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Institutions and institutionalism

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1 Institutions and institutionalism
Alistair Cole

2 The study of political institutions
The study of political institutions is arguably the major growth area in contemporary political science. But it is not, by itself, very new. Old institutional analysis lies at the very root of ‘comparative politics’ as it developed in the Anglo-American tradition in the late nineteenth century Describing political institutions in terms of their legal roles and their formal competencies has a long pedigree, going back to the study of American government in the 19th century (Woodrow Wilson). Old institutionalism focused on the study of public or constitutional law and the formal operation of the key political institutions. It displayed little interest in broader social behavior or the impact of institutions on public policies.

3 Against institutionalism
Even old institutionalism had something to say, however. There are a surprisingly limited number of formal political institutions amongst the world’s nation-states In most senses, modern regimes bear a striking resemblance to ancient political systems in terms of their main institutions: executives, civilian and military bureaucracies, judiciaries, legislative assemblies, political factions and parties From the 1960s onwards, there was a move away from describing formal institutions, led by the behaviouralist revolution in the United States. The behaviouralist revolution took a number of forms: with structural functionalism, systems theory and rational choice each in their distinctive ways expressing the reaction against institutionalism.

4 The New institutionalism
‘New institutionalism’ was launched by political scientists March and Olsen in 1984 as a reaction to behaviouralism and the growing influence of rational choice theory. New institutionalism focuses on the way in which institutions embody values and power relationships (Hall and Taylor 1996; Lowndes 1996; Lowndes, 2001). New Institutionalism defines institutions themselves as an essential variable in political outcomes. March and Olsen(1984): new institutionalism stresses the relative autonomy of political institutions. Institutions are neither a mirror of society (the behavioural critique), nor merely the site for individual strategies (as in the rational actor paradigm). Institutions give meaning to interactions and provide the context within which interactions take place.

5 Three main approaches Three main approaches emerge from the terminological morass: the ‘logic of appropriateness’, a concern with the weight of past decisions and processes of automatic government, and the attempt to marry methodological individualism and institutional design.

6 Three/four main approaches
Sociological or normative institutionalism emphasises the cultural context within which organisations function and the values with which actors are imbued. Historic institutionalism emphasises the importance of initial decisions and choices of venues and introduces notions such as that of path dependency. Rational choice institutionalism purports that institutions are only vested with powers by individuals. To understand institutions we need first and foremost to understand individual interactions, hence game theory. Rational choice institutionalism involves more rational choice than institutionalism, the research focus being upon how individuals can use institutions to maximise their interest. Institutions, appreciated in an instrumental way, can be important insofar as they can be designed to limit the consequences of individual behaviour

7 Normative or sociological institutionalism
Normative or sociological institutionalism refers to the codes of appropriate behaviour that imbue actors in organisations. Public officials act upon their perceptions of what is the correct code of behaviour; and they will resist changes from within or outside challenge understandings of ‘appropriate behaviour’ especially when this is linked to the exercise of a specific profession or corps. Actors within organisations are bound by common values, which explains not only their propensity to frustrate change, but also the capacity for organisations to reproduce themselves. Normative institutionalism thus frames institutions in terms of the belief systems of actors, considered as members of a profession/corps/grade, rather than as utility maximising individuals. Its underlying assumption is that individuals within organisations are conservative, fearful of change and resolute in defence of their interests. Importance of professional ethics…and difficulties of implementation.

8 Historical institutionalism 1.
Need to understand the importance of history in general, and the history of specific policy sectors or public policies in particular (Skocpol, Tilly, Elias, Pierson). Classic social science research is synchronic; it uses a range of possible variables to explain a dependent variable. It can overlook the importance of history. There are various ways of understanding history. One is to emphasise the overarching historical context in the form of a global référentiel that is not dissimilar to the scheme that developed by Muller. Another is to focus on the sectoral level, and retrace the history of specific public policies. This sectoral analysis is that favoured by the historical institutionalist school. Decisions set sectors on a given path, from which a shift is extremely costly in terms past investment. Change can usually only occur in the context of a paradigm shift

9 Historical institutionalism 2.
In the HI approach, the heritage is identified as the principal independent variable (Rose, Collier notably). Rose (1991) argues strongly that policy choices are limited by past choices. Incumbent governments can not ignore past commitments that are given substance by complex legal systems and pre-existing institutions and actor configurations. The vast bulk of laws in operation at any one time are not those implemented by the incumbent government. In a similar argument, Weaver speaks of automatic government and doubts the capacity of governments to implement change. Policy programmes pursue their autonomous development irrespective of the activities of governments in power. The field of social welfare is especially prone to this type of analysis.

