Institutions and Politics

by Henry Farrell on August 18, 2011 · 11 comments

in Institutions

I’m teaching my Ph.D. level course on institutions and politics this fall. The idea behind the course is to provide Ph.D. students with (a) an understanding of core debates in institutional theory in political science (distinguishing between rational choice, historical institutionalist and ideational accounts), (b) some sense that these accounts go across the subfields of political science, and (c ) an intuition that there are Other Social Sciences with debates about institutions, and that they often have fun and important things to say. Below the fold is my draft reading list: suggested amendments, additions, revisions etc are gratefully received (and if anyone finds the syllabus useful, they should feel free to take it and adapt it for their own requirements &c&c). I also have a class without assigned readings yet – which I hope to fill in with some fun new topic.

Institutions and Politics

1 – Different Approaches to Institutions.

Katznelson, Ira and Weingast, Barry R. Intersections Between Historical and Rational Choice Institutionalism. in Katznelson, Ira and Weingast, Barry, eds. Preferences and Situations: Points of Intersection Between Historical and Rational Choice Institutionalism. New York: Russell Sage; 2005; pp. 1-26.

DiMaggio, Paul. The New Institutionalisms: Avenues of Collaboration. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics. 1998; 154(4):697-705.

Adcock, Robert, Bevir, Mark and Stimson, Shannon. Historicizing the New Institutionalism(s). in Adcock, Robert and Bevir, Mark and Stimson, Shannon. Modern Political Science: Anglo-American Exchanges since 1880. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. 2007.

Peter A. Hall, “Historical Institutionalism in Rationalist and Sociological Perspective,” in James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change (Cambridge University Press 2010).

2- Rational Choice Theories of Institutions I – Institutions, Cycling and Stability of Choice (Organization of Congress).

Diermeier, Daniel and Krehbiel, Keith. Institutionalism as a Methodology. Journal of Theoretical Politics 15,2:123-144. 2003.

Shepsle, Kenneth A. Institutional Arrangements and Equilibrium in Multidimensional Voting Models. American Journal of Political Science. 1979; 23( 1):27-59.

Weingast, Barry R. and William J. Marshall. The Industrial Organization of Congress; or, Why Legislatures, Like Firms, Are Not Organized as Markets. 1988. Journal of Political Economy 96(1):132-163.

Riker, William H. Implications from the Disequilibrium of Majority Rule for the Study of Institutions. American Political Science Review. 1980; 72( 2):432-446.
Moe, Terry. Political Institutions: The Neglected Side of the Story. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 6: 213-254. 1990.

4 – Rational Choice Theories of Institutions II – Institutional Origins and Change (Inequality and Political Economy).

Knight, Jack. Models, Interpretations and Theories: Constructing Explanations of Institutional Emergence and Change. In Jack Knight and Itai Sened, eds. Explaining Social Institutions. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 1995.

North, Douglass C. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1990. pp.83-117.

Greif, Avner and David Laitin. “A Theory of Endogenous Institutional Change.” American Political Science Review. 2004; 98:633-652.

Bowles, Samuel and Suresh Naidu. Persistent Institutions (unpublished paper).

Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. Chapter One.

5 – Rational Choice Theories of Institutions III – Institutional Consequences (institutions and theories of trust and cooperation).

Greif, Avner, Milgrom, Paul and Weingast, Barry R. Coordination, Commitment and Enforcement: The Case of the Merchant Guild. In Knight, Jack and Sened, Itai. Explaining Social Institutions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2004.

Miller, Gary J. Monitoring, Rules, and the Control Paradox: Can the Good Soldier Svejk be Trusted? in: Kramer, Roderick M. and Cook, Karen S., eds. Trust and Distrust in Organizations: Dilemmas and Approaches. New York: Russell Sage Foundation; 2004.

Calvert, Randall L. Rational Actors, Equilibrium, and Social Institutions. in: Knight, Jack and Sened, Itai, eds. Explaining Social Institutions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press; 1995.

