Political Science The New Institutionalism Revisited
B. Guy Peters
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0149


Political science has its roots in the study of institutions. Aristotle’s discussion of good and bad forms of government was essentially a discussion of institutions. Much of the traditional, formal/legal political science also was about institutions. In this traditional version of the discipline the assumption was that formal constitutional structures would indeed determine outcomes. With the behavioral “revolution” in political science, followed by the emphasis on rational choice models, the emphasis shifted from institutions to individuals but, to some extent, has now shifted back to consider the importance of institutions. This review attempts to cover the principal approaches to institutions utilized in political science. As well as considering the theoretical and analytical approaches, this review also demonstrates how the approaches have been applied to attempt to explain policy outcomes and political processes. Further, this review considers some of the principal challenges to institutional theories, notably the difficulties of integrating change into theories that are more concerned with stability. The majority of the items included in the bibliography are from political science, but some also are drawn from sociology, economics, and management. The advocacy of the return to institutional analysis is a claim that we can better understand politics as a function of the interaction of institutions and organizations, rather the product of more or less atomistic individual behaviors. Thus, institutionalism represents a fundamental claim about the nature of politics and also constitutes an alternative paradigm for political analysis. That said, however, to understand institutions we may also need to understand the behavior of the individuals who comprise those institutions. This linkage of structural and individual elements in institutional theories represents one of the most abiding challenges to the approach and also one of the major strengths. The emphasis is clearly on the role of structure, but at the same time individuals influence the behavior and very nature of institutions, and institutions may shape individuals. This linkage is one factor helping to make institutional theory a possible contender for a paradigm for political science.

General Overviews

There are several general overviews that address institutional theory and its application in political science. Two of these overviews are in the form of written books that ask a number of theoretical questions about institutionalism as an approach to political science (and to a lesser extent the social sciences more generally), while the other is a major handbook on political institutions. One of the written books is Peters 2011, cited under One Approach or Many?). The other, Lowndes and Roberts 2010, considers the approaches together and asks a series of questions about their status as theory. The other general overview of institutional theory is the Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions, edited by R. A. W. Rhodes, Sarah Binder, and Bert Rockman. This comprehensive handbook examines institutional questions in political science from a variety of directions, including looking a number of strands of theoretical analysis and also discussing theoretical and analytical approaches to specific institutions. Because institutionalism is a rather varied approach that comes from and is used in a number of areas of political science, it is difficult to identify specific journals that are likely to have articles in this field more readily than are others. That said, institutional theories tend to be employed more commonly by scholars working in public administration and public policy than by other segments of the discipline. Therefore, institutionalist articles are more likely to be found in these journals than in others.

  • Lowndes, V., and M. Roberts. Why Institutions Matter: The New Institutionalism in Political Science. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2010.

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    This book asks a number of central questions about institutional theory. As well as describing the various approaches to institutionalism Lowndes and Roberts address questions such as structure and agency, change, and design. Although this book assumes some knowledge of the basic approaches, it provides an excellent overview of the use of institutional theory and the challenges it faces in providing explanations.

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    • Rhodes, R. A. W., S. A. Binder, and B. A. Rockman. The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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      Institutions are a major component of political life and of political science, and this handbook provides a comprehensive collection of articles on theory and individual institutions. The handbook also addresses some interesting analytic questions in institutionalism, such as the links with development and conceptions of institutional change.

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      One Approach or Many?

      Given the rich diversity of understandings of institutions that now exists in the literature, the obvious question arises as to whether there is a single approach to institutions, and does it matter? To answer the second question first, it does matter because if there is a single approach then perhaps it can be a contender as paradigm or at least as a general organizing principle for the discipline. Without some common core of concepts, institutionalism simply becomes a loosely linked set of ideas about structures in political life, without the potential of making a major impact on the discipline. To address the first question, it does appear that there are some common elements in institutionalism that can be used to fashion a generic approach. The first of these is that institutions create some predictability and regulatory of behavior of their members. The degree of conformity to the institutional expectations required may vary across types of institutions (the military versus universities), but there are still expectations. Likewise, institutions create some predictability across time as well as across individuals, so that members of an institution at one time will share some patterns with those of earlier and later times. Again, stability and predictability are important outcomes of membership in institutions. All versions of institutionalism, similar to organizational theory, create some boundary between the institution and its environment. While the environment is important and in institutional theory is generally conceptualized as being composed of other institutions, there is still some sense of the institution being separate and identifiable from its environment. Finally, all versions of institutionalism tend to rely on structural explanations, no matter how the structures are conceptualized. Individuals and agency must be included in the models of institutions, but the primary focus is on structure and the ways in which those structures affect the individuals. The attendant danger, of course, is that institutions become anthropomorphized with inadequate attention given to the role of agency. The books and articles contained in this section address both the diversity of approaches to institutions and some aspects of their commonality. Easton 1990 discusses the structure of governments and, although not dealing with institutionalism per se, sets an agenda for studying institutions. Both Hall and Taylor 1996 and Kato 1996 as well as Peters 2011 discuss alternative versions of institutionalism in political science, and Peters more explicitly than the other two discusses the common factors in the approaches. Although heavily informed by the rational choice approach the article by Kiser and Ostrom 1982 also considers a range of approaches and some of their common features, while Schlüter and Teesfeld 2010 discusses rules and strategies as common features of institutional theories. Finally, Scott 2008 examines the development of institutional theory, especially in sociology, and some common features.

      • Easton, D. The Analysis of Political Structure. London: Routledge, 1990.

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        Although not addressing institutional theory per se, this book provides a comprehensive analysis of structural elements of political systems. The analysis presented focuses heavily on structural determinants of political action and hence is relevant for the structure-agency questions in political analysis (see Kiser and Ostrom 1982).

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        • Hall, P. A., and R. C. R. Taylor. “Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms.” Political Studies 44 (1996): 952–973.

          DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.1996.tb00343.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          This article provides a clearly argued examination of three major variants of institutional theory. While it does identify three major strands of institutional theory, it does not provide significant levels of integration among the three approaches.

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          • Kato, J. “Review Article: Institutions and Rationality in Politics: Three Varieties of Neo-Institutionalists.” British Journal of Political Science 26 (1996): 553–582.

            DOI: 10.1017/S0007123400007602Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            This is another review essay concerning the institutionalist literature, written shortly after the emergence of the new institutionalism. It covers some of the same literature as Hall and Taylor 1996 but is written from a perspective more amenable to the rational choice version of institutionalism.

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            • Kiser, L., and E. Ostrom. “The Three Worlds of Action: A Metatheoretical Synthesis of Institutional Approaches.” In Polycentric Games and Institutions. Edited by E. Ostrom, 56–88. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1982.

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              Although drawing heavily on Ostrom’s own approach (see Easton 1990), this paper brings together aspects of several approaches to institutions. It attempts to create a theoretical synthesis of these approaches, always focusing on the logic of action and on the role of agency in defining the activities of institutions.

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              • Peters, B. G. Institutional Theory in Political Science: The New Institutionalism. 3d ed. London: Continuum, 2011.

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                This book provides a more extensive discussion of the varieties of institutional theory, including all the main types. For each version it asks a series of questions such as where do institutions come from and how do they change.

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                • Schlüter, A., and I. Teesfeld. “The Grammar of Institutions: The Challenge of Distinguishing Between Strategies.” Norms, and Rules, Rationality and Society 22 (2010): 445–475.

                  DOI: 10.1177/1043463110377299Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  In the institutionalist literature, rules and norms and, to some extent, strategies, appear to be rather similar concepts. This paper distinguishes among those concepts and links them to the alternative approaches to institutionalism, although concentrating heavily on more rational choice perspectives.

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                  • Scott, W. R. “Approaching Adulthood: The Adolescence of Institutional Theory.” Theory and Society 37 (2008): 427–442.

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                    The steady development of institutional theory has been discussed in several of the papers in this section, but this article provides an interesting perspective on that development from one of the central contributors. Although written from a normative or sociological perspective, the observations are relevant for all strands of institutional theory. In particular, it addresses some of the problems of agency that are more commonly associated with the principal-agent approach in rational choice models.

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                    Varieties of Institutional Theory

                    As previously noted, one of the strengths and weakness of institutional theory is that it contains a variety of alternative approaches. These alternative conceptions all contribute to an understanding of institutions, but they also may create conceptual confusion for scholars attempting to understand institutions and their place in political life. Further, although this section of the bibliography treats the various approaches to institutionalism as distinct, there are important areas of overlap that are discussed in reference to the individual papers.

                    Normative Institutionalism

                    The original approach to the new institutionalism is discussed here as the normative institutionalism. This title is selected for the approach because the dominant concept of what makes institutions function in this model is “the logic of appropriateness,” in contrast to the “logic of consequentiality” argued to characterize rational choice perspectives on politics and on institutions’ appropriateness, defined by the “myths, symbols, routines, and norms” within the institution that shape behaviors of the members of the institution. These individuals within the institution learn to be members through a socialization process, and their ideas and behaviors are reshaped by these norms. Phrased differently, preferences in the normative institutionalism are endogenous to the institution. The roots of normative institutionalism are in sociology and in sociological organization theory. Philip Selznick is one of the most important scholars whose work forms a foundation for this approach in political science. Selznick, for example, emphasized the role of values in defining both organizations and institutions. Other sociologists such as W. Richard Scott developed the linkages between organization and institutional theory, emphasizing the importance of norms and values in defining institutions and in shaping the behavior of individuals As well as being related to sociological organization theory in general, this strand of theory is also closely allied with the school of bounded rationality in decision-making. Thus, rejecting the logic of consequentiality is an indication that institutional decisions should not be considered as the results of fully rational deliberations but rather the product of routinized patterns operating within the institution as well as the almost random confluence of ideas and opportunities. Three of the books and articles contained in this section are written by James G. March and Johan P. Olsen, the fathers of this approach and to some extent the new institutionalism as a whole. These three entries (March and Olsen 1984; March and Olsen 1989; March and Olsen 2006) demonstrate the development of their thinking on normative institutionalism. The other three pieces are written by colleagues and collaborators of March and Olsen and elaborate several important aspects of the approach. Christensen 1999, for example, discusses the concept of the “logic of appropriateness,” while Feldman 2000 discusses the importance of routines. Brunsson and Olsen 1993 discusses the possibilities of change within this approach, especially important given that difficulty with change is a standard critique of institutional theory.

                    • Brunsson, N., and J. P. Olsen. The Reforming Organization. London: Routledge, 1993.

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                      The nature of normative institutionalism is to attempt to alter the preferences of the members of the institution. Although shaping preferences can be effective in governing institutions, paradoxically it may make change more difficult. This book discusses how institutions and organizations can reform themselves as well as some of the barriers to change within the normative framework for understanding institutions.

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                      • Christensen, T. “The Ambiguity of Appropriateness.” In Organizing Political Institutions. Edited by M. Egeberg and P. Laegreid, 99–121. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1999.

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                        The concept of appropriateness is central to the normative institutionalism, but, despite its centrality, it has not been discussed extensively. This article provides a critical assessment of the concept and its relevance for understanding institutions. While concluding that there are several ambiguities within the concept, the author also demonstrates the utility of that ambiguity.

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                        • Feldman, M. S. “Organizational Changes as a Source of Continuous Change.” Organization Science 11 (2000): 611–629.

                          DOI: 10.1287/orsc.11.6.611.12529Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Routines are one of the defining features of institutions in the normative institutionalism. These routines are generally considered to promote stability, but Martha Feldman demonstrates that the iterative nature of the routines also presents opportunities or even probabilities for change within the institution.

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                          • March, J. G., and J. P. Olsen. “The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life.” American Political Science Review 78 (1984): 738–749.

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                            This article was the initial statement of the new institutionalism. It presents the basic argument on behalf of the logic of appropriateness, and argued against the logic of consequentiality. It furthered argues that politics can be understood more effectively through organizations than through the behavior of individuals, whether those individuals are motivated by utility maximization or social/psychological factors.

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                            • March, J. G., and J. P. Olsen. Rediscovering Institutions. New York: Free, 1989.

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                              This book was an elaboration of March and Olsen 1984, which served as the call for greater attention to the institutional factors in political life. It develops the logic of appropriateness and the importance of norms and values, especially in democratic governance.

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                              • March, J. G., and J. P. Olsen. “Elaborating the ‘New Institutionalism.’” In Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions. Edited by R. A. W. Rhodes, S. Binder, and B. A. Rockman, 3–22. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                                After the initial publication of their theses concerning the new institutionalism, March and Olsen responded to the various critiques and analyses of their approach to institutions. This chapter is an important restatement of the arguments of their approach and also an extension of those arguments.

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                                Rational Choice

                                Rational choice institutionalism is to some extent the antithesis of the normative version of institutionalism, being based largely on the rational calculations of actors. In this version of institutionalism the institutions are structures within which individuals attempt to achieve their own ends, operating within the context of the rules and incentives established by the designers of the institution. Although there is a fundamental assumption guiding all the versions, there are several versions of the rational choice approach. One version, associated primarily with the late Elinor Ostrom (Ostrom 1990) and also seen in the book by another Nobel Laureate, Douglass North (North 1990), is based on rules and the emergence of rules that can overcome collective action problems. Another version, typified by the contribution from George Tsebelis (Tsebelis 2002), is based on the existence of veto points at which decisions can be stopped or modified. Still other models are based on using institutions to reduce transaction costs so that services can be provided more effectively, and some are also based on game theory, such as Scharpf 1997. As this version of institutional theory has developed, it has become more open to other assumptions and ideas, as indicated in Araral 2008.

                                • Araral, E. “The Strategic Games that Donors and Bureaucrats Play: An Institutional Rational Choice Analysis.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 9 (2008): 853–871.

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                                  The institutional analysis and development framework was developed in the Ostrom workshop to provide an institutional explanation for policy choices. Although based on rational choice ideas, this model includes ideas from other ideas about institutions and emphasizes the capacity of institutions to learn from their actions.

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                                  • North, D. C. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511808678Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    This book by another Nobel Laureate provides a foundation for understanding the transaction cost approach to institutions. Although grounded in the analysis of economic history, this discussion of transaction costs has much wider applicability.

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                                    • Ostrom, E. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge. UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511807763Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      This seminal book by a Nobel Laureate addresses one of the most enduring public policy problems: common pool resources. It does so by using both game theory—mainly the prisoners’ dilemma game—and other tools from economic analysis. Unlike many approaches using rational choice, however, this approach does not rely on the imposition of solutions through some hierarchical means but rather is interested in the evolution of solutions from the among the actors themselves.

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                                      • Scharpf, F. W. Games Real Actors Could Play: Actor Centered Institutionalism. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997.

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                                        Although the fundamental logic of this approach is derived from rational-choice and game theory, the “actor-centered institutionalism” proposed by Scharpf is oriented more toward the manner in which individuals would function within the games that are created within institutional structures. Scharpf utilizes this basic logic to address a number of specific problems, especially those of coordination.

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                                        • Tsebelis, G. Veto Players: How Political Instructions Work. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

                                          DOI: 10.1515/9781400831456Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          This book presents the now commonly used concept of veto players. The argument is that we can understand the effects of institutional structures on outcomes, and the efficiency of decision-making, by examining the number of veto players within the structure. The simple inference is that more veto players make decision-making more difficult, but there are numerous other implications for this concept presented in this volume.

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                                          Historical Institutionalism

                                          Historical institutionalism has become perhaps the most commonly used institutional approach in political science. The roots of approach were in economics, and attempts to explain suboptimal outcomes in markets. The fundamental argument in the approach is that when structures and policies are created at the “formative moment,” their path is established and the initial choices are likely to persist. This is a common observation about the public sector, but this approach has created an important approach to politics from that observation. The concept of “path dependence” is the central concept in historical institutionalism. As the name implies the assumption is that policy outcomes are dependent on the path established at the initial stage of the process. In the initial formulation of the approach this path could be altered primarily through “punctuations” in the established equilibrium. These punctuations could not be predicted, and the assumption appeared to be that they came from external sources. The difficulty in predicting change has been one of the major critiques of this version of institutionalism, and the much work of Kathleen Thelen (discussed in the section of institutional Change) has been directed toward solving that problem. Steinmo, et al. 1992 was the first major statement of historical institutionalism and applies the idea of path dependency to comparative politics. That concept of path dependency was further developed by Crouch and Farrell 2004, which demonstrates the probabilistic nature of the concept, and Pierson 2000 provides a political justification for the success of path dependency. Peters, et al. 2005 points to the political roots of change, one of the central difficulties in applying historical institutionalism.

                                          • Crouch, C., and H. Farrell. “Breaking the Path of Institutional Development: Alternatives to the New Determinism.” Rationality and Society 16 (2004): 5–43.

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                                            The standard conceptualization of path dependency is very deterministic. More sophisticated conceptualizations, however, assume that there are multiple decisions being made in the development of a program, and that in each there are opportunities for choice. Thus, this approach opens the historical institutionalism to greater possibilities of change and also identifies potential change agents within the processes.

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                                            • Peters, B. G., J. Pierre, and D. S. King. “The Politics of Path Dependence: Political Conflict in Historical Institutionalism.” Journal of Politics 67 (2005): 1275–1300.

