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The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life

  • James G. March (a1) and Johan P. Olsen (a2)

Contemporary theories of politics tend to portray politics as a reflection of society, political phenomena as the aggregate consequences of individual behavior, action as the result of choices based on calculated self-interest, history as efficient in reaching unique and appropriate outcomes, and decision making and the allocation of resources as the central foci of political life. Some recent theoretical thought in political science, however, blends elements of these theoretical styles into an older concern with institutions. This new institutionalism emphasizes the relative autonomy of political institutions, possibilities for inefficiency in history, and the importance of symbolic action to an understanding of politics. Such ideas have a reasonable empirical basis, but they are not characterized by powerful theoretical forms. Some directions for theoretical research may, however, be identified in institutionalist conceptions of political order.

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