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Explaining Institutional Change


  • 4 b/w illus. 7 tables
  • Page extent: 254 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.36 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521134323)

Manufactured on demand: supplied direct from the printer

$27.99 (G)

This book contributes to emerging debates in political science and sociology on institutional change. Its introductory essay proposes a new framework for analyzing incremental change that is grounded in a power-distributional view of institutions and that emphasizes ongoing struggles within but also over prevailing institutional arrangements. Five empirical essays then bring the general theory to life by evaluating its causal propositions in the context of sustained analyses of specific instances of incremental change. These essays range widely across substantive topics and across times and places, including cases from the United States, Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The book closes with a chapter reflecting on the possibilities for productive exchange in the analysis of change among scholars associated with different theoretical approaches to institutions.


1. A theory of gradual institutional change James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen; 2. Infiltrating the state: the evolution of health care reforms in Brazil, 1964–88 Tulia G. Falleti; 3. The contradictory potential of institutions: the rise and decline of land documentation in Kenya Ato Kwamena Onoma; 4. Policymaking as political constraint: institutional development in the US social security program Alan M. Jacobs; 5. Altering authoritarianism: institutional complexity and autocratic agency in Indonesia Dan Slater; 6. Rethinking rules: creativity and constraint in the house of representatives Adam Sheingate; 7. Historical institutionalism in rationalist and sociological perspective Peter A. Hall.


Explaining Institutional Change is, simply put, the best guide available to the incremental processes of institutional change that characterize so much of social and political life. Mahoney and Thelen have not only assembled an impressive and illuminating collection of essays showing how and why institutional change plays out as it does in a range of important domains (including a reflection on the field by Peter Hall that would make the book worth having even if it were the only chapter). With their own powerful synthesis of theories of incremental institutional change, they also break important new ground in institutional analysis.”
- Jacob S. Hacker, Yale University

“Mahoney and Thelen extend the boundaries of our understanding of institutional change in this impressive volume. Many people try to bridge the differences among the various theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of institutions. This group of contributors actually accomplishes it! The rich combination of cogent theoretical insight and careful empirical analysis produces important contributions to the fundamental questions of how and why institutions change incrementally. This emphasis on incremental change is a salutary advance on the existing literature.”
-Jack Knight, Duke University

“This is an exciting new contribution to the ongoing discussion in the social sciences on institutions and institutional change. Several disciplines are involved in this worldwide project, including political science, sociology and economics. There has been a continuing stream of highly interesting work for a number of years, and unlike usually in the social sciences, it has produced cumulative progress in the development of concepts and empirical insights. Explaining Institutional Change is another milestone in the exploration of a subject that is obviously of fundamental importance in an era of rapid social and economic restructuring.”
-Wolfgang Streeck, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne, Germany

"The new book answers 'old' questions, raises relevant new ones, and provides original insights...this book is a worthy successor of Streeck and Thelen’s Beyond Continuity and a valuable addition to the literature on incremental change."
Regulation and Governance, Jeroen van der Heijden, Delft University of Technology


James Mahoney, Kathleen Thelen, Tulia G. Falleti, Ato Kwamena Onoma, Alan M. Jacobs, Dan Slater, Adam Sheingate, Peter A. Hall

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