Institutions and Politics syllabus

by Henry Farrell on August 18, 2011

I’m teaching my Ph.D. level course on institutions and politics this fall. The idea behind the course is to provide Ph.D. students with (a) an understanding of core debates in institutional theory in political science (distinguishing between rational choice, historical institutionalist and ideational accounts), (b) some sense that these accounts go across the subfields of political science, and (c ) an intuition that there are Other Social Sciences with debates about institutions, and that they often have fun and important things to say. Below the fold is my draft reading list: suggested amendments, additions, revisions etc are gratefully received (and if anyone finds the syllabus useful, they should feel free to take it and adapt it for their own requirements &c&c). I also have a class without assigned readings yet – which I hope to fill in with some fun new topic.

Institutions and Politics

1 – Different Approaches to Institutions.

Katznelson, Ira and Weingast, Barry R. Intersections Between Historical and Rational Choice Institutionalism. in Katznelson, Ira and Weingast, Barry, eds. Preferences and Situations: Points of Intersection Between Historical and Rational Choice Institutionalism. New York: Russell Sage; 2005; pp. 1-26.

DiMaggio, Paul. The New Institutionalisms: Avenues of Collaboration. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics. 1998; 154(4):697-705.

Adcock, Robert, Bevir, Mark and Stimson, Shannon. Historicizing the New Institutionalism(s). in Adcock, Robert and Bevir, Mark and Stimson, Shannon. Modern Political Science: Anglo-American Exchanges since 1880. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. 2007.

Peter A. Hall, “Historical Institutionalism in Rationalist and Sociological Perspective,” in James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change (Cambridge University Press 2010).

2- Rational Choice Theories of Institutions I – Institutions, Cycling and Stability of Choice (Organization of Congress).

Diermeier, Daniel and Krehbiel, Keith. Institutionalism as a Methodology. Journal of Theoretical Politics 15,2:123-144. 2003.

Shepsle, Kenneth A. Institutional Arrangements and Equilibrium in Multidimensional Voting Models. American Journal of Political Science. 1979; 23( 1):27-59.

Weingast, Barry R. and William J. Marshall. The Industrial Organization of Congress; or, Why Legislatures, Like Firms, Are Not Organized as Markets. 1988. Journal of Political Economy 96(1):132-163.

Riker, William H. Implications from the Disequilibrium of Majority Rule for the Study of Institutions. American Political Science Review. 1980; 72( 2):432-446.
Moe, Terry. Political Institutions: The Neglected Side of the Story. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 6: 213-254. 1990.

4 – Rational Choice Theories of Institutions II – Institutional Origins and Change (Inequality and Political Economy).

Knight, Jack. Models, Interpretations and Theories: Constructing Explanations of Institutional Emergence and Change. In Jack Knight and Itai Sened, eds. Explaining Social Institutions. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 1995.

North, Douglass C. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1990. pp.83-117.

Greif, Avner and David Laitin. “A Theory of Endogenous Institutional Change.” American Political Science Review. 2004; 98:633-652.

Bowles, Samuel and Suresh Naidu. Persistent Institutions (unpublished paper).

Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. Chapter One.

5 – Rational Choice Theories of Institutions III – Institutional Consequences (institutions and theories of trust and cooperation).

Greif, Avner, Milgrom, Paul and Weingast, Barry R. Coordination, Commitment and Enforcement: The Case of the Merchant Guild. In Knight, Jack and Sened, Itai. Explaining Social Institutions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2004.

Miller, Gary J. Monitoring, Rules, and the Control Paradox: Can the Good Soldier Svejk be Trusted? in: Kramer, Roderick M. and Cook, Karen S., eds. Trust and Distrust in Organizations: Dilemmas and Approaches. New York: Russell Sage Foundation; 2004.

Calvert, Randall L. Rational Actors, Equilibrium, and Social Institutions. in: Knight, Jack and Sened, Itai, eds. Explaining Social Institutions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press; 1995.

Levi, Margaret. A State of Trust. in: Braithwaite, Valerie and Levi, Margaret, eds. Trust and Governance. New York: Russell Sage Foundation; 1998; pp. 77-101.

Gambetta, Diego. The Mafia: The Price of Distrust. In Gambetta, Diego ed. Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1990.

