Historical Institutionalism Essay

Question 3: How does historical institutionalism envision political change? How does it envision the impact of organizations? Thelen and Steinmo share the common view among institutionalist scholars that historical institutionalism (HI) remains “sticky” when envisioning political change, even when political or economic conditions have changed dramatically (1992:18). Political change, then, according to Thelen, is centered on the concept of path dependency, or a framework of slow change dependent on the legacy of rules formed and tested throughout history.

In order to understand how particular kinds of external events and processes are likely to produce political openings that drive path-dependent institutional evolution and change, Thelen prioritizes an analysis of critical junctures and feedback effects as two key reproduction mechanisms that engender foundations of institutional arrangements and political stability (1999:388-396).

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Critical junctures demonstrate that “[c]ausal analysis is inherently sequence analysis” (Rueschemeyer et al 1992:4; Thelen 1999:390) in that sequencing and timing of political and economic development in historical context can influence institutional outcomes. Feedback effects are based on the idea that institutions are not neutral coordinating mechanisms but instead reflect, reproduce, and magnify particular patterns of power distribution in politics.

Thus, political arrangements and policy feedbacks actively facilitate the organization and empowerment of certain groups while actively disarticulating and marginalizing others, creating distributional biases in particular institutions that “feed back” so that “over time, some avenues of policy become increasingly blocked, if not entirely cut off” as “decisions at one point in time can restrict future possibilities by sending policy off onto particular tracks” (Weir 1992:18-19; Thelen 1999:394).

Thelen discusses four scenarios in which HI envisions political change, with the first three describing change as exogenous, characterized by Krasner’s framework of “punctuated equilibrium” in which institutions exhibit long periods of stability, periodically “punctuated” by crises that bring about abrupt institutional change, after which institutional stasis sets in (Thelen 1999:15). Broad socioeconomic changes causing previously latent nstitutions to become salient toward political outcomes, changes in the socioeconomic context or political balance of power producing a situation in which new actors pursue new goals within old institutions for different ends, and changes in outcomes as old actors adopt new goals within old institutions are the three exogenous scenarios of political change. The fourth scenario of political change is endogenous in that political actors adjust their strategies to accommodate changes within the institutions themselves (my emphasis Thelen 1999:17).

In this scenario, Thelen advances the “dynamic constraints” framework for explaining change in that change can be a piecemeal process resulting from the long-term maneuvering of political actors within institutional constraints. HI envisions the impact of organizations by examining how an institution shapes individual preferences within the organization not only by shaping strategies but also the goals that the actors pursue. Because the individual is not completely de-linked from the institution, stasis and ultimately continuity is achieved.

Question 8: How is the chapter by Ken Greene an example of historical institutionalism? What light does it shed on the process of democratization in Mexico? To what extent is his analysis specific to Mexico and to what extent (and how) can it travel to other cases? Ken Greene’s chapter is an example of historical institutionalism because it stresses the importance of legacy in political outcomes. One of the main tenets of his argument is that opposition parties were constrained by their own origins, thereby resulting in low appeal for voters to support them despite widespread dissatisfaction with the PRI (Greene 2007:175).

As Greene explains (ibid: 175), the main yet subtle effect of single party dominance on partisan competition is the resulting rigidity in the challenger party organization that are slow to innovate in the face of new opportunities. The idea that challengers may fail due to the weight of the past rather than the more blatant aspects of dominant party power is one example of political stasis at work through the reproduction mechanism of institutional feedback.

The political arrangements of institutional legacy promote and empower the dominant party while marginalizing opposition parties in a manner that, in this case, results in institutional stasis and continuing PRI dominance. The continuing dominance and institutional stasis of the PRI along with the political socialization of early elite political actors of opposition parties have both contributed to the slow process of democratization in Mexico.

Extreme and differing preferences of early elite actors created an extreme foundation of opposition institutions, resulting in both the PAN and PRD’s emergence as niche parties and ultimately their failure to unify around the goal of defeating the PRI with centrist strategies. According to Greene, “the sequencing of party affiliation created a perverse outcome: early joining party elites created niche parties in their own image that were constrained to the core. (Ibid: 178) Thus, the status of democratization in Mexico at the time of this article’s publication suggests a disconnect between extreme elitist opposition party actors and a body of voters who are presumably unified through centrist preferences. Although Greene’s analysis is founded on country-specific evidence particular to this case, the lesson of PAN’s ability to move beyond its traditional core constituency and overcome its own intra-party rigidities and in some ways can be applied to the Worker’s Party (PT) success in 2002.

Like PAN, PT began as a highly ideological party and resisted the adoption of vote-maximizing measures for a significant amount of time. As Hunter explains (2007: 444), PT leaders were able to revise ideological rigidity “in light of major changes in the economic landscape and growing institutional strength of the state and party system. ” The reassessing of their electoral standing, the PT became more electoral and behaved more like a catchall Brazilian party.

The case of strategic adaptation and path dependence in Brazil was exemplified by Lula’s strategy of “layering,” gradually negotiating innovation “by placing new elements on top of established ones. Although this strategy bore little immediacy to the party’s electoral prospects, subsequent and focused efforts of engagement in public opinion and marketing Lula’s personal appeal constituted more concerted efforts toward electoral maximization. Question 9: What light does the piece by W. Hunter shed on the relative weight of rational choice vs. istorical institutionalism? Should we choose between them in analyzing a single phenomenon? Does it get too “wishy washy” to say that both rational choice and historical institutionalism are reflected in the evolution of the Workers’ Party? Both paradigms of rational choice institutionalism (RCI) and HI are important because of their ability to demonstrate a variety political outcomes and also because neither paradigm can individually provide comprehensive explanatory analysis for political change.

With the example of the PT’s dynamic trajectory from 1989-2002, Hunter illuminates how political change happens on different layers. Hunter first presents the usefulness of the HI perspective in the nascent stage of the PT, noting the importance of the founding moment of an institution and further explaining founders’ proclivity to “long-term organization building rather than short-term vote maximization” (2007: 446).

Weyland (2002:70) advocates HI framework in explaining institutional origin by critiquing RCI’s inability to explain institutional origin because “it conceptualizes institutions merely as rules of the game, not as actors in their own right. ” Hunter also indicates HI’s overcompensation for continuity instead of change, thus revealing HI’s limitation of strategic flexibility in political parties like the PT during its first years of inception.

Later, in explaining layers of political change still oriented within the framework of HI, Hunter traces the economic and political constraints imposed upon members of the PT, and ultimately explains within the framework of RCI ho change happened quickly in order for the PT to implement exogenous mobilization and electoral maximization strategies. Thus, the case study of the PT presents a substantive example of how RCI is useful at explaining quicker and short-term change whereas HI is better at explaining how change happens in slower and long-term layers.

We should not necessarily choose between the two frameworks in analyzing a single phenomenon because there is an inherent value in diversity. As Weyland argues (2002:79), there is a need for “theoretical pluralism and ‘paradigmatic’ diversity” and “different frameworks make necessary and irreducible contributions to political analysis. ” Political outcomes and political change across multitudinous contexts and applications could benefit from diverse approaches given the very complex reality of the behaviors of institutions. This complexity, as Weyland argues, “cannot be understood from one theoretical vantage point alone (Ibid: 79). ”

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