The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions
835 pág.

The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions


DisciplinaCiências Políticas e Teoria do Estado622 materiais7.848 seguidores
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(North 1990). But the two schools diVer greatly in the object and timespan of
their studies. For RC, it is the microcosmic game, the particular interaction of
preference-holding, utility-seeking individuals within a set of (stable) institutional
constraints (whether those are viewed as exogenous, or permeable and action-
constructed) that is of interest, and RC borrowings are mainly from economics and
mathematics.
For HI, what is mainly of interest is the construction, maintenance, and adapta-
tion of institutions. HI scholars are not uninterested in individual preferences and
the logic-driven, stylized way they might play out, but HI is more likely to deWne
humanmotivation in terms of goals\u2014which have a more public, less self-interested
dimension\u2014and in collective action, whether among executive oYcials,
legislators, or social groups. RC (at least as perceived by HI) cares more about
the abstracted game under the microscope, whereas HI is generally more
concerned with the long-term evolution and outcome (intended or not) of a welter
of interactions among goal-seeking actors, both within institutions, and with their
challengers outside.
This attention to goals, collective action, outcomes, and persistence inevitably
draws HI to ideas, and ideas are diVerent from the preferences or consciousness of
rules with which RC is concerned. Ideas are relational, and often embody norma-
tive a prioris. Whether or not ideas are mere abstractions from, or disguises for,
individual preferences is less interesting to HI than the obvious fact that ideas serve
as mobilizing forces for collective action by social groups that want to create or
change institutions (Lieberman 2002, for example); and for institutional actors
themselves, ideas serve as the glue that holds an administration, party, or agency
together in its tasks, help to garner public support, and provide a standard to
evaluate the institution\u2019s policy outcomes.
It is a short step from concern with ideas and outcomes to concern with
evaluative/normative questions about the \u2018\u2018goodness\u2019\u2019 of particular institutions,
or struggles to achieve a \u2018\u2018good state.\u2019\u2019 HI scholars have a more normative, reformist
bent than the studiously dispassionate and market-aYrming RC group (one
42 elizabeth sanders
must interject here Polanyi\u2019s now-classic observation that the decision to let
markets determine outcomes is itself a normative choice, and that the apparatus
of the presumably \u2018\u2018free\u2019\u2019 and \u2018\u2018natural\u2019\u2019 market takes a lot of deliberate constructing
and coercive buttressing to survive).
The analysis of the RC fraternity, in Shepsle\u2019s words, is \u2018\u2018founded on abstraction,
simpliWcation, analytical rigor, and an insistence on clean lines of analysis from
basic axioms,\u2019\u2019 whereas most HI analysis is founded on dense, empirical description
and inductive reasoning. A focus on interactive games draws RC to mathematics
and economics, while interest in the construction, maintenance, and outcomes
of institutions draws HI toward history and philosophy. The former proceed
essentially through equations; the latter often count manifestations of behavior
(and in fact have a stronger empirical bent than most RC exercises), but HI
employs much more narrative in setting out its causal chains; and of course, its
causal chains are much longer.
In sum, HI pays more attention to the long-term viability of institutions and
their broad consequences; RC, to the parameters of particular moments in history
that are the setting for individual self-interest maximization. As Paul Pierson
(2004) has emphasized, RC takes preferences for granted, whereas HI is interested
in how ideas, interests, and positions generate preferences, and how (and why) they
evolve over time. There is no reason why the two approaches should be viewed as
antithetical, however. They may well be complementary. The choice of focus
between practitioners of RC and HI may be a matter of individual temperament
and the assumptions and methodological aYnities that go with it, but the
questions they ask may well be of mutual interest. That is certainly the case for
the present writer.
3 Three Varieties of Historical
Institutionalism: Agents of
Development and Change
.........................................................................................................................................................................................
If institutions are humanly designed constraints on subsequent human action, then
those who study them over time will inevitably be drawn to ask: whose design? And
when institutions change, or collapse, what are the exogenous social forces
or internal group dynamics that are responsible? These questions about agency-
in-change receive a lot of attention in HI\u2014more attention, it is probably fair to
claim, than in RC or conventional pluralist social science. The notion of path
historical institutionalism 43
dependence that is central to HI is compatible with diverse scholarly orientations
toward agency in path establishment, as well as in pressures for institutional change.
Thus the identiWcation of agents provides one way to organize a brief discussion of
the contributions of HI.
The choice of where one goes to look for prime movers in the genesis and
development of institutions may again be conditioned by scholarly temperament,
as well as philosophical and methodological inclinations. Some analysts have
started at the top, attributing agency in the establishment and development of
institutions to presidents, judges, high-level bureaucrats, and the intellectuals and
business aristocracy who advise and inform them. Others have gone to the bottom,
seeing the broader public, particularly social movements and groups motivated by
ideas, values, and grievances, as the instigators of institutional construction,
change, and destruction.
Inevitably, other scholars have come forward to argue that neither a focus on the
top, nor on the bottom can, by itself, tell the whole story of institutional estab-
lishment, development, and change; and so one must adopt an interactive
approach that analyzes the ideas, interests, and behavior of actors in both state
and society. Comparativists, in particular, prefer a multifocal (multivariate) search
for the actors and conditions that produce diVerences in national outcomes, but
even HI scholars who work on single country settings seem increasingly drawn to
interactive approaches.
The choice of focus has methodological implications, because at the top there are
few actors and one is likely to proceed by analyzing documents, decisions, speeches,
memoirs, and press reports of actions/events. In the study of social movements,
voters, and the legislators who are usually the \u2018\u2018Wrst responders\u2019\u2019 to their demands,
the \u2018\u2018n\u2019\u2019 is larger, and quantitative analysis more plausible. But a high word-
to-number ratio usually characterizes HI work in all categories, and distinguishes
it from both RC institutionalism and conventional, cross-sectional, quantitative,
hypothesis-testing political science. Compare, for example, the work of Eric
Schickler (2001) and Sarah Binder (1997)\u2014both historical institutional works
that analyze changes over time in congressional rules\u2014to the conventional Ameri-
can Political Science Review quantitative and RC studies of congressional politics.
All this diversity\u2014of agency, methodology, and single-country vs. comparative
analysis\u2014might be seen as a weakness in HI. It is, undeniably, a messily eclectic
genre, and the lack of agreement on foci and approaches does distinguish HI from
RC and conventional, cross-sectional political science. The \u2018\u2018undisciplined\u2019\u2019 nature
of HI in its late adolescence was no doubt what prompted the two founders of