Levi, Margaret. A State of Trust. in: Braithwaite, Valerie and Levi, Margaret, eds. Trust and Governance. New York: Russell Sage Foundation; 1998; pp. 77-101.

Gambetta, Diego. The Mafia: The Price of Distrust. In Gambetta, Diego ed. Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1990.

6 – Historical Institutionalism I – Macro-Institutions (Society and the State).

Thelen, Kathleen and Steinmo, Sven. Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics. in: Steinmo, Sven and Thelen, Kathleen, eds. Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1992.

Katznelson, Ira. Structure and Configuration in Comparative Politics. in Lichbach, Mark I. and Zuckerman, Alan S., eds. Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1997.

Hall, Peter A. Policy Paradigms, Social Learning and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics 25, 3:275-296. 1993.

Tilly, Charles. War Making and State Making as Organized Crime. in: Evans, Peter B.; Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda, eds. Bringing the State Back In. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1985.

7 – Historical Institutions II –Path Dependence, Persistence and Change (Varieties of Capitalism).

Pierson, Paul. Path Dependence, Increasing Returns, and the Study of Politics. American Political Science Review. 2000; 33, 6/7:251-67.

Hall, Peter and Soskice, David. Varieties of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2000. Chapter One.

Kathleen Thelen. Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics. Annual Review of Political Science. 1999; 2(1):369-404.

Bob Hancke, Martin Rhodes and Martin Thatcher. Beyond Varieties of Capitalism. Beyond Varieties of Capitalism. Oxford University Press 2008.

8 – Historical Institutionalism III: Beyond Path Dependence: Identifying Specific Mechanisms of Historical Institutional Change (The Welfare State).

Pierson, Paul. The New Politics of the Welfare State. World Politics. 1996; 48:143-79.

Skocpol, Theda. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States. Cambridge MA: The Belknap Press. 1992. Conclusion.

Hacker, Jacob S. Policy Drift: The Hidden Politics of US Welfare State Retrenchment. in: Streeck, Wolfgang and Thelen, Kathleen, eds. Beyond Continuity: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies. New York: Oxford University Press; 2005.

Alan M. Jacobs, “Policymaking as Political Constraint: Institutional Development in the U.S. Social Security Program, in James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency and Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010.

Morgan, Kimberly J. The “Production” of Child Care: How Labor Markets Shape Social Policy, and Vice-Versa. Social Politics 12,2:243-263.

James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, “A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change,” in James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency and Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010.

9- Ideational and Sociological Accounts of Institutions I (Organizational Microsociology of The European Union).

March, James and Olsen, Johan G. The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life. In The American Political Science Review 78,3, 734-749. 1984.

Olsen, Johan P. “The Many Faces of Europeanization,” ARENA Working Paper 01/02 available at (also published in the Journal of Common Market Studies).

Jeffrey Lewis. The Janus Face of Brussels: Socialization and Everyday Decision Making in the European Union. International Organization 59:937-951 Fall 2005.

Schimmelfennig, Frank. The Community Trap: Liberal Norms, Rhetorical Action and the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union. International Organization 55:47-80. 2001.

Kathleen McNamara, “Where Do Rules Come From?: The Creation of the European Central Bank.” In Stone-Sweet, Alec and Wayne Sandholtz eds., The Institutionalization of Europe (Oxford University Press 2001).

10 – Ideational and Sociological Accounts II. The Institutional Sociology of Economic Change.

Richard Swedberg. Markets as Social Structures. In Smelser, Neil and Swedberg, Richard eds. Handbook of Economic Sociology. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. 1994.

Dobbin, Frank. Forging Industrial Policy: The United States, Britain and France in the Railway Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1994. Chapter One.

Neil Fligstein. The Structural Transformation of American Industry: An Institutional Account of the Causes of Diversification in the Largest Firms: 1919-1979. in Powell, Walter W. and DiMaggio, Paul eds. The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1991.

