What Is a Constructive, Enabling Institution?

  • Michelle MaieseEmail author
  • Robert Hanna


Although neoliberal social institutions shape the human mind in a destructive, deforming way, social institutions also have the power to help people break away from rigid mental habits. Indeed, some social institutions, working against the grain of dystopian social institutions in neoliberal societies, can make it really possible for us to self-realize, connect with others, and liberate ourselves. Constructive, enabling institutions, as we understand them, are mutually-aiding and real-world utopian in the sense that they guide the way toward progressive social activism and change in the present moment and in the actual world. Such institutions are self-realizing, organicist, dignitarian, integrative, and authenticating; and they also promote autonomy and critical consciousness. Drawing from philosophy of mind and the work of John Dewey, we also argue that constructive, enabling institutions are those that afford the development of flexible, essentially embodied mental habits. Key examples of such habits include empathy, curiosity, imagination, and humility, all of which foster collective altruism and help people to remain continually open to new insights. We point to various “disaster communities” and to social movements from the history of the American Left as real-world illustrations of such institutions.


Self-realize Connection Liberation Organicist Dignitarian Integrative Autonomy Critical consciousness 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Emmanuel CollegeBostonUSA
  2. 2.Independent PhilosopherBoulderUSA

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