                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2508.2005.00360.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Path dependence can be a powerful prediction of behavior of an institution. This article argues that explaining deviations from an established path can be explained by political conflict. Indeed, conflicts over the nature of policy and the appropriate definitions of the policy problem is essential for producing change.

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                                              • Pierson, P. “Increasing Returns, Path Dependence and the Study of Politics.” American Political Science Review 94 (2000): 251–267.

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                                                Path dependence is a central concept in historical institutionalism but has been used rather casually at times. Pierson elaborates the concept, arguing that path dependence can be explained through the increasing return to the participants in the institution from the “path” that has been established. The returns to the existing pattern provides incentives for the participants to maintain those patterns and to deflect change.

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                                                • Steinmo, S., K. Thelen, and F. Longstreth. Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511528125Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  This was the foundational book for historical institutionalism. It advances the basic arguments concerning path dependence, while arguing for understanding the influence of history on contemporary policy choices. In this and most other works of historical institutionalism the major concern is the capacity to predict or explain policies, so that the institution may in some instances be seen to be the policy rather than the structures that deliver it.

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                                                  Empirical Institutionalism

                                                  The empirical institutionalism to some extent returns to more traditional concerns about institutions, albeit more informed by contemporary social science theory. The fundamental question of this approach is, as the title of the book mentioned in the following suggests, what difference do organizational formats make in the performance of governments? This has been a classic question in the study of governments but remains important in explaining what happens within the public sector. One of the most common institutional questions that has been advanced is the difference between parliamentary and presidential governments. This question has been advanced in general terms by Weaver and Rockman 1993 but also has been advanced concerning the effects of these organizational forms on the stability of developing political systems in Linz 1994. Although these fundamental differences are important, there are also internal factors such as wealth and ethnic divisions that influence the viability of any political system. Federalism and other constitutional features of governments can also be examined through institutional theory, as Benz 2009 demonstrates. Those structural features of states are in some settings dysfunctional, as Valerie Bunce 1999 demonstrates for the former socialist states.

                                                  • Benz, A. “The Politics of Constitutional Change between Reform and Evolution.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 39 (2009): 213–240.

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                                                    The territorial distribution of powers within states is another important dimension of constitutions and institutions. This paper examines changing patterns of decentralization of powers comparatively, with special emphasis on Germany.

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                                                    • Bunce, V. Subversive Institutions: The Design and the Destruction of Socialism and the State. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511816178Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Valerie Bunce examines the collapse of the Soviet Union from an institutional perspective. Her argument is that the initial design of the institutions of that political system to some extent determined the nature of the collapse of the system.

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                                                      • Linz, J. The Failure of Presidential Democracy: Comparative Perspectives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

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                                                        The discussion of parliamentary and presidential institutions is carried in another direction in this paper. The argument Linz makes is that presidentialism is a poor choice for developing political systems because it is more likely to produce coups and other extra-legal forms of transition. The greater flexibility of parliamentary institutions permits changes in governments at other than specified times and also does not center so much power in a single individual.

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                                                        • Weaver, R. K., and B. A. Rockman. Do Institutions Matter? Government Capabilities in the United States and Abroad. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1993.

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                                                          The fundamental distinction used in analyzing the effects of institutions has been the difference between presidential and parliamentary regimes. This book is a thorough examination of these institutional configurations. It presents an analytic framework for studying the differences and then examines policy capacities and performance along a number of dimensions.

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                                                          Sociological Institutionalism

                                                          The normative discussion previously discussed is derived in large part from sociological institutionalism. They share a common concern with norms, values, and social structures. Sociological institutionalism has also been very concerned with the population of institutions in an environment and the relationship among them. This version of institutionalism has also been more concerned with the fundamental instruments that shape action within institutions and link the individuals and the institutions. Three of the four pieces included in this section are oriented toward the concept of institutional fields. This concept was introduced by Dimaggio and Powell 1983 and elaborated on extensively in Fligstein and McAdam 2012. The concept was then applied more directly to the public sector by Ashworth, et al. 2009. Fligstein and McAdam 2012 also uses sociological institutionalism to examine the impact of neoliberal policy ideas on national and international economic policies.

                                                          • Ashworth, R., G. Boyne, and R. Delbridge. “Escape from the Iron Cage: Organizational Change and Isomorphic Pressures in the Public Sector.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 19 (2009): 165–187.

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                                                            The isomorphism argument has been a central element in much of the sociological analysis of institutions. This paper uses that approach for an extensive analysis of changing organizations and institutions within the public sector.

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                                                            • Campbell, J. L., and O. K. Pedersen. The Rise of Neoliberalism and Institutional Analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

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                                                              This collection of essays links institutional analysis to changes in economic and political ideologies. These essays also examine the impact of international changes on national institutional patterns and policies.

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                                                              • Dimaggio, P. J., and W. W. Powell. “Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields.” American Sociological Review 48 (1983): 147–160.

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                                                                This article is the foundation for a series of studies of “isomorphism,” meaning the tendencies of institutions in organizational or institutional fields to become relatively similar, at least in structural terms. The authors point to a variety of methods through which institutions tend to copy each other and the influences of institutional fields.

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                                                                • Fligstein, N., and D. McAdam. A Theory of Fields. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199859948.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  The concept of institutional and organizational field has been central in sociological institutionalism. This book is an elaboration of this concept and demonstrates that an understanding of institutional fields can lead to a better understanding of society and politics more generally.