Mizruchi, Mark and Gerald Davis. 2004. The Globalization of American Banking, 1962-1981. In Frank Dobbin ed. The Sociology of the Economy. New York: Russell Sage. 2004.

Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam, Towards a General Theory of Strategic Action Fields. Sociological Theory. 29,1:1-23. 2011.

11 – Ideational and Sociological Accounts III (Comparing Economic Ideas in the US and Europe).

Berman, Sheri. The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Ideological Dynamics of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Conclusion,

Blyth, Mark. Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Political Change in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter Two, Chapter Eight.

Hall, Peter A. The Role of Interests, Institutions, and Ideas in the Comparative Political Economy of the Industrialized Nations. In Lichbach, Mark and Zuckerman, Alan eds. Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1997.

Culpepper, Pepper. Institutional Change in Contemporary Capitalism: Coordinated Financial Systems since 1990. World Politics 57,2: 173-209. 2005.

12 – Comparing Accounts of Institutions I (Crisis and Continuity in the Former Warsaw Pact Countries).

Shleifer and Vishny, The Grabbing Hand: Government Pathologies and Their Cures. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 1999. Chapters Eight, Eleven.

Allio, Lorene et al. Post-Communist Privatization as a Test of Theories of Institutional Change. In Weimer, David L. ed. The Political Economy of Property Rights: Institutional Change and Credibility in the Reform of Centrally Planned Economies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1997.

Bunce, Valerie. Subversive Institutions: The Design and the Collapse of Socialism and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1999. Chapter Seven.

Appel, Hilary. The Ideological Determinants of Liberal Economic Reform: The Case of Privatization. World Politics 52, 4:520-549.

Timothy Frye, “Original Sin, Good Works and Private Property in Russia,” World Politics 58, 479-504. 2006.

13 – Competing Accounts of Institutions III – The Institutional Politics of Delegation.

Carpenter, Daniel. The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks and Policy Networks in Executive Agencies. Conclusion: The Politics of Bureaucratic Autonomy. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. 2001.

Barnett, Michael and Finnemore, Martha. Rules for the World: International Organizations in Global Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2004. Chapter Two.

Epstein, David, and O’Halloran, Sharyn. Asymmetric Information, Delegation and the Structure of Policy-Making. Journal of Theoretical Politics 11,1:35-56. 1999.

McCubbins, Mathew D. and Schwartz, Thomas. Congressional Oversight Overlooked: Police Patrols versus Fire Alarms. American Journal of Political Science 28,1, 165-179. 1984.

14. Concluding Class – New Directions in Institutional Theory – Cognitive Institutionalism.

Scott, James C. Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press 1998. Chapter Two.

Jack Knight and Douglass North. Explaining Economic Change: The Interplay Between Cognition and Institutions. Legal Theory 3:211-226. 1997.

Josiah Ober, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens Chapters 3 and 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2008.

Farrell, Henry and Cosma Shalizi, Evolutionary Theory and the Dynamics of Institutional Change. Unpublished paper.

Lu Hong and Scott Page, “Some Microfoundations of Collective Wisdom,” forthcoming, Collective Wisdom eds. Helene Landemore and Jon Elster.

Padgett, John F. and Paul McLean. Organizational Invention and Elite Transformation: The Birth of Partnership Systems in Renaissance Florence. American Sociological Review 111, 5:1463-1568. 2006.


Tracy Lightcap August 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Ok, it doesn’t seem to quite fit with the rest of this list, but I would include:

W.W. Powell and Paul DiMaggio. 1991. The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. Chicago: U of Chicago Press.

And, maybe:

Paul DiMaggio. 1997. Culture and Cognition. Annual Review of Sociology 23: 263 – 87.

