Summary: Under the general rubric of “new institutionalism”, the authors define and illustrate three theories: historical, rational choice and sociological institutionalism, and argue that despite their independent development, there is a great potential and need for integration among them.
Method: The authors set out a three-pronged description of institutionalism (historical, rational choice and sociological), reviewing the existing literature on the subject and using a compare/contrast device to highlight the shortcomings of each stream in order to achieve their ultimate goal, arguing for interchange between the methods.
Important Insight: This article provides a comprehensive guide to the new institutionalisms in a way that seeks to highlight the relative strengths and weakness of each without making them seem endogenous to one another. Rather, in Hall and Talyor’s description, they specifically state that they aren’t trying to crudely synthesise the three institutionalisms into one mass hybrid (957).
Critique: The authors call for “the most extreme assumptions of each school’s theoretical position [to be] relaxed”, this may be problematic as the underlying assumptions of rational choice (as an example) are precisely what differentiates rational choice from other forms of study and are quite necessary to the formalisation of most rational choice models.
*key point: there are three variants of ‘new institutionalism’ which have had little interchange among them (but should start to have more interchange): historical institutionalism, rational choice institutionalism, and sociological institutionalism.
**historical institutionalism: developed in response to the group theories of politics and structural-functionalism prominent in polisci during the 60s and 70s.
**From group theory, HI borrowed the contention that conflict among rival groups for scarce resources lies at the heart of politics, but they sought better explanations for the distinctiveness of national political outcomes and for the inequalities that mark these outcomes. They found such explanations in the way the institutional organization of the polity and economy structures conflict so as to privilege some interests while demobilizing others (i.e. institutions (read broadly as formal or informal procedures, routines, norms and conventions embedded in the organizational structure of a constitutional order or political economy) matter).
**From structural functionalists, they borrowed the contention that the polity is to be viewed as an overall system of interacting parts, but they rejected the tendency of many structural functionalists to view the social, psychological, or cultural traits of indvls as the parameters driving much of the system’s operation. Instead, they saw the institutional organization of the polity or political economy as the principal factor structuring collective behaviour and generating distinctive outcomes (emphasized the “structuralism” rather than the “functionalism”).
*rational choice institutionalism: initially arose from the study of American congressional behaviour, which traditional rational choice could not properly explain until institutions were factored in.
*sociological institutionalism: arose primarily within the subfield of organization theory, starting around the end of the 70s, when some sociologists began to challenge the distinction traditionally drawn b/w those parts of the social world said to reflect a formal means-ends ‘rationality of the sort associated with modern forms of organization and bureaucracy and those parts of the social world said to display a diverse sets of practices associated with ‘culture’
**against this, the new institutionalists in sociology began to argue that many of the institutional forms and procedures used by modern organizations were not adopted simply b/c they were most efficient for the tasks at hand, in line with some transcendent ‘rationality.’ Instead, they argued that many of these forms and procedures should be seen as culturally-specific practices.
*unique features vis-à-vis the other variants:
**historical institutionalism: (1) conceptualize the relationship b/w institutions and indvl behaviour in relatively broad terms; (2) emphasize the asymmetries of power associated with the operation and development of institutions; (3) has a view of institutional development that emphasizes path dependence and unintended consequences; and (4) is especially concerned to integrate institutional analysis with the contribution that other kinds of facts, such as ideas, can make to political outcomes.
**re: (1): use both the calculus and culture approach to specifying the relationship b/w institutions and actors.
*rational choice institutionalism: (1) employs a characteristic set of behavioural assumptions (fixed set of preferences, instrumental behaviour, and strategic action); (2) sees politics as a series of collective action dilemmas; (3) emphasizes the role of strategic interaction in the determination of political outcomes (expectations about the predicted behaviour of others matter) ; and (4) has a distinctive approach to the problem of explaining how institutions originate (institutions created through voluntary agreements by relevant actors seeking to create an institution which will serve their required function – i.e. it’s a functionalist, intentionalist, and voluntarist approach).
*sociological institutionalism: (1) tends to define institutions much more broadly than political scientists do to include, not just formal rules, procedures and norms, but the symbol systems, cognitive scripts, and moral templates that provide the ‘frames of meaning’ guiding human action (collapses the distinction b/w institutional explanations and cultural ones, and redefines ‘culture’ itself as ‘institutions’; (2) has a distinctive understanding of the relationship b/w institutions and individual action, which follows the ‘cultural approach,’ but also adds in a ‘normative dimension’ of institutional impact’ (the relationship is highly interactive and mutually-constitutive); (3) organizations embrace specific institutional forms or practices because the latter are widely valued within a broader cultural environment.
*strengths and weaknesses, particularly with regard to the stance that each adopts toward two issues fundamental to any institutional analysis, namely, how to construe the relationship b/w institutions and behaviour, and how to explain the process whereby institutions originate or change. (937)
**strength: combines the ‘calculus’ and ‘cultural’ approaches
**weakness: has devoted less attention to developing a sophisticated understanding of exactly how institutions affect behaviour
*rational choice institutionalism:
**strength: has developed a more precise conception of the relationship and a highly generalizable set of concepts that lend themselves to theory-building. Draw our attention to the role of strategic interaction.
**weakness: the microfoundations rest on a relatively simplistic image of human motivation which may miss many of its important dimensions. Its predictive models are often sensitive to small changes in assumptions about pay-off matrices, preference structures, and the like. Often specifies preferences or goals of actors exogenous to the analysis.
**strengths: highlight institutional emulation. Develop a more expansive conception (i.e. broader than simple efficiency calculations) of why a particular institution might be chosen
**weaknesses: ignore conflict among social actors. Tends to emphasize the macro-level processes at the cost of the micro-level ones, leading to ‘actions without agents’