James Mahoney, Kathleen Thelen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript

83 Scopus citations


Until recently, gradual institutional change has not been a central focus of explanation in the social sciences. Instead, most institutional analysts have considered change during moments of abrupt, wholesale transformation. Yet it is not clear that such episodes of institutional upheaval capture the most common ways through which political institutions change over time. A growing body of work suggests that important changes often take place incrementally and through seemingly small adjustments that can, however, cumulate into significant institutional transformation. These forms of gradual institutional change call for more attention than they have received so far. The present volume seeks to respond to this call. In the introduction, we propose a theory of gradual institutional change grounded in a power-distributional view of institutions that emphasizes ongoing struggles within but also over prevailing institutional arrangements. On this view, analyses of stability and change are intimately linked. Institutional stability is a function not simply of positive feedback but of active, ongoing political mobilization, and institutions are vulnerable to change not just in moments of crisis but on a more ongoing basis. Features of the overarching context and the properties of the institutions themselves hold the key to understanding the processes through which such change can be accomplished. We emphasize in particular that institutional rules are subject to varying interpretations and levels of enforcement and therefore exhibit ambiguities that provide space for interested agents to exploit in their effort to alter them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationExplaining Institutional Change
Subtitle of host publicationAmbiguity, Agency, and Power
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780511806414
ISBN (Print)9780521118835
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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