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The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Giovanni Capoccia
Affiliation:
Oxford University, giovanni.capoccia@politics.ox.ac.uk., giovanni.capoccia@politics.ox.ac.uk
R. Daniel Kelemen
Affiliation:
Rutgers University, dkelemen@polisci.rutgers.edu

Abstract

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The causal logic behind many arguments in historical institutionalism emphasizes the enduring impact of choices made during critical junctures in history. These choices close off alternative options and lead to the establishment of institutions that generate self-reinforcing path-dependent processes. Despite the theoretical and practical importance of critical junctures, however, analyses of path dependence often devote little attention to them. The article reconstructs the concept of critical junctures, delimits its range of application, and provides methodological guidance for its use in historical institutional analyses. Contingency is the key characteristic of critical junctures, and counterfactual reasoning and narrative methods are necessary to analyze contingent factors and their impact. Finally, the authors address specific issues relevant to both cross-sectional and longitudinal comparisons of critical junctures.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 2007

References

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82 One must consider the lowest probability of the outcome during rather than simply immediately prior to the critical juncture exactly because not all critical junctures result in change: considering only the probability before and after the juncture would lead analysts to ignore the criticalness of critical junctures that result in re-equilibration of the pre—critical juncture status quo.

83 If CJy ≤ 0, then CJ was not a critical juncture with respect to outcome Y.

84 We take the natural log of (Tx/Tx) in order to discount the effect of time. Otherwise, critical junctures occurring in the distant past would produce the highest criticalness measures, even if they had a very modest impact on the probability of the outcome.

85 In arguments built on increasing returns and path dependence, the probability of the outcome of interest at the beginning of the path cannot equal 1, as this would deny the very logic of self-reinforcing mechanisms. Our formula captures this idea, in that if the outcome of interest happens immediately after the end of the critical juncture, the “temporal leverage” fraction would have a numerator of 0 and taking the natural log would give a result of negative infinity, rendering the CJ score meaningless.

86 While historical arguments relied on assessments of the likelihood of various outcomes, it is obviously problematic to assign precise probabilities to predictions in historical explanations; see Weber, Max, Methodology in the Social Sciences, ed. and trans. Shils, Edward and Finch, Henry A. (New York: Free Press, 1949), 183Google Scholar.

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88 Ziblatt (fn. 87).

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91 Listing the key players, Turner (fn. 90) maintains that “it was one of these frequent junctures in human affairs when the fates of many rested with very few” (p. 166).

92 If this were true, then there would be very little “critical” in the events of January 1933 in Germany: structural conditions would create formidable organized interests that would then impose certain courses of action on whoever happened to be in positions of power in an ostensibly critical phase.

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103 Stone Sweet (fn. 98); and Alter (fn. 94).

104 Thelen (fn. 1); and Streeck and Thelen (fn. 32).

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The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism
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The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism
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The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism
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