Kathleen Thelen and Sven Steinmo, (eds.) Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis (1992). Selected chapters to be assigned.

‘\’\’\’Summary\’\’\’: After defining the building blocks of the historical institutionalist approach and sketching its characteristic features, they discuss the frontier issues in historical institutionalism (specifically re: dynamism) and suggest ways in which institutional analysis can be further developed to address these areas.

\’\’\’Method\’\’\’: Provides an overview of historical institutionalism and the theory of punctuated equilibria, critiquing the latter.

\’\’\’\’Important Insight\’\’\’\’: There are two issues suggested for the role of institutional analysis w/in the logic of a more refined comparative political inquiry. First, b/c humans shape the constraints in which they interact through institutional choice and design, it is especially compelling to look at these moments of institutional change. Second, as several authors in this book suggest, institutional choices can shape people’s ideas, attitudes, and even preferences. In this view, institutional change is impt not only b/c it alters the constraints in which actors make strategic choices but ultimately b/c it can reshape the very goals and ideas that animate political action.

\’\’\’Critique\’\’\’

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\’\’\’Notes\’\’\’

-key point: after defining the building blocks of the historical institutionalist approach and sketching its characteristic features, they discuss the frontier issues in historical institutionalism (specifically re: dynamism) and suggest ways in which institutional analysis can be further developed to address these areas. Primarily, these relate to studies of how the meaning and functions of institutions can change over time, how institutions are created and evolve, and the interaction of “ideational innovation” and institutional constraints to illuminate distinctive patterns of policy innovation and change.
-historical institutionalism represents an attempt to illuminate how political struggles “are mediated by the institutional setting in which they take place.”
-institutions include both formal organizations and informal rules and procedures that structure conduct. Intermediate-level institutions, such as party systems and the structure of economic interest groups like unions, that mediate b/w the behaviour of individual political actors and national political outcomes are stressed.
-looking at more macro (systems-level) structures (e.g. class structure) as institutions is to be avoided. The focus on intermediate-level institutions that that mediate the effect of macro-level socio-economic structures provides greater analytical leverage – it allows us to explore how macrostructures such as class are magnified or mitigated by intermediate-level institutions while avoiding the structural determinism that often characterizes broader and more abstract Marxist, functionalist, and systems-theory approaches.
-institutions constrain and refract politics but they are never the sole ‘cause’ of the outcomes.
-historical institutionalists in general find strict rationality assumptions overly confining, and diverge from rational choice theorists in a number of ways:
1) actors are seen as rule-following satisficers, not all-knowing rational maximizers.
2) preferences are endogenized. Not just individual strategies, but also the goals actors pursue are shaped by the institutional context.
-the emphasis in historical institutionalism on political agency and political choice w/in institutional constraints is also a characteristic of the “other” new institutionalism. But there are still important differences in the theoretical project that informs the work of historical institutionalists and rational choice institutionalists.
-rational choice theorists work with one might call a ‘universal tool kit’ that can be applied in virtually any political setting. The kind of deductive logical system that informs rational choice analysis has important strengths, parsimony first among them, but its characteristic weaknesses, such as those imposed by the highly restrictive assumptions that make this kind of analysis possible, are well known.
-historical institutionalists lack the kind of universal tool kit and universally applicable concepts on which these more deductive theories are based. Rather than deducing hypotheses on the basis of global assumptions and prior to the analysis, historical institutionalists generally develop their hypotheses more inductively, in the course of interpreting the empirical matter itself.
-part of the initial appeal of the institutionalist approach to comparativists was that it offered a new angle through which to better understand policy continuities w/in countries and policy variation across countries.
-the chapters in this book go a step further, extending the logic of the institutionalist approach to build powerful explanations for variation in political behaviour and outcomes over time as well as across countries, and a framework for understanding the sources and consequences of institutional change.
-the problem with the ‘punctuated equilibrium’ model is that institutions explain everything until they explain nothing. At the moment of institutional breakdown, the logic of the argument is reversed from ‘institutions shape politics’ to ‘politics shape institutions’. Conceiving of the relationship in this way obscures the dynamic interaction of political strategies and institutional constraints. A more dynamic model is needed.
-there are four distinct sources of institutional dynamism, by which we mean situations in which we can observe variability in the impact of insituttions over time but within countries. These sources are often empirically intertwined, but it is useful to separate them analytically for purposes of exposition.
1) Broad changes in the socioeconomic and political context can produce a situation in which previously latent institutions suddenly become salient, with implications or political outcomes. (eg. European Court of Justice)
2) Changes in the socioeconomic context or the political balance of power can produce a situation in which old institutions are put in the services of different ends, as new actors come into play who pursue their (new) goals through existing institutions.
3) Exogenous changes can produce a shift in the goals or strategies being pursued within existing institutions – that is, changes in outcomes as old actors adopt new goals within the old institutions.
4) Political actors adjust their strategies to accommodate changes in the institutions themselves. This can occur in moments of dramatic change, but it can also be the result of more piecemeal change resulting from specific political battles or ongoing strategic manoeuvring within institutional constraints. In the latter case, strategic manoeuvring by political actors and conflict among them within institutional constraints (short of a crisis) can influence the institutional parameters within which their interactions occur. In the former case, while the external pressures that are central to the punctuated equilibrium model are impt, the dynamic constraints model focuses more on manoeuvring w/in the insts in response to external events.
-in contrast to what many institutionalist scholars have argued, institutions do not have constant or continuous effects while the world around them changes. Rather, their impact on political outcomes can change over time in subtle ways in response to shifts in the broader socioeconomic or political context.
-the meaning and function of institutions are shaped by features of the socioeconomic and political context in which they are embedded.
-where actors hold conflicting preferences, and where it is not clear to them which goals maximize (short- or long-term ) or how beset to pursue their interests, other factors, such as leadership – appear to play a key role in defining goals and how to pursue them.
-people fight about both institutions and policy outcomes. Battles over institutions are impt precisely b/c broad policy paths can follow from institutional choices.
-rather than bracketing the realm of ideas, or treating ideas and material as separate and unrelated variables (or as competing explanatory factors), their interaction within specified institutional contexts to produce policy change should be examined.
-some institutions may facilitate rather than impede policy change.
-there are two issues suggested here for the role of institutional analysis w/in the logic of a more refined comparative political inquiry. First, b/c humans shape the constraints in which they interact through institutional choice and design, it is especially compelling to look at these moments of institutional change… Second, as several authors in this book suggest, institutional choices can shape people’s ideas, attitudes, and even preferences. In this view, institutional change is impt not only b/c it alters the constraints in which actors make strategic choices but ultimately b/c it can reshape the very goals and ideas that animate political action.