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                                                                  Discursive Institutionalism

                                                                  The most recent addition to the family of institutional approaches is labeled discursive institutionalism and is usually associated with Vivien Schmidt. Other scholars such as Colin Hay and Mark Blyth have made similar arguments, but Schmidt’s formulation has become the most commonly utilized. Although she labeled this approach and has attempted to differentiate it from others, it does have some similarities with other versions of institutionalism. The basic ides of this approach is that institutions are defined by their ideas and the arguments about those ideas—their discourses. In this conception of institutionalism there may be several competing discourses within a single institution, just as there may be several organizational cultures within a single organization. In this version of institutionalism, in contrast to the normative institutionalism which is also based on ideas and norms, the equilibrium within the institution may be relatively short-lived, and there is continuing competition over ideas. As shown in the two articles by Schmidt discussed here (Schmidt 2008; Schmidt 2010), the discursive approach has two sets of discourses occurring simultaneously. One form of discourse is “coordinative” discourse, which is used internally to manage the policies and the performance of the participants in the institution. The other discourse is “communicative,” and is used to influence the external environment of the institution. These two discourses may be formed separately, as the ideas required to influence the public will be very different from those necessary to influence internal behaviors. Beland 2005 also examines the conflict of ideas (discourses) in shaping policy, all taking place within an institutional context.

                                                                  • Beland, D. “Ideas and Social Policy: An Institutionalist Perspective, Social Policy and Administration.” Social Policy and Administration 39 (2005): 1–18.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9515.2005.00421.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Although not using the discourse theories explicitly, this paper does employ ideas and the clash of different ideas to explain social policy choices. The approach utilized in this paper links ideas directly to institutional structures and behaviors as well as to the outcomes of the policy processes in these cases.

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                                                                    • Maguire, S., and C. Hardy. “Discourse and Deinstitutionalization: The Decline of DDT.” Academy of Management Journal 52 (2009): 148–178.

                                                                      DOI: 10.5465/AMJ.2009.36461993Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      This article considers the institutionalization of a common practice—the use of the pesticide DDT. This deinstitutionalization was driven by actors outside the user community of agriculture and public health. Changing the dominant discourse about this chemical is argued to be crucial for this change in practice.

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                                                                      • Schmidt, V. A. “Discursive Institutionalism: The Explanatory Power of Ideas and Discourse.” Annual Review of Political Science 11 (2008): 303–326.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.11.060606.135342Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        This paper is a statement of the discourse approach to political institutions. Vivian Schmidt develops the basic concepts of discursive institutionalism and demonstrates its utility for understanding political institutions and especially the manner in which they make public policy.

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                                                                        • Schmidt, V. A. “Taking Ideas and Discourse Seriously: Explaining Change through Discursive Institutionalism and the Fourth ‘New Institutionalism.’” European Political Science Review 2 (2010): 1–25.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/S175577390999021XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Discursive versions of institutionalism are relative latecomers in the field. This paper attempts to integrate the discursive version with other versions of institutionalism and to demonstrate its capacity to elaborate some aspects of the other approaches. This relevance for the other approaches is especially evident when attempting to understand institutional change.

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                                                                          In addition to the theoretical questions concerning institutionalism, there are questions about the applicability of these theories. There have been a number of applications to the formal institutions of the public sector and to less formal structures such as political parties. Those applications do not appear to challenge the underlying logic of institutions. However, when these models are applied to more amorphous structures in and out of the public sector the applicability is more questionable. The examples developed here represent some of the more challenging applications of institutionalism.


                                                                          Much of the discussion of institutions in political science has been concentrated at the national level or, perhaps, at the level of local government. Institutions at the international level may be more difficult to identify and to analyze. In part, institutions are generally associated with the capacity to impose some sort of control over an area of policy, but that capacity may be very limited in the international arena. The three articles in this section address several different issues about international institutions. March and Olsen 1998 uses institutional theory to address one of the continuing theoretical debates in international relations. Goldstein, et al. 2007 examines two of the more effective institutional regimes in international politics through the lens of empirical institutionalism to understand better why they have been effective. Finally, Pattberg 2005 looks at the interaction of public and private institutions in providing governance using several ideas derived from institutional theory.

                                                                          • Goldstein, J. L., D. Rivers, and M. Tomz. “Institutions in International Relations: Understanding the Effects of the GATT and the WHO on World Trade.” International Organization 61 (2007): 37–67.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/S0020818307070014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and World Trade Organization have been two dominant institutions in international trade policy, and this article examines them as institutions and as influences in trade policy. This manuscript thus is within the general tradition of empirical institutionalism and looks at organizational and institutional features that affect performance.

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                                                                            • March, J. G., and J. P. Olsen. “Juxtaposing Rationalism and Constructivism: The Institutional Dynamics of International Political Orders.” International Organization 52 (1998): 943–969.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1162/002081898550699Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              The intellectual founders of the new institutionalism apply their ideas to international politics in this paper. They use institutionalism to address two of the fundamental approaches in international politics: rationalism and constructivism. The logic of appropriateness is particularly applicable to the constructivist approach to international politics.

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                                                                              • Pattberg, P. “The Institutionalization of Private Governance: How Business and Nonprofit Organizations Agree on Transnational Rules.” Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions 18.4 (2005): 589–610.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0491.2005.00293.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                This article addresses the intersection of several strands of institutional theory. On the one hand the process of institutionalization is central to this paper. It also focuses on the role of rules in shaping the interaction of public and private sectors in international governance,

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                                                                                European Union

                                                                                The European Union (EU) has been the topic of a variety of analyses, and there have been a number of attempts to understand the EU through the institutionalist frame. The EU is a complex set of structures and procedures that requires interpretation, and the institutionalist framework provides some insights into this political system. Further, the dynamics of supranational integration that are central to the European “project” and that redefinition of the roles of governments also have institutional implications. Both Aspinwall and Schneider 2000 and Egeberg 2004 demonstrate how institutional theory can be applied to studying the EU and how its insights are different from those derived from comparative politics and international relations.

                                                                                • Aspinwall, M. D., and G. Schneider. “Same Menu, Separate Tables: The Institutionalist Turn in Political Science and the Study of the European Union.” European Journal of Political Research 38 (2000): 1–26.

