Historical Institutionalism

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Question 3: How does historical institutionalism envision political change? How does it envision the impact of organizations?

Thelen and Steinmo share the common view among institutionalist scholars that historical institutionalism (HI) remains “sticky” when envisioning political change, even when political or economic conditions have changed dramatically (1992:18). Political change, then, according to Thelen, is centered on the concept of path dependency, or a framework of slow change dependent on the legacy of rules formed and tested throughout history. In order to understand how particular kinds of external events and processes are likely to produce political openings that drive path-dependent institutional evolution and change, Thelen prioritizes an analysis of critical junctures and feedback effects as two key reproduction mechanisms that engender foundations of institutional arrangements and political stability (1999:388-396). Critical junctures demonstrate that “[c]ausal analysis is inherently sequence analysis” (Rueschemeyer et al 1992:4; Thelen 1999:390) in that sequencing and timing of political and economic development in historical context can influence institutional outcomes. Feedback effects are based on the idea that institutions are not neutral coordinating mechanisms but instead reflect, reproduce, and magnify particular patterns of power distribution in politics. Thus, political arrangements and policy feedbacks actively facilitate the organization and empowerment of certain groups while actively disarticulating and marginalizing others, creating distributional biases in particular institutions that “feed back” so that “over time, some avenues of policy become increasingly blocked, if not entirely cut off” as “decisions at one point in time can restrict future possibilities by sending policy off onto particular tracks” (Weir 1992:18-19; Thelen 1999:394).

Thelen discusses four scenarios in which HI envisions political change, with...
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