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How Institutions Evolve
The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States, and Japan

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics

  • Date Published: September 2004
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521837682
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About the Authors
  • Kathleen Thelen explains the historical origins of important cross-national differences in four countries (Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan), and also provides a theory of institutional change over time. The latter is considered a frontier issue in institutionalist analysis, of which there are several varieties emerging from economics, political science, and sociology. Thelen's study contributes to the literature on the political economy of the developed democracies that focuses on different institutional arrangements defining distinctive models of capitalism.

    • Elaborates and extends historical-institutionalism as an approach
    • Provides a theory of the historical origins of important contemporary institutions
    • Provides a fresh approach to the study of institutional change over time (a frontier issue in institutionalist analyses of all varieties)
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    • Winner of the 2007 J. David Greenstone Award - Politics and History Section

    Reviews & endorsements

    "One cannot praise enough Thelen's continuing contribution to the progress of institutional theory, especially the theory of institutional change. She masterfully weaves together a comparative tale of four countries to provide a critique of the functionalist rationalism of much of the current debate on institutions and economic systems in general."
    Wolfgang Streeck, The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies

    "Why do institutions vary across nations? How do institutions persist and change over time? Exploring vocational and skills training in major industrial nations, Kathleen Thelen casts new theoretical light on these fundamental questions. This brilliant book is a must-read, not only for students of the political economy of advanced industrial societies, but for all social scientists grappling with how to explain institutional development."
    Theda Skocpol, Harvard University

    "This brilliant book, focussing on Germany in comparison to the UK, the US and Japan, makes three major and original contributions to the comparative political economy literature. First, Thelen provides a coherent comparative theory of why training systems differ across developed economies today based on the differences in institutional settlements a century or more earlier between business, unions and artisans. Second, and supplementing this, she develops a theory of institutional change which shows (contrary to the standard punctuated equilibria argument) how institutions embody continuities through reconfiguration even in the face of major external shocks. Third, she establishes the critical role of business in the evolution of training systems. Beyond these achievements, her analytic skill and her use of rich historical sources make the book a quite compelling read."
    David Soskice, Duke University

    "This is a superb work of comparative historical political economy. It makes a sound and enlightening empirical contribution to our understanding of the emergence of four quite distinct national systems of vocational training."
    H-Net Book Review, H-German

    "Full of intelligence, Thelen's book is an important study in labor history and labor economics, and it should be ready by all who are interested in the role and development of social institutions."
    Gerald Friedman, Industrial and Labor Relations Review

    "It is rare to have the opportunity to read such a masterful survey of the historical development of industrial training in four of the world's major industrial economies, Germany, Britain, Japan and the US. Thelen has achieved a tour de force in covering the institutional evolution, the political strategies of the actors and their interaction over a century. Her study is also a true exercise in comparative analysis, in which the contrasting experience of the four countries is used to highlight the range of different institutional paths taken by skill formation in these four countries."
    British Journal of Industrial Relations

    "This is an excellent piece of scholarship. It adds substantialy to our understanding of labor markets and of economic and political institutions in general...Researchers focused on specific issues of human capital investment, as well as those interested in very large questions about the nature of institutions, will find this book to be a provocative read." - EH.Net, Thomas N. Maloney, University of Utah

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    Customer reviews

    01st Oct 2015 by Mhingkay14

    it is really helpful, thsnk you so much for this sources cambridge, it really help a lot, especially to my research. keep going .

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2004
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521837682
    • length: 352 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 24 mm
    • weight: 0.69kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The political economy of skills in comparative-historical perspective
    2. The evolution of skill formation in Germany
    3. The evolution of skill formation in Britain
    4. The evolution of skill formation in Japan and the United States
    5. Evolution and change in the German system of vocational training
    6. Conclusions, empirical and theoretical.

  • Author

    Kathleen Thelen, Northwestern University, Illinois
    Kathleen Thelen is Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. She is the author of Union of Parts: Labor Politics in Postwar Germany and co-editor of Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis. Her work on labor politics and on historical institutionalism has appeared in, among others, World Politics, Comparative Political Studies, The Annual Review of Political Science, Politics and Society, and Comparative Politics. She is chair of the Council for European Studies, and serves on the executive boards of the Comparative Politics, European Politics and Society, and Qualitative Methods sections of the American Political Science Association. She has received awards and fellowships from the Max Planck Society, the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, the Society for Comparative Research, the National Science Foundation, the Alexander von Humboldt foundation, the American Scandinavian Foundation, and the German Academic Exchange Program.


    • Winner of the 2007 J. David Greenstone Award - Politics and History Section

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