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                                                                                  As the title implies, this paper explores the similar intellectual trajectories in the discipline of political science and the multidisciplinary study of the EU. The EU poses particular challenges from an institutionalist perspective because of broad changes in its structures and its membership and the continuing adaptations to changing economic and political conditions in its environment.

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                                                                                  • Egeberg, M. “An Organizational Approach to European Integration: Outline of a Complementary Perspective.” European Journal of Political Research 43 (2004): 199–219.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6765.2004.00151.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    This article takes a somewhat broader view of the role of institutions and organizations in the study of the EU. It also addresses specifically the role that organizational analysis can play in understanding the transformation of the EU in the continuing process of supranational integration.

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                                                                                    Law and Courts

                                                                                    The courts are, of course, institutions within the public sector but the legal foundations of their actions tend to make scholars reticent from considering them as institutions. That reticence is unfortunate because these are central institutions in governing. Further, as indicated by the papers included here, several of the approaches to institutionalism are relevant for understanding these organizations. The three entries included here utilize rather different versions of institutional theory to analyze the operation of the courts, especially the US Supreme Court. Clayton and Gillman 1999 uses normative institutionalism to understand how the courts make decisions, with values and routines playing important roles. Hathaway 2001, on the other hand, uses historical institutionalism and the concept of path dependency, while Hammond and Bonneau 2009 uses a rational choice perspective to understand strategic choices made within the context of institutional rules.

                                                                                    • Clayton, C. W., and H. Gillman. Supreme Court Decision-Making: New Institutionalist Approaches. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

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                                                                                      The new institutionalism contains a variety of different approaches, and this book employs a number of those approaches to understand decision-making in the US Supreme Court. The articles are especially focused on normative and discursive approaches to institutionalism.

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                                                                                      • Hammond, T. H., and C. W. Bonneau. Strategic Behavior and Policy Choice in the U.S. Supreme Court. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                        This is a rational choice analysis of the US Supreme Court. The actors (the justices) are assumed to be rational actors attempting to assemble winning coalitions within the context of the rules of this institution. This perspective is in marked contrasts to traditional perspectives that assume that legal considerations are the primary, if not the sole, foundation of court decisions.

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                                                                                        • Hathaway, O. A. “Path Dependence in the Law: The Course and Pattern of Legal Change in a Common Law System.” Iowa Law Review 86 (2001): 601–655.

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                                                                                          The common law, with its emphasis on precedent, is clearly amenable to analysis using the idea of path dependence. This paper provides a thorough analysis of common law from this perspective in a manner that is accessible to scholars who are not themselves lawyers.

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                                                                                          Institutional theory has made a number of contributions in political science and in the other social sciences. Despite those contributions, there are a number of theoretical and methodological challenges to this approach. The most fundamental of these challenges is how to cope with change. This is not only changing values and structures, but it also involves building the institution itself (institutionalization). Another major set of challenges arises from the need to integrate individuals with institutions and to understand their mutual influences. Finally, there are fundamental questions about the possibilities for designing institutions in ways that will produce the intended outcomes.


                                                                                          Institutional theory is typically associated with stability and permanence. Therefore, change represents a major challenge for institutionalism. This challenge, perhaps especially for historical institutionalism, has been confronted with a number of approaches to change. These approaches all attempt to find ways of maintaining the capacity of institutional theory to explain persistence while also being able to cope with change. The two books edited by Kathleen Thelen along with other scholars (Mahoney and Thelen 2010; Streeck and Thelen 2005) develop means of understanding change through the historical institutionalism in other than the more radical changes described as punctuated equilibrium. Clemens and Cook 1999 addresses some of the same issues as Thelen and her colleagues, albeit from a more sociological perspective. The two entries by Arjen Boin (Boin 2001; Boin, et al. 2010) address pressures for change within institutions coming from changes in the clientele or other aspects of the environment.

                                                                                          • Boin, A. Crafting Public Institutions: Leadership in Two Prison Systems. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner, 2001.

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                                                                                            Much of the discussion of institutional change assumes that the change is driven by the leadership of the institution. This study demonstrates that institutions also change when their raw material—in this instance, prisoners—change and the institution must find new approaches for processing them.

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                                                                                            • Boin, A., S. Kuipers, and M. Steenbergen. “Life and Death in Public Organizations: A Question of Institutional Design.” Governance 23 (2010): 385–410.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0491.2010.01487.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              This paper focuses on the implications of organizational design for the survival of public institutions. The question is, not unlike some that arise in the historical institutionalism, whether the initial choices made at the formation of the institution will determine its future and whether there is sufficient knowledge available to design institutions to survive. This paper provides some empirical evidence about the consequences of different designs.

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                                                                                              • Clemens, E. S., and J. M. Cook. “Politics and Institutionalism: Explaining Durability and Change.” Annual Review of Sociology 25 (1999): 441–466.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.25.1.441Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Rather similar to some of the ideas of transformation presented in Streeck and Thelen 2005, this paper provides a number of categories of change that may occur within institutions. However, rather than being tied directly to the historical institutionalism, this paper provides a more comprehensive perspective on institutional change. The principal thrust of the analysis is sociological, emphasizing factors such as identities and interests, rather on path dependence.

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                                                                                                • Mahoney, J., and K. Thelen, eds. Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency and Power. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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                                                                                                  This book of represents a continuation of many of the arguments about institutional change presented in Streeck and Thelen 2005. It moves beyond descriptions of change to examine explanations of change and how actors and processes can be used to overcome the inertia within institutions.

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                                                                                                  • Streeck, W., and K. Thelen, eds. Beyond Continuity: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                    Within the historical institutionalism, change was conceptualized as occurring primarily through punctuated equilibrium. This approach meant that change was possible only through major transformations while in reality most changes in the public sector appeared more gradual. This book proposes a variety of alternative forms of change and considers their role in institutional and policy change.

