Varieties of Institutionalism

Ed Amenta and Kelly Ramsey wrote a nice short paper discussing various types of institutionalism.  Here is a pre-publication version:

Amenta & Ramsey Institutional Theory.pdf

The cite for the published version is:  Edwin Amenta and Kelly M. Ramsey, “Institutional Theory.” Chapter 2 in The Handbook of Politics: State and Civil Society in Global Perspective, eds. Kevin T. Leicht and J. Craig Jenkins. New York: Springer, 2010.

As I’ve said before, with the growth of “institutional” thinking across the social sciences, some of the interesting future discussions and debates will be among various types of institutional arguments.

The paper focuses on three main “institutional” traditions:  sociological institutionalism, historical institutionalism, and political institutionalism.  Some quotes from the conclusion:

Sociological institutionalism “is a species of organizational theory and essentially a culture theory. …the theory focuses on the diffusion of ideas and other cultural forms, as organizations search for legitimacy.”

“Historical institutionalism is a way of engaging in social science, unconnected to a particular theoretical project.  …[H]istorical institutionalism has metatheoretical strictures on the nature of causation.  Causation is presumed to be multiple, conjectural, and reliant on time order.”

“[P]olitical institutionalists… focus more on the systemic and structural aspects of states and political party systems… notably, that these political institutions shape political identities, interests, and strategies of politically mobilized groups.”

In other words, historical institutionalism isn’t a theory — but a way of posing problems and organizing research.  Scholars working in that tradition often draw on political institutionalism, but also on sociological institutionalism and other perspectives.

Anyhow, the paper is a great read.  I’m going to add it to the institutional theory resources page.


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