New Institutionalism

May 6, 2013
Hall and Taylor:
New Institutionalism
 New institutionalism refers to a turn to privliging
institutions that stemmed from a critique of the
traditionanal structural-functionalist approach of the
1960s and 1970s.
 Arose in the late 1980s and took several different and
largely independent forms, though each shared an
focus on the importance of institutions in explaining
the behavior of individuals.
Historical Institutionalism
 Takes from group theory argument that politics is the
struggle among competing groups for control of scarce
 Accepted structural-functionalist description of
institutions as forming a system, but emphasized the
observation that the structure of the system itself
tended to influence outcomes rather than emphasize
the ways in which individuals’ social, psychological
and cultural traits drive the system.
 Thus, one part of the movement to “bring the state
back in” that took place in the late 1980s-early 1990s.
Historical Institutionalism
Institutions for this school of thought are the formal or
informal routines, norms and conventions embedded in
the organizational structure of a national political system
Different forms of the school:
Calculative: explain individual behavior as shaped by the
capacity of institutions to provide certainty, in that they
providing information about others’ actions and how
others will react to own actions, thus making the strategic
pursuit of interests (as defined outside the institutional
system) easier.
Institutions persist because they provide an equilibrium, in
the absence of which actors would be worse off.
Historical Institutionalism
Cultural mode: see individuals as satisfiscers of goals,
whose actions are affected by the worldviews (moral
and cognitive templates) provided by established
routines and norms embedded in organizations. These
templates influence the strategy actors take by shaping
the actor’s interpretation of events and conditions to
which the strategy is responding.
Persist because taken for granted and thus resistant to
reflection that informs change
Historical Institutionalism
Users of both types of historical institutionalism
 Tend to combine the two approaches
 Emphasize the importance of power and unequal power relations–
uncover second and third faces of power, emphasize how institutions
distribute power unevenly. States and organizations are not neutral:
given particular groups better access to decision-making than others
 Emphasize the variability of policies and decisions across systems by
underlining the contextual nature of path dependence based on
history of policymaking, particular structure of institutions. Thus also
emphasize that what is produced by institutions is often unintended
and inefficient rather than intended and functionally fitting (as
opposed to structural-functionalism, which emphasizes the broad
similarities among systems due to the universal requirements of such
systems and the bounding effects of rationally performing a set of
universal functions).
Rational Choice Institutionalism
Explains behavior of individuals through institutions by
emphasizing how institutions are able to create
situations in which rational choice/collective action
paradoxes are resolved (e.g., Arrow’s Theorem in terms
of legislatures: rules of procedures, committee
structures allow legislation to be passed by creating
bounded agendas, rather than endless cycles of
competing and failed pieces of legislation)
Rationalist Institutionalists
All assume:
 Actors have fixed preference, and behave instrumentally
and strategically to maximize preferences
 Politics is a series of collective action dilemmas–
individuals seeking to maximize preferences when acting
together tend to obtain suboptimal results without the
presence of institutions (Prisoners’ Dilemma, Tragedy of
the Commons)
 Explain the origins of institutions by deducing their
function by reference to the value they provide to actors as
opposed to alternative arrangements
Sociological Institutionalists
Holds that behavior can be explained by reference
institutions whose form and structure are importantly
influenced by culture as well as by function, with
“culture” referencing symbols, ceremonies, etc., that
are specific to modes of activities, not just territorial
regions (culture of particular businesses, of particular
types of government agencies which are common
across different governments, national economies)
Sociological Institutionalists
 Define institutions broadly, not just norms and procedures but also
symbolic systems, cognitive scripts and moral templates that provide
the basis for interpretation, thus eroding the line separating institution
and culture that is emphasized in political science.
 Institutions provide cognitive resources as well as norms that are
 Relationship between individual actions and institutions mutually
constitutive and interactive. Institutiosn provide the scripts by which
people interpret, understand and thereby act on situations, thereby
also reinforcing the script
 While actors are rational, what actors believe to be rational action is
socially constructed rather than given by instrumental rationality
 Actors adopt actions less because of the instrumental values of those
actions and more because those actions enhance social legitimacy.
Schmidt: Taking Ideas and
Discourses Seriously
A fourth type of new institutionalism, in the form of
Discoursive Institutionalism, has arisen out of the
people using the three original new institutionalism.
This new way of thinking emphasize the dynamic nature
of ideas and discourse as a way of explaining change in
institutions, something the original new
institutionalisms dealt with by assuming that change
comes from the outside.
Discoursive Institutionalism
 Generally emphasizes that
 the role of ideas in constituting political action,
 the power of persuasion in political debate,
 the centrality of deliberation for democratic
 the (re) construction of political interests and values,
 the dynamics of change in history and culture
Discursive Institutionalism
Range of interests:
 In normative, philosophical, strategic ideas
 Various kinds and levels of discourse, myths, stories,
symbolic systems
 Discourse communities, advocacy networks,
 Discourse analysis, analysis of deliberative politics,
analysis of communications,
Discursive Institutionalism
 Located within the context of institutions
 But institutions are not external, constraining entities,
but both internal and external, constitutive as well as
constraining, source of influence and influenced by
 “With regard to institutional change, this would
involve demonstrating how and when ideas in
discursive interactions enable actors to overcome
constraints which explanations in terms of interests,
path dependence, and/or culture present as
overwhelming impediments to action.”