6 – Historical Institutionalism I – Macro-Institutions (Society and the State).

Thelen, Kathleen and Steinmo, Sven. Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics. in: Steinmo, Sven and Thelen, Kathleen, eds. Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1992.

Katznelson, Ira. Structure and Configuration in Comparative Politics. in Lichbach, Mark I. and Zuckerman, Alan S., eds. Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1997.

Hall, Peter A. Policy Paradigms, Social Learning and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics 25, 3:275-296. 1993.

Tilly, Charles. War Making and State Making as Organized Crime. in: Evans, Peter B.; Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda, eds. Bringing the State Back In. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1985.

7 – Historical Institutions II –Path Dependence, Persistence and Change (Varieties of Capitalism).

Pierson, Paul. Path Dependence, Increasing Returns, and the Study of Politics. American Political Science Review. 2000; 33, 6/7:251-67.

Hall, Peter and Soskice, David. Varieties of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2000. Chapter One.

Kathleen Thelen. Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics. Annual Review of Political Science. 1999; 2(1):369-404.

Bob Hancke, Martin Rhodes and Martin Thatcher. Beyond Varieties of Capitalism. Beyond Varieties of Capitalism. Oxford University Press 2008.

8 – Historical Institutionalism III: Beyond Path Dependence: Identifying Specific Mechanisms of Historical Institutional Change (The Welfare State).

Pierson, Paul. The New Politics of the Welfare State. World Politics. 1996; 48:143-79.

Skocpol, Theda. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States. Cambridge MA: The Belknap Press. 1992. Conclusion.

Hacker, Jacob S. Policy Drift: The Hidden Politics of US Welfare State Retrenchment. in: Streeck, Wolfgang and Thelen, Kathleen, eds. Beyond Continuity: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies. New York: Oxford University Press; 2005.

Alan M. Jacobs, “Policymaking as Political Constraint: Institutional Development in the U.S. Social Security Program, in James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency and Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010.

Morgan, Kimberly J. The “Production” of Child Care: How Labor Markets Shape Social Policy, and Vice-Versa. Social Politics 12,2:243-263.

James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, “A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change,” in James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency and Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010.

9- Ideational and Sociological Accounts of Institutions I (Organizational Microsociology of The European Union).

March, James and Olsen, Johan G. The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life. In The American Political Science Review 78,3, 734-749. 1984.

Olsen, Johan P. “The Many Faces of Europeanization,” ARENA Working Paper 01/02 available at (also published in the Journal of Common Market Studies).

Jeffrey Lewis. The Janus Face of Brussels: Socialization and Everyday Decision Making in the European Union. International Organization 59:937-951 Fall 2005.

Schimmelfennig, Frank. The Community Trap: Liberal Norms, Rhetorical Action and the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union. International Organization 55:47-80. 2001.

Kathleen McNamara, “Where Do Rules Come From?: The Creation of the European Central Bank.” In Stone-Sweet, Alec and Wayne Sandholtz eds., The Institutionalization of Europe (Oxford University Press 2001).

10 – Ideational and Sociological Accounts II. The Institutional Sociology of Economic Change.

Richard Swedberg. Markets as Social Structures. In Smelser, Neil and Swedberg, Richard eds. Handbook of Economic Sociology. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. 1994.

Dobbin, Frank. Forging Industrial Policy: The United States, Britain and France in the Railway Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1994. Chapter One.

Neil Fligstein. The Structural Transformation of American Industry: An Institutional Account of the Causes of Diversification in the Largest Firms: 1919-1979. in Powell, Walter W. and DiMaggio, Paul eds. The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1991.

Mizruchi, Mark and Gerald Davis. 2004. The Globalization of American Banking, 1962-1981. In Frank Dobbin ed. The Sociology of the Economy. New York: Russell Sage. 2004.

Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam, Towards a General Theory of Strategic Action Fields. Sociological Theory. 29,1:1-23. 2011.

11 – Ideational and Sociological Accounts III (Comparing Economic Ideas in the US and Europe).

Berman, Sheri. The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Ideological Dynamics of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Conclusion,

Blyth, Mark. Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Political Change in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter Two, Chapter Eight.

Hall, Peter A. The Role of Interests, Institutions, and Ideas in the Comparative Political Economy of the Industrialized Nations. In Lichbach, Mark and Zuckerman, Alan eds. Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1997.