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                                                                                                    One continuing problem in institutional theory is the role of agency. Institutionalism is predominantly a structural explanation of performance but risks becoming devoid of human agency and of becoming anthropomorphized. Integrating the roles of individual behavior and institutional structures is one of the continuing challenges for institutional theory. The articles presented here make various attempts at that integration. Fligstein 1997 discusses the skills that are required for an agent to affect institutional performance and Grafstein 1992 raises fundamental questions about how individuals shape and are shaped by institutions.

                                                                                                    • Fligstein, N. “Social Skill and Institutional Theory.” American Behavioral Scientist 40 (1997): 397–405.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1177/0002764297040004003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      This paper moves beyond a simple conception of agency to discuss the various skills that a good agent must have to affect the performance of an institution. This perspective is derived more from a sociological perspective and examines some of the contingencies of structures and of agents that can shape performance.

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                                                                                                      • Grafstein, R. Institutional Realism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

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                                                                                                        This book raises a central question about agency in institutional theory. Institutions are human creations, but once created they are often discussed as immutable and shaping the behavior of individuals. How can the products of human agency not be amenable to further agency, and are there real constraints on behavior?

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                                                                                                        Individuals and Institutions: The Micro-Foundations of Behavior

                                                                                                        The question of the relationship between individuals and institutions is related to the issue of agency. This section, however, focuses on more fundamental questions about what can explain the behavior of the individuals within an institution and therefore explain the behavior of the institution. Powell and Colyvas 2008 examines foundations of institutional theory based on individual action, while Hodgson 2000 explores some of the same theme but links it directly to the performance of public sector institutions.

                                                                                                        • Hodgson, G. M. “From Micro to Micro: The Concept of Emergence and the Role of Institutions.” In Institutions and the Role of the State. Edited by A. Burlamaqui, A. C. Castro, and H. J. Chang, 103–126. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2000.

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                                                                                                          This paper questions some of the conventional assumptions behind economics and the rational choice foundations of economic institutions and economic policy. It also raises fundamental questions about how to link individual actions to the performance of institutions.

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                                                                                                          • Powell, W. W., and J. A. Colyvas. “Microfoundations of Institutional Theory.” In Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. Edited by R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, K. Sahlin, and R. Suddaby. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2008.

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                                                                                                            This paper is a thorough discussion of the fundamental questions involved in the understanding the impact of micro-level behavior of the macro-level performance of institutions. This article is informed significantly by sociological organizational theory but also considers a range of individual level variables influencing institutions.

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                                                                                                            Can we design institutions, or are they primarily emergent structures and patterns of interaction that develop more autonomously? The answer to this question to some extent depends on the approach to institutionalism adopted. For example, rational choice versions of institutionalism assume that institutions can be designed readily—all the designer must do is to manipulate incentives and the behaviors of individuals will respond; this perspective can be seen in Weimer 1995 and Aghion, et al. 2004. More sociological and normative perspectives on institutions would argue that design is more difficult and involves attempting to alter the normative structures of the institution that had required some significant amount of time to develop. Historical institutionalists appear to think that design is easy at an initial formation stage but becomes increasingly difficult thereafter. As Duffield 2003 argues, design may be more difficult in international organizations, and Smith 2009 and Andrews 2012 demonstrate the difficulties in several types of public organizations.

                                                                                                            • Aghion, P., A. Alesina, and F. Trebbi. “Endogenous Political Institutions.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 119 (2004): 556–611.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1162/0033553041382148Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              This paper addresses a very fundamental question of institutional design—how much unconstrained power is to be allocated to political leaders? All political systems have some degree of delegation, but in authoritarian regimes that delegation occurs with any significant checks over the leaders. The theoretical analysis is complemented with empirical examples of constitutional design.

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                                                                                                              • Andrews, M. The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development: Changing Rules for Realistic Solutions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                Institutions are often considered to be a good solution for development problems. Andrews, however, uses institutional theory to assess the contributions of institutional design in less-developed countries and remains skeptical of those contributions. While institutional design may ameliorate these problems, individual action (agency) may be more important for supporting development.

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                                                                                                                • Duffield, J. S. “The Limits of Rational Design.” International Organization 57 (2003): 411–430.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/S002081830357206XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  Scholars of international organizations have been particularly concerned with the design of institutions, given the difficulties in developing institutions that are effective in operating in this environment. This paper discusses the possibilities and challenges to design in this environment, but the concepts are also applicable in other settings.

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                                                                                                                  • Goodin, R. E., ed. The Theory of Institutional Design. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511558320Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    This volume contains a number of papers addressing theories of institutional design. The papers are written from several different perspectives on institutions. Taken together these papers provide an excellent introduction to the possibilities and the challenges of institutional design. The papers are more sanguine about the possibilities of effective design than many scholars would expect, but this book provides a comprehensive introduction to design.

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                                                                                                                    • Smith, G. Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation: Theories of Institutional Design. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511609848Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Most of the analysis of institutional design have been concerned with the design of institutions to deliver public services or to produce specific allocations of power. This analysis of institutional design is more concerned with design as a means of promoting participation and political democracy.

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                                                                                                                      • Weimer, D. L. Institutional Design. Boston: Kluwer, 1995.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1007/978-94-011-0641-2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        This volume is another collection of papers concerning institutional design, although written primarily from a rational choice perspective on institutions. In particular, the articles focuses on the capacity of the new institutional economics to inform the design of institutions, primarily in the public sector.

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                                                                                                                        Institutionalization and Deinstitutionalization

                                                                                                                        Much of the theoretical literature discusses institutions in dichotomous terms—an entity is an institution or it is not in this perspective on institutions. In reality, institutions may be becoming more or less institutionalized in response to both internal and external events. Even institutions that may be fully institutionalized may lose some of their internal consistency and commitment. For example, the US presidency may have become deinstitutionalized after the impeachment hearings during the Clinton administration. The degree of institutionalization is important because it can affect the capacity of institutions to influence their own. Huntington 1968, a discussion of institutionalization in developing countries, is directed more at political development than at institutional analysis per se but develops a useful set of concepts that are applied to the US presidency by Ragsdale and Theis 1997. Oliver 1992 develops another set of concepts for discussing both institutionalization and deinstitutionalization in organizations. Institutionalization is especially important for new organizations and institutions, and Boin and Goodin 2007 analyzes the likelihood of success for those new entities.