DI and Rationalistic Institutionalism
Discourse and ideas useful to deal with problems of:
 Determinism: institutionalism as attempt to account for
institutions by pointing to them as providing a functional
way out of collective action dilemmas appear to identify
only one approach as viable, when several are, as
demonstrated by variety across contexts
 Difficulty explaining the politics behind the origins of
institutions– how do institutions arrive out of alleged
functional necessity
 Difficulty in explaining changes in institutions– if roots in
functionality that is satisfied by presence of institution,
why change?
DI and RI
 First, ideas may come before interests, acting as ‘road maps’ for
individual actors to clarify their goals or limit the range of strategies to
be taken – in which case ideas seem to determine interests, but we have
no explanation of the selection mechanism by which certain ideas get
chosen over others .
 Second, ideas may come after interests, acting as ‘focal points’ for
actors to choose among equally acceptable alternatives (i.e., multiple
Pareto-improving equilibria) – in which case ideas serve at best to ‘mop
up’ residual variance, and we still can’t explain the mechanism by
which the now exogenously, interest-determined ideas are picked.
 Third, ideas may be embedded in institutions, in which case it is the
institutions rather than the ideas that really matter to the actors.
 A fourth-way RI scholars see ideas coming in is as after-the-fact
legitimation of actors’ interest-based action, following an instrumental
logic, or as ‘hooks’ for elite interests (e.g., Shepsle, 1985) – in which case
ideas are not really taken seriously at all.
DI and RI
Real problem is that turn to ideas and discourse removes
assumption of fixed preferences and the separation of
objective from subjective interests that is the key to DI
analysis and to its capacity to create parsimonious
Fundamentally cannot account for the fact that people’s
levels of uncertainty tend to be higher than DI assumes,
and that those levels of uncertainty differ.
How to operationalize notion that ideas and discourse are the
aspects of institutions that both constitute people and
interests, and to account for how and why institutions (and
thus ideas and interests) might change.
DI and Historical Institutionalism
 Helps explain change and variation by reference to the
content of ideas and the importance of acting in
accordance with understandings of legitimacy
 Thus can work with DI providing understandings of
agency (people using ideas and discourse to both
create and act in accordance with institutions by
reference to the interpretations of the world and
understandings of legitimacy they hold) and HI
providing the understanding of rules and procedures
which are the subjects of actors’ activities.
DI and Sociological Institutionalism
Those who use DI use emphasis on ideas and structures
to talk about leaders, communities, coalitions as actors
who not only use institutions as frames of
interpretation, but also as the groundwork for
reinterpretation of the world and for the culture of
norms and procedures that is currently in place.
Thus DI practitioners locate ideational resources inside
people rather than outside, allowing them to describe
people as using those resources rather than merely
referring to the deterministic power of institutions as
DI as Providing a Basis for Understanding
Politics as Realm of action rather than
 These foreground discursive abilities are essential to
explaining institutional change, because they refer to
peoples’ ability to think outside the institutions in which
they continue to act, to talk about such institutions in a
critical way, to communicate and deliberate about them, to
persuade themselves as well as others to change their
minds about their institutions, and then to take action to
change them, whether by building ‘discursive coalitions’ for
reform against entrenched interests in the coordinative
policy sphere or informing and orienting the public in the
communicative political sphere.
 Conveying ‘good’ policy ideas through a persuasive
discourse helps political actors win elections and gives
policy actors a mandate to implement their ideas.
Other ways of combining DI and
other New Institutionalism
 With HI: helps account for diversity across systems by
reference to differences in historical norms and
 With RI: helps move RI from exclusive view that
people are rational in an unthinking manner, and add
greater depth and nuance to additional
understandings of the importance of power in
negotiations and the following (and creation) of
norms and procedures– the use of ideas and discourse
can be a source of power.
Conclusion (from Schmidt)
DI endogenizes change, explaining much of how and why public
actors bring about institutional change through public action.
With regard to the other institutionalisms, moreover, the
discursive approach helps to explain the actual preferences and
strategies of actors in RI and HI, and it helps to explain changes
in the normative orientations emphasized by SI.
Where DI can go wrong is when it considers ideas and discourse to
the exclusion of issues of power (read RI instrumental
rationality) and position (read HI institutional structures), when
it assumes that DI deliberation necessarily trumps RI
manipulation, or when it over-determines the role of ideas and
discourse by forgetting that ‘stuff happens’ or that historical
institutions and cultural frames affect the ways in which ideas
are expressed and discourse conveyed.

similar documents