Why? First, because sociologists look at institutionalization in a quite different and much broader way then pol sci and econ types. The contrast between looking at institutions as a product of “organizational ecology” and, say, anything by North is illuminating. Second, because, with the partnership of private and public organizations coming more to the fore on both sides of the pond, a more self-conscious view of what constitutes an actual institution is, imho, necessary. Is GM an institution in the same sense as the U.S. Army? North would probably say yes. DiMaggio and Powell would just shake their heads and chuckle at the question. The difference is important when considering the whole idea of governance.

anonymous coward August 18, 2011 at 4:18 pm

These can be brought up in class rather than read, but: no Coase on the theory of the firm? No Arrow (or Sen or Oordeshook presenting Arrow)? IMHO Coase is good for motivating the larger neoinstitutional perspective that even things that are commonplace or even universal can be puzzling. And it seems hard to me to motivate the discussion of Congress, even with McKelvey and Plott, without talking about Arrow’s bigger picture.

Also, maybe in week 4 or 5: Lin Ostrom. You can frame it either as where CPR institutions come from, or as the consequences of other institutions for effective CPR management.

William August 18, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Ellen Immergut, The Theoretical Core of the New Institutionalism, Politics and Society 26:1 (March 1998): 5-34.

Manoel Galdino August 18, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Nice course…
Here my quick sugestions:
1. Voigtländer & Voth, (2011). PERSECUTION PERPETUATED:

2. Berger, (2009). Taxes, Institutions and Local Governance:
Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Colonial Nigeria (working paper).

Those are good examples of path dependence (one in institutions and the other on culture)…

Brad L August 18, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Nice list. For week 14 you might also consider including Scott E. Page’s Uncertainty, Difficulty, Complexity (it also would fit well in week 1).

Joe August 18, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Very good list. I might also suggest How Institutions Think by Mary Douglas. It adds some anthropological depth.

David Woodruff August 19, 2011 at 6:29 pm

This is a great list! I’d like to immodestly suggest the following piece, which discusses the three institutionalisms around which your course is based in the context of post-socialism, and so might make a good fit for that week.

David Woodruff, “Rules for Followers: Institutional Theory and the New Politics of Economic Backwardness in Russia,” Politics & Society 28 (4): 437-482.

ABSTRACT: Investigates contemporary Russia’s real, but shallow success in implementing two borrowed capitalist institutions—a monetary system and the joint-stock company. Even though money and shares of stock in Russia are exchanged in voluntary transactions, they fail to play the legal roles ordinarily expected of them, resulting in weak corporate governance and nonmonetary (barter) exchange. Via a criticism of game-theoretic approaches to institutions in the New Institutional Economics, argues that the roots of this shallow marketization lie in the distinct social foundations of the transactional and legal roles of money and corporate stock. Arguments drawn from sociological institutionalism then illuminate why Russia displays this limited isomorphism to authoritative international models of market institutions. The article concludes by discussing implications for a third body of institutional theory, historical institutionalism, and the possible broader relevance of the pattern of shallow marketization in contemporary relatively backward countries.

Henry Farrell August 21, 2011 at 9:02 pm

David – your piece looks very interesting and helpful – thanks (and Politics and Society is my favorite journal in the discipline). Thanks all for the other recommendations. The DiMaggio is good – I need more on sociology. The Voigtlander and Voeth might fit in if I include a week on practical applications of institutional theory. Ellen’s piece too I should have thought of. I’m reading Scott’s “Complexity and Diversity” – this may be an alternative source of readings.

Sona August 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Hi David ~ I’ve taught an institutions course designed to do at least part (b) of your goals. It has worked pretty well, with, for example, some IR students ultimately using comparative or American/public policy readings to motivate their own dissertation work. Weeks 9 and 10 on institutions and identity/ethnicity are always extremely popular with the students (there is a Page & Bednar reading in those weeks, just to add to the enthusiasm for Page’s work mentioned by other commentators).

Henry Farrell August 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Thanks for this. I thought about including the piece by Bednar and Page, but decided it was more about culture than institutions.

Sona August 22, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Oh, and obviously I meant to reply to Henry (sorry Henry!) but somehow the last name I saw got stuck in my head while typing.

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