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Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda

  • Gretchen Helmke (a1) and Steven Levitsky (a2)
Abstract

Mainstream comparative research on political institutions focuses primarily on formal rules. Yet in many contexts, informal institutions, ranging from bureaucratic and legislative norms to clientelism and patrimonialism, shape even more strongly political behavior and outcomes. Scholars who fail to consider these informal rules of the game risk missing many of the most important incentives and constraints that underlie political behavior. In this article we develop a framework for studying informal institutions and integrating them into comparative institutional analysis. The framework is based on a typology of four patterns of formal-informal institutional interaction: complementary, accommodating, competing, and substitutive. We then explore two issues largely ignored in the literature on this subject: the reasons and mechanisms behind the emergence of informal institutions, and the nature of their stability and change. Finally, we consider challenges in research on informal institutions, including issues of identification, measurement, and comparison.Gretchen Helmke's book Courts Under Constraints: Judges, Generals, and Presidents in Argentina, will be published by Cambridge University Press. Steven Levitsky is the author of Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America: Argentine Peronism in Comparative Perspective and is currently writing a book on competitive authoritarian regimes in the post–Cold War era. The authors thank the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame for generously sponsoring conferences on informal institutions. The authors also gratefully acknowledge comments from Jorge Domínguez, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Dennis Galvan, Goran Hyden, Jack Knight, Lisa Martin, Hillel Soifer, Benjamin Smith, Susan Stokes, María Victoria Murillo, and Kurt Weyland, as well as three anonymous reviewers and the editors of Perspectives on Politics.

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