actually unites often-contradictory constructivist accounts of agent actions within mutually constitutive relationships. Agents want to behave appropriately (they have goals that are socially determined). Of course appropriateness is not an objective standard, but rather is defined by how agency instantiates social structures. There is no objectively "best" participation requirement for environmental problems; instead, these requirements emerge from the actions of states. Norm emergence and change is thus a matter of agents adapting to dynamic notions of appropriateness. Agents change their interests and behavior84 through persuasion, socialization, argumentation, coercion, or social learning, to name just a few of the competing mechanisms currently debated in the constructivist literature.85 Mutual constitution is an adaptive process that links agents and structures in a co-evolutionary mechanism.

Adaptation, despite some common misconceptions, does not imply an individualist ontology. The goals, interests, and behaviors of the agents in social constructivist thought—even when conceived as adaptive agents— are all socially (intersubjectively) defined. What the agents think is appropriate is determined by social structures. Bernstein argues that adaptive perspectives "put greater emphasis on institutional structural factors than even some other constructivist authors who focus on how agents produce change through persuasion and argumentation."86

Further, adaptation allows for change within a logic of appropriateness. For any particular issue, there may be multiple interpretations or strains of appropriateness or internal understandings of intersubjective reality. Individual agents provide the dynamism in social structures by continually trying to act appropriately and thus continually reproducing (perhaps) slightly different social structures.

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