                                                                                                                        • Boin, A., and R. E. Goodin. “Institutionalizing Upstarts: The Demon of Domestication and the Benefits of Recalcitrance.” Acta Politica 42 (2007): 40–57.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.ap.5500168Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Governments form a number of organizations, whether through reorganizing existing programs or creating new organizations to address new issues. These new organizations may, however, be fragile and subject to termination until they become fully institutionalized. Further, the authors argue that those organizations are more likely to be successful if they focus on their internal management concerns rather than responses to external demands.

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                                                                                                                          • Huntington, S. P. Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968.

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                                                                                                                            This classic discussion of political development considers institutionalization at the level of the political system as a whole. The argument is that political systems need to institutionalize their capacities to manage increasing demands if they wish to be stable and successful regimes. This discussion also contains a number of dimensions of institutionalization that can also be used in other settings.

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                                                                                                                            • Oliver, C. “The Antecedents of Deinstitutionalization.” Organization Studies 13 (1992): 563–588.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1177/017084069201300403Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              This paper presents a model explaining deinstitutionalization. This model includes political, functional, and social pressures for deinstitutionalization, all operating in the environment of an organization or institution as well as within the structure itself. This model provides a very useful model for understanding deinstitutionalization as well as institutionalization.

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                                                                                                                              • Ragsdale, L., and J. J. Theis III. “The Institutionalization of the American Presidency 1924–92.” American Journal of Political Science 41 (1997): 1280–1318.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.2307/2960490Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                This study of the presidency and, more particularly, of the executive office of the president, utilizes the four dimensions of institutionalization advanced by Huntington. These dimensions, although developed for other purposes, are useful in understanding the ways in which this structure has evolved and the importance of institutionalization for the success of the structure.

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                                                                                                                                Informal Institutions

                                                                                                                                Much of the discussion of institutions, especially political institutions, has been of formal structures. While these are certainly important in political life, informal institutions are also important. The concept of informal institution may appear to be an oxymoron, but it indicates the existence of political organizations and movements that are not formalized in the usual sense of the term but yet do exist across time and do affect the behaviors of their members and also potentially influence the political system more broadly. Helmke and Levitsky 2004 is a seminal piece in the study of informal institutions and their relationship to formal institutions in the public sector. Brinks 2003 then demonstrates how informal institutions can be important, even in areas such as the rule of law that might be thought to be the exclusive domain of formal government institutions.

                                                                                                                                • Brinks, D. M. “Informal Institutions and the Rule of Law: The Judicial Response to State Killings in Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo in the 1990s.” Comparative Politics 36 (2003): 1–19.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/4150157Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  This article applies the logic of informal institutions to problems of the rule of law in Latin American countries. The author comes to the counter-intuitive conclusion that informal institutions may be more successful in addressing some of these vexing questions than are the formal institutions of the state. The article also demonstrates the potential complementarity of public and private institutions in the provision of public services.

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                                                                                                                                  • Helmke, G., and S. Levitsky. “Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda.” Perspectives on Politics 2 (2004): 725–740.

                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/S1537592704040472Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    This article presents an important analysis of the nature of informal institutions in the political system. The focus of the analysis is the role that informal institutions play in comparative politics as a means of compensating for potential weaknesses in formal institutions and also to provide alternative opportunities for public participation. Although the principal focus of this paper is on less-developed countries, this analysis has implications for all political systems.

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                                                                                                                                    If institutionalism is to be a contender as a paradigm in political science, one crucial factor to address is the problem of measurement. While we may know what an institution is, what are the dimensions of measurement? One answer is provided through the veto-players approach, and another may arise through the connections between some aspects of organizational theory and normative versions of institutionalism. The question of measurement is perhaps most evident in the literature on institutionalization, given that if the level of institutionalization is indeed a variable then we need to be able to locate any structure along that dimension. Two of the three papers included in this section address different dimensions of institutions and the possibilities of measuring those dimensions. Levitsky and Murillo 2009 considers the strength of institutions and their capacity for enforcing their decisions. Rodden 2004 attempts to measure the degree of decentralization of institutions, whether that decentralization is formal or informal. Finally, Schneiberg and Clemens 2006 raises more general questions about measurement and research strategies for institutional analysis.

                                                                                                                                    • Levitsky, S., and M. V. Murillo. “Variations in Institutional Strength.” Annual Review of Political Science 12 (2009): 115–133.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.11.091106.121756Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      The strength of institutions is one aspect of institutions that appears more amenable to measurement than are others. This article discusses measurement of enforcement and stability in institutions as surrogates for the concept of institutional strength. The article also discusses the implications of strength for the performance of political systems.

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                                                                                                                                      • Rodden, J. “Comparative Federalism and Decentralization: On Meaning and Measurement.” Comparative Politics 36 (2004): 481–500.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/4150172Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        One important institutional feature of political systems is the degree of decentralization in policymaking and in political power. This paper addresses the difficult problem of how to measure the degree of decentralization, whether through formal federalism or through less formalized mechanisms.

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                                                                                                                                        • Schneiberg, M., and E. S. Clemens. “The Typical Tools of the Job: Research Strategies in Institutional Analysis.” Sociological Theory 24 (2006): 195–227.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9558.2006.00288.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          Sociological Institutionalism emphasizes isomorphism and the role of organizational fields in shaping behaviors of individual organizations. This paper begins with that basic approach and then considers the ways of measuring these impacts and the changing nature of institutions.

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