Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0113
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0113
Since the late 1980s, an institutionalist turn in political, economic, and other social sciences has led to renewed interest in questions of enduring institutions and their rather conditional change. Globalization and secular socioeconomic changes in modern economies have pushed advanced democracies, developed welfare states, and postindustrial economies to adapt. However, seminal comparative analyses have shown that institutional diversity remains salient, related to longstanding political traditions, welfare state regimes, or “varieties of capitalism.” How can one explain such institutional persistence? Path dependency, the sunken investment in past decisions and its increasing returns, is seen as explanations of institutional lock-in. More generally, that “history matters” has become a common theme of new institutionalism thinking in institutional economics, organizational sociology, and historical institutionalism. Institutions are seen as the “rules of the game,” norms taken for granted, or cultural scripts that remain durable. Yet multiple examples of change are also found, not so much via “big bang” reforms but often through long-term stepwise transformations. The theoretical agenda and empirical focus subsequently shifted in a second wave to institutional change instead of durability. How does institutional change occur? The processes and mechanisms leading to the evolution of institutions have been explored in recent years, mirroring the recognition of rather gradual but ongoing changes in advanced democracies and their political economies. The global diffusion of democratic aspirations and market principles has been the real-world context in which to reconsider the impact of institutional change from a variety of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives.
Advances in institutional thinking have been scattered across different disciplines and specialist fields. Therefore, state-of-the-art reviews have played an important role in taking stock of past achievements and shaping the common understanding of the main currents (for an overview see Peters 2012). Hall and Taylor 1996 distinguishes at least three branches of “new institutionalism”: sociological, rational choice, and historical. Sociological institutionalism is grounded in culture-oriented organizational theory that focuses on the taken-for-granted nature of institutions, while rational choice institutionalism seeks to explain institutions as rational conventions that limit transaction costs. While these two theoretical paradigms, culture versus calculus, are analytically at odds, as Immergut 1998 argues, the third variant, historical institutionalism, has a more eclectic research agenda, as outlined in Thelen 1999. It investigates how and why “history matters,” partly borrowing insights from the two other paradigms. Theoretical approaches to institutional change have been closely connected to “path dependency,” but this concept comes in two variants, as delineated in Ebbinghaus 2005: more deterministic theorems borrowed from economists that seek to explain institutional lock-in, and more open conceptions stressing sequential change and how past decisions narrow but do not completely determine later choices. Thelen 1999 and Mahoney and Thelen 2010 discuss more recent advances in theories of institutional change that have also revisited the impact of power relations and actors important in the “old institutionalism” (see for an intellectual history Stinchcombe 1997). Furthermore, Dobbin, et al. 2007 examines the mechanisms causing the diffusion of ideas.
Dobbin, Frank, Beth Simmons, and Geoffrey Garrett. “The Global Diffusion of Public Policies: Social Construction, Coercion, Competition, or Learning?” Annual Review of Sociology 33 (2007): 449–472.
A review of social science literature on policy diffusion across countries, including constructivist, power-oriented, competition, and learning theory, distinguishing different causal mechanisms at work.
Ebbinghaus, Bernhard. Can Path Dependence Explain Institutional Change? Two Approaches Applied to Welfare State Reform. MPIfG Discussion Paper 05/02. Cologne: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, 2005.
Contrasts deterministic lock-in and open sequential concepts of path dependence and discusses whether and how mechanisms of stability can also explain change, using welfare state examples.
Hall, Peter A., and Rosemary C. R. Taylor. “Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms.” Political Studies 44 (1996): 936–957.
Distinguishes and compares three “new” institutionalist approaches in reaction to the behavioral paradigm: historical, rational choice, and sociological.
Immergut, Ellen M. “The Theoretical Core of the New Institutionalism.” Politics and Society 26.1 (1998): 5–34.
Ellen Immergut sees common goals for all three institutionalisms but also the need for historical institutionalism to better position itself between calculus and cultural approaches.
Mahoney, James, and Kathleen Thelen. “A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change.” In Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power. Edited by James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, 1–37. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Mahoney and Thelen advocate a power-distributional view, overcoming the focus on exogenous abrupt change and highlighting different modes of endogenous gradual change.
Peters, B. Guy. Institutional Theory in Political Science: The New Institutionalism. 3d ed. New York: Continuum, 2012.
This text book introduces into different varieties of the “new” institutionalism, including approaches beyond political science.
Stinchcombe, Arthur L. “On the Virtues of the Old Institutionalism.” Annual Review of Sociology 23 (1997): 1–18.
Revisiting the history of institutional thought, Arthur Stinchcombe shows how old institutionalism took account of how “staff” in organizations were crucial in financing, governing, training, and motivating institutional actions and discusses the different sources of legitimacy.
Thelen, Kathleen. “Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science 2 (1999): 369–404.
An overview of historical institutionalists’ focus on how institutions emerge and evolve, distinguishing it from “rational choice” institutionalism, which focuses on coordination mechanisms that lead to an equilibrium.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics