Historical Institutionalism (HI) developed in response to structural-functionalism which was wondering about institutional inefficiencies. If, as assumed, the world was a complex system gravitating towards a steady state, why did dysfunctional institutions persist. Hence,

Definition of International Institutions (IIs)

HI has as an expansive and textured understanding of which institutions matter and how they matter [@hall1996, 937]. IIs are humanly devised rule systems that structure and constrain the behaviour of individual actors.

For historical institutionalists, IIs are:

the formal or informal procedures, routines, norms and conventions embedded in the organizational structure of the polity or political economy. They can range from the rules of a constitutional order or the standard operating procedures of a bureaucracy to the conventions governing trade union behaviour or bank-firm relations. In general, historical institutionalists associate institutions with organizations and the rules or conventions promulgated by formal organization. [@hall1996, 938]

The role of timing and sequencing in institutional development

HI emphasises the importance of timing and sequencing in institutional development. The order in which events occur can shape the trajectory of an institution, creating path dependencies that can be difficult to reverse. For example, the establishment of a particular policy can create vested interests that resist change, even when new circumstances arise.

The impact of critical junctures on institutional change

Critical junctures are moments of significant change that can disrupt existing paths and create new ones. HI argues that these junctures can lead to rapid institutional transformation, as they provide opportunities for actors to push for reform. However, the impact of

these junctures can be limited by existing institutional structures and power relations. This is because these structures and relations often dictate the direction of change, and can constrain or facilitate the implementation of new policies or reforms.

The role of historical legacies in shaping institutions

Historical legacies are another key concept in HI. They refer to the enduring impact of past events, decisions, and processes on current institutions. They shape institutions by influencing their rules, norms, and practices. For example, a country’s colonial history might influence its current political system or economic policies.

Institutional resilience and change

Institutions are not static; they evolve over time in response to various internal and external pressures. However, HI posits that institutions also exhibit a certain degree of resilience – they tend to resist radical changes and instead evolve incrementally. This resilience is partly due to their inherent path dependency – once an institution is established along a certain path, it becomes difficult to alter its course.

Questions & Answers

Why is there institutional variation despite similar systemic pressures?

HI seeks to explain why institutions, despite facing similar systemic pressures, may vary significantly in their structure and function. This is often due to the historical path dependencies of these institutions, which shape their responses to external pressures. For instance, two countries with similar economic conditions may have vastly different political systems due to their unique historical trajectories.

Why are institutions are often not as efficient as Rational Choice Institutionalism would predict?

Institutions often do not function as efficiently as Rational Choice Institutionalism would predict due to historical constraints and path dependencies. Historical Institutionalism argues that institutions are shaped by the historical circumstances of their creation and evolution. These historical legacies may result in institutional inefficiencies, such as outdated practices or entrenched power structures, which can hinder optimal decision-making and performance.

Why is there institutional persistence despite preference change?

  • Process of institutionalisation (emergence/destruction of institutions after so-called critical junctures)
  • [Path Dependency]({{< relref “path-dependency” >}}) of institutions (path dependency as choice under historical constraints)