The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions
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The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions

DisciplinaCiências Políticas e Teoria do Estado622 materiais7.848 seguidores
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oVer an analysis of institutional
change under disequilibrium conditions (for a critical commentary see also Hay 2004a, 57 9).
4 Strictly speaking, normative/sociological institutionalism does not so much assume as predict
equilibrium. For the \u2018\u2018logics of appropriateness\u2019\u2019 that constitute its principal analytical focus and that
it discerns and associates with successful institutionalization are themselves seen as equilibrating.
The key point, however, is that, like rational choice institutionalism, it does not oVer (nor, indeed,
claim to oVer) much analytical purchase on the question of institutional dynamism in contexts of
5 Interestingly, this is something it seems to have inherited from the attempt to \u2018\u2018bring the state
back into\u2019\u2019 (North American) political science in the 1980s out of which it evolved (see, for instance,
Evans et al. 1985). For, in the former\u2019s emphasis, in particular, upon the institutional and organiza
tional capacity to wage war eVectively upon the process of state formation, it came to identify the
highly consequential and path dependent nature of institutional genesis for post formative institu
tional evolution (see Mann 1988; Tilly 1975). In Charles Tilly\u2019s characteristically incisive aphorism,
\u2018\u2018wars make states and states make war.\u2019\u2019
60 colin hay
\u2018\u2018cultural\u2019\u2019 logics, then it is perhaps not diYcult to see why. For, as already noted,
instrumental logics of calculation (calculus logics) presume equilibrium (at least as
an initial condition)6 and norm-driven logics of appropriateness (cultural logics)
are themselves equilibrating. Accounts which see actors as driven either by
utility maximization in an institutionalized game scenario (rational choice insti-
tutionalism) or by institutionalized norms and cultural conventions (normative/
sociological institutionalism) or, indeed, both (historical institutionalism), are
unlikely to oVer much analytical purchase on questions of complex post-formative
institutional change. They are far better placed to account for the path-dependent
institutional change they tend to assume than they are to explain the periodic, if
infrequent, bouts of path-shaping institutional change they concede.7 In this
respect, historical institutionalism is no diVerent than its rational choice and
normative/sociological counterparts. Indeed, despite its ostensible analytical con-
cerns, historical institutionalism merely compounds and reinforces the incapacity
of rational choice and normative/sociological institutionalism to deal with dis-
equilibrium dynamics. Given that one of its core contributions is seen to be its
identiWcation of such dynamics, this is a signiWcant failing.
This is all very well, and provides a powerful justiWcation for a more construct-
ivist path from historical institutionalism. It does, however, rest on the assumed
accuracy of Hall and Taylor\u2019s depiction of historical institutionalism\u2014essentially
as an amalgamation of rational choice and normative/sociological institutionalist
conceptions of the subject. This is by no means uncontested. It has, for instance,
been suggested that historical institutionalism is in fact rather more distinctive
ontologically than this implies (compare Hay and Wincott 1998 with Hall and
Taylor 1998). For if one returns to the introduction to the volume which launched
the term itself, and to other seminal and self-consciously deWning statements
of historical institutionalism, one Wnds not a vacillation between rationalized and
socialized treatments of the human subject, but something altogether diVerent.
Thelen and Steinmo, for instance, are quite explicit in distancing historical
institutionalism from the view of the rational actor on which the calculus approach
6 This is, of course, not to deny that standard rational choice/neoclassical economic models can
describe/predict disequilibrium outcomes (think, for instance, of a multiplayer prisoner\u2019s dilemma
game). Yet they do, assuming initial equilibrium conditions.
7 The distinction between path dependent and path shaping logics and dynamics is a crucial one.
New institutionalists in general have tended to place far greater emphasis on the former than the latter.
This perhaps reXects the latent structuralism of the attempt to bring institutions back into contem
porary political analysis (see Hay 2002, 105 7). For institutions, as structures, are invariably seen
to limit, indeed delimit, the parameters of political choice. As such, they are constraints on
political dynamism. This is certainly an important insight, yet there is a certain danger in tilting
the stick too strongly in the direction of structure. For, under certain conditions, institutions, and
the path dependent logics they otherwise impose, are recast and redesigned through the
intended and unintended consequences of political agency. Given the importance of such moments,
the new institutionalism has had remarkably little to say on these bouts of path shaping institutional
constructivist institutionalism 61
is premised. Actors cannot simply be assumed to have a Wxed (and immutable)
preference set, to be blessed with extensive (often perfect) information and fore-
sight, or to be self-interested and self-serving utility maximizers. Rational choice
and historical institutionalism are, as Thelen and Steinmo note, \u2018\u2018premised on
diVerent assumptions that in fact reXect quite diVerent approaches to the study of
politics\u2019\u2019 (1992, 7).
Yet, if this would seem to imply a greater aYnity with normative/sociological
institutionalism, then further inspection reveals this not to be the case either. For,
to the extent that the latter assumes conventional and norm-driven behavior
thereby downplaying the signiWcance of agency, it is equally at odds with the
deWning statements of historical institutionalism. As Thelen and Steinmo again
institutional analysis . . . allows us to examine the relationship between political actors as
objects and as agents of history. The institutions that are at the centre of historical
institutionalist analysis . . . can shape and constrain political strategies in important ways,
but they are themselves also the outcome (conscious or unintended) of deliberate political
strategies of political conXict and of choice. (Thelen and Steinmo 1992, 10; emphasis added)
Set in this context, the social ontology of historical institutionalism is highly
distinctive, and indeed quite compatible with the constructivist institutionalism
which it nowmore consistently seems to inform. This brings us to amost important
point. Whether constructivist institutionalism is seen as a variant, further develop-
ment, or rejection of historical institutionalism depends crucially onwhat historical
institutionalism is taken to imply ontologically. If the latter is seen, as in Hall and
Taylor\u2019s inXuential account, as a Xexible combination of cultural and calculus
approaches to the institutionally-embedded subject, then it is considerably at
odds with constructivist institutionalism. Seen in this way, it is, moreover, incom-
patible with the attempt to develop an endogenous institutionalist account of the
mechanisms and determinants of complex institutional change. Yet, if it is seen, as
the above passages from Thelen and Steinmo might suggest, as an approach
predicated upon the dynamic interplay of structure and agent (institutional context
and institutional architect) and, indeed, material and ideational factors (see Hay
2002, chs. 2, 4, and 6), then the diVerence between historical and constructivist
institutionalisms is at most one of emphasis.
Whilst the possibility still exists of a common historical and constructivist
institutionalist research agenda, it might seem unnecessarily divisive