10 Historical institutionalism and path dependency
According to the concept of path dependency, initial decisions are crucial because they tie in future decisions. In a colourful image, Pierson (1996) introduces the notion of ‘increasing returns’ to describe this process. Past experiences are predictable, whereas change is unpredictable. There are strong incentives not to change direction once decisions have been taken at critical junctures. Policy continuity can be very effective and it provides optimum returns over the long run. The model of historical institutionalism as presented by Pierson can support a bureaucratic model of politics. Decision-making involves a process of sedimentation, as successive layers of decisions are made. Welfare policies. Though sub-optimal in some senses, such decision-making reduces uncertainty, hence is acceptable to most actors. Policy networks embrace stability rather than change. Taken literally, this rather static portrayal underplays the prospects for policy change Solutions are ‘satisficing’ – that is, the first solution that broadly obtains agreement Rationality is ‘bounded’

11 Rational choice institutionalism
RC institutionalism attempts to marry methodological individualism and institutional design (Ostrom) Rational choice focuses on methodological individualism, rather than collective, or middle level aggregates. For RC, to understand institutions we need first and foremost to understand individual interactions, specifically the games people play. Rational Choice institutionalism: a market doctrine? Political economists refuse to recognise the State, assume individual is an egotistical, self-interested actor Rational choice institutionalism involves more rational choice than institutionalism The research focus: how to design institutions in an instrumental way, so that they can be designed to limit the consequences of utility maximising individual behaviour Lies behind creation of NPM and agency mode of governance?

12 Where has the State gone?
These three institutionalisms either ignore or minimise the state: HI = sectoral; RI = individual; NI = organisational Empirical Reality– since the 1980s, state in retreat as a result of: forces of globalization: economics, institutions, ideas state policies: liberalization, deregulation, privatization Theoretical Approaches: Convergence to one neo-liberal model (state disappears) Divergence (state still exists) Frameworks for Analysis: 1980s state ‘comes back in’ only to fade out again with two ‘new institutionalisms: Rational Choice (RI) Historical (HI) The latest Theoretical Approach: Varieties of Capitalism Divergence down to firm-centered varieties (state marginalized) Liberal Market Economies (LMEs); Coordinated Market Economies (CMEs) Combines HI and RI

13 A Third Variety of Capitalism
Different countries: France, Italy, Spain, S. Korea, Taiwan….. Differing role of state LME, liberal; CME, enabling; SME, influencing Differing logic of coordination LME adjustment driven by financial markets, led by firms acting unilaterally CME adjustment led by firms and jointly negotiated by business, labour and the State SME adjustment led by business where it exercises autonomy; but state driven where state sees need to reshape economic environment.

14 Discursive institutionalism: a new approach?
Associated with Vivien Schmidt, Claudio Radaelli How do States legitimise change? Role of legitimising discourses and how discourses are embedded in institutions/states Forms of acclimatised governance... Forms of enduring hierarchy above the role of meso-level institutions (which ties in common HI, RI and NI)

15 Confusion? Hall and Taylor (1996) identify three new institutionalisms that they label as historical, sociological and rational choice institutionalism. Guy Peters (1999) goes further and identifies six varieties of new institutionalism. To add to the confusion, the labels change from author to author: what March and Olsen or Hall and Taylor label as sociological institutionalism, for example, is more accurately branded as normative institutionalism by Guy Peters. But new institutionalism has the great merit of focussing attention upon rules, organs of state, middle level or aggregate analysis, as well as the actors/elites that inhabit the organisations of government. It rehabilitates the importance of meaning – also central to political leadership

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