Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda

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

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.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Axelrod, Robert. 1986. An evolutionary approach to norms.”American Political Science Review80 (4): 10951111.

Böröcz, Jószef. 2000. Informality Rules. East European Politics and Societies14 (2): 34880.

Brinks, Daniel. 2003a. Informal institutions and the rule of law: The judicial response to state killings in Buenos Aires and São Paulo in the 1990s. Comparative Politics36 (1): 119.

Carey, John M.2000. Parchment, equilibria, and institutions. Comparative Political Studies33 (6): 73561.

Collins, Kathleen. 2002a. Clans, pacts and politics in Central Asia.”Journal of Democracy13 (3): 13752.

Collins, Kathleen2003. The political role of clans in Central Asia. Comparative Politics35 (2): 17190.

Eisenstadt, Todd2003. Thinking outside the (ballot) box: Informal electoral institutions and Mexico's political opening,Latin American Politics and Society45 (1): 2554.

Gel'man, Vladimir. 2003. Post-Soviet transitions and democratization: Toward theory building. Democratization10 (2): 87104.

Grzymala-Busse, Anna, and PaulineJones Luong. 2002. Reconceptualizing the state: Lessons from post-communism. Politics and Society30 (4): 52954.

Hamilton-Hart, Natasha. 2000. The Singapore state revisited. Pacific Review13 (2): 195216.

Hartlyn, Jonathan. 1994. Crisis-ridden elections (again) in the Dominican Republic: Neopatrimonialism, presidentialism, and weak electoral oversight. Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs36 (4): 91144.

Helmke, Gretchen. 2002. The logic of strategic defection: Court-executive relations in Argentina under dictatorship and democracy. American Political Science Review96 (2): 291304.

Johnson, Chalmers. 1974. The reemployment of retired government bureaucrats in Japanese big business.”Asian Survey14 (11): 95365.

Kitschelt, Herbert. 2000. Linkages between citizens and politicians in democratic politics. Comparative Political Studies33 (6–7): 84579.

Lauth, Hans-Joachim. 2000. Informal institutions and democracy. Democratization7 (4): 2150.

Levitsky, Steven, and Lucan A.Way. 2002. The rise of competitive authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy13 (2): 5165.

Lindberg, Steffan I.2003. It's our time to chop: Do elections in Africa feed net-patrimonialism rather than counteract it?Democratization10 (2): 12140.

Mackie, Gerry. 1996. Ending footbinding and infibulation: A convention account. American Sociological Review61 (6): 9991017.

Maltzman, Forrest, and Paul J.Wahlbeck. 1996. May it please the chief? Opinion assignment in the Rehnquist Court. American Journal of Political Science. 40 (2): 42143.

Manion, Melanie. 1996. Corruption by design: Bribery in Chinese enterprise licensing. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organizations. 12 (1): 16795.

March, James, and JohanOlsen. 1984. The new institutionalism: Organizational factors in political life. American Political Science Review78 (3): 73449.

Matthews, Donald R.1959. The folkways of the United States Senate: Conformity to group norms and legislative effectiveness. American Political Science Review53 (4): 106489.

Merry, Sally Engle. 1988. Legal pluralism. Law and Society Review22 (5): 86996.

Mershon, Carol A.1994. Expectations and informal rules in coalition formation. Comparative Political Studies27 (1): 4079.

O'Donnell, Guillermo. 1994. Delegative democracy. Journal of Democracy5 (1): 5569.

Schedler, Andreas. 2002. The menu of manipulation. Journal of Democracy13 (2): 3650.

Scott, James C.1969. Corruption, machine politics, and political change. American Political Science Review63 (4): 114258.

Shepsle, Kenneth A., and Barry R.Weingast. 1981. Structure induced equilibrium and legislative choice. Public Choice37: 50319.

Taylor, Michelle. 1992. Formal versus Informal Incentive Structures and Informal Behavior/Journal of Politics54 (4): 105573.

Tsai, Lily Lee. 2002. Cadres, temple and lineage institutions, and governance in rural China. The China Journal48 (July): 127.

Van Cott, Donna Lee. 2000. A political analysis of legal pluralism in Bolivia and Colombia. Journal of Latin American Studies32 (1): 20734.

Wang, Hongying. 2000. Informal institutions and foreign investment in China. Pacific Review13 (4): 52556.

Waterbury, John. 1973. Endemic and planned corruption in a monarchical regime. World Politics25 (4): 53355.

Way, Lucan A.2002. The dilemmas of reform in weak states: The case of post-Soviet fiscal decentralization. Politics and Society30 (December): 57998.

Weingast, Barry. 1979. A rational choice perspective on congressional norms. American Journal of Political Science23 (2): 24562.

Weingast, Barry R., and William J.Marshall. 1988. The industrial organization of congress; or, Why legislatures, like firms, are not organized as markets. Journal of Political Economy96 (1): 13263.

Weyland, Kurt. 2002. Limitations of rational-choice institutionalism for the study of Latin American politics. Studies in Comparative International Development37 (1): 5785.

Wright, Gerald C., Jr., and Michael B.Berkman. 1986. Candidates and policy in United States Senate elections. American Political Science Review80 (2): 56788.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 80
Total number of PDF views: 1613 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 4161 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.