ABSTRACT. This article presents a (critical realist) constructivist critique of both consociational and civil society/transformationist approaches and their crude understandings of politics and the prospects for political change. Consociationalism's primordialist or essentialist foundation leads it towards a world-weary, pessimistic, conservative realism about how far ‘divided societies’ may be transformed. Advocates of the civil society approach, in contrast, take an instrumentalist view of identity and are optimistic that a radical transformation can be achieved by mobilising the people against ‘hard-line’ political representatives. The constructivist approach can provide a framework in which a more complex and nuanced understanding of identities is possible. This better equips us for understanding the prospects of bringing about desirable political change. The first part of this article is a critique of Nagle and Clancy's consociationalism. The second part provides a brief outline of a constructivist critique of both the consociational and civil society understandings of politics and their contribution to understanding the politics of managing conflict.