In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Comparative Capitalism Theory

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Early Works
  • Journals
  • Varieties of Capitalism
  • Developing and Critiques
  • Business Systems Theory
  • Regulation Theory
  • The Social Systems of Production (SSP) Approach
  • Alternative Categorization
  • Historical Institutionalism
  • Variegated Capitalism
  • Rational Hierarchical Approaches

Political Science Comparative Capitalism Theory
Geoffrey Wood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0131


The 1990s saw a revival of interest in comparative institutionalist approaches, building on pioneering earlier accounts that sought to identify the nature of differences between distinct forms of developed economy. Central to this was a concern with understanding the defining features and differences of lightly regulated liberal market economies and more coordinated types of capitalism. This was initially prompted by an interest in understanding the basis for the relatively superior manner in which Germany and Japan coped with the post-1970 economic crisis when compared to the United States and the United Kingdom. When the relative fortunes of these countries apparently reversed in the 1990s, more progressive scholars sought to understand the basis for the continued viability of alternatives to neoliberalism. Current debates center on the optimal number of institutional archetypes, the nature of continuity and change, the extent of divergence between systems, and the bounded nature of internal diversity within national institutional frameworks.

General Overviews and Early Works

The challenges of competitiveness in the West and the increasing prominence of Far Eastern economies, most notably Japan, led to a number of early works that sought to locate the relative success of firms within the wider socioeconomic context, ranging from more theoretically orientated accounts such as Hart 1994 and Zysman 1983 to Porter 1990, a more applied work. Again, it was assumed that enduring institutional differences gave rise to different logics of action within distinct national institutional contexts; examples include Dore 1973, a comparative account of the United Kingdom and Japan. Sorge and Warner 1986 is a useful United Kingdom/Germany comparison. Allen 2004 examines the problems of reconciling parsimony with empirical evidence, and Brewster, et al. 2011 provides an overview of understanding differences in employment relations practice. See also Deeg and Jackson 2008 and Lincoln and Kalleberg 1990, key defining early texts in this category.

  • Allen, Matthew. “The Varieties of Capitalism Paradigm: Not Enough Variety?” Socio-economic Review 2.1 (2004): 87–108.

    DOI: 10.1093/soceco/2.1.87

    An insightful account as to the problems of reconciling parsimony with empirical evidence.

  • Brewster, C., M. Goergen, and G. Wood. “Corporate Governance Systems and Industrial Relations.” In The Future of Employment Relations: New Paradigms, New Developments. Edited by Adrian Wilkinson and Keith Townsend, 238–252. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    A broad overview of a range of alternative institutional ways of understanding difference in employment relations practice.

  • Deeg, Richard, and Gregory Jackson. “Comparing Capitalisms: The Implications of National Diversity for the Study of International Business.” Journal of International Business Studies 39.4 (2008): 540–561.

    DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8400375

    An excellent overview that both critiques and deepens comparative institutional analysis.

  • Dore, Ronald. British Factory, Japanese Factory: The Origins of National Diversity in Industrial Relations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

    A seminal early account.

  • Hart, Jeffrey. Rival Capitalists: International Competitiveness in the United States, Japan, and Western Europe. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

    A more ambitious work, not just comparing Japan with liberal markets, but also taking account of Western Europe.

  • Lincoln, James R., and Arne L. Kalleberg. Culture, Control, and Commitment: A Study of Work Organization in the United States and Japan. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    Although dealing specifically with two countries, many of the points made can be extrapolated across the two broader varieties of capitalism.

  • Porter, Michael E. The Competitive Advantage of Nations. New York: Free Press, 1990.

    While theoretically weak, some good applied insights.

  • Sorge, Arndt, and Malcolm Warner. Comparative Factory Organisation: An Anglo-German Comparison of Manufacturing, Management and Manpower. Gower, UK: Aldershot, 1986.

    Provides a welcome companion to the Dore liberal market/Japan comparisons.

  • Zysman, John. Governments, Markets, and Growth: Financial Systems and the Politics of Industrial Change. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.

    A somewhat neglected but interesting work.

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