Culpepper, Pepper. Institutional Change in Contemporary Capitalism: Coordinated Financial Systems since 1990. World Politics 57,2: 173-209. 2005.

12 – Comparing Accounts of Institutions I (Crisis and Continuity in the Former Warsaw Pact Countries).

Shleifer and Vishny, The Grabbing Hand: Government Pathologies and Their Cures. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 1999. Chapters Eight, Eleven.

Allio, Lorene et al. Post-Communist Privatization as a Test of Theories of Institutional Change. In Weimer, David L. ed. The Political Economy of Property Rights: Institutional Change and Credibility in the Reform of Centrally Planned Economies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1997.

Bunce, Valerie. Subversive Institutions: The Design and the Collapse of Socialism and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1999. Chapter Seven.

Appel, Hilary. The Ideological Determinants of Liberal Economic Reform: The Case of Privatization. World Politics 52, 4:520-549.

Timothy Frye, “Original Sin, Good Works and Private Property in Russia,” World Politics 58, 479-504. 2006.

13 – Competing Accounts of Institutions III – The Institutional Politics of Delegation.

Carpenter, Daniel. The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks and Policy Networks in Executive Agencies. Conclusion: The Politics of Bureaucratic Autonomy. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. 2001.

Barnett, Michael and Finnemore, Martha. Rules for the World: International Organizations in Global Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2004. Chapter Two.

Epstein, David, and O’Halloran, Sharyn. Asymmetric Information, Delegation and the Structure of Policy-Making. Journal of Theoretical Politics 11,1:35-56. 1999.

McCubbins, Mathew D. and Schwartz, Thomas. Congressional Oversight Overlooked: Police Patrols versus Fire Alarms. American Journal of Political Science 28,1, 165-179. 1984.

14. Concluding Class – New Directions in Institutional Theory – Cognitive Institutionalism.

Jack Knight and Douglass North. Explaining Economic Change: The Interplay Between Cognition and Institutions. Legal Theory 3:211-226. 1997.

Scott, James C. Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press 1998. Chapter Two.

Josiah Ober, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens Chapters 3 and 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2008.

Farrell, Henry and Cosma Shalizi, Evolutionary Theory and the Dynamics of Institutional Change. Unpublished paper.

Lu Hong and Scott Page, “Some Microfoundations of Collective Wisdom,” forthcoming, Collective Wisdom eds. Helene Landemore and Jon Elster.

Padgett, John F. and Paul McLean. Organizational Invention and Elite Transformation: The Birth of Partnership Systems in Renaissance Florence. American Sociological Review 111, 5:1463-1568. 2006.



Maximilian Hell 08.18.11 at 7:47 pm

Sounds like a cool list! Regarding institutions and cooperation, Kieran’s Last Best Gifts, and Richman (2006), “How Community Institutions Create Economic Advantage: Jewish Diamond Merchants in New York,” Law and Social Inquiry, could be of interest. Also, some of E. Ostrom’s work (e.g. Governing the Commons) and Henrich et al.’s 2003 Foundations of Human Sociality (summary of the argument in Henrich et al. (2001), “In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies.” American Economic Review). They were all on our reading list on cooperation at Oxford and are definitely worth a read.


Hartal 08.18.11 at 7:58 pm

Social structures of accumulation
Regulation school
Uno School


BertCT 08.18.11 at 9:15 pm

Any chance you’ll podcast the lectures?

Any chance I can get more wonky?


e 08.18.11 at 9:48 pm

That’s quite a list. Is there a flowchart or taxonomy tree available somewhere that map the major views AND subviews in this area of political theory? Here’s an illustration of the kind of thing I’m after (only this example is from metaethics):


Minor nonsense 08.18.11 at 10:16 pm

You might try to find some studies of institutions done in Germany from the late 50s to early 70s. They were filed under “Bureaucratic Theory” when I read them.

The two conclusions that I remember were:

The basic unit of armies is less than 200 men because that is the highest number in an organization where people can rely on word of mouth to trust another person to do his job. Beyond that regulations and paperwork increase exponentially.

Beyond the level of approximately a lieutenant colonel (in the army, in business or in government,) all promotions are based strictly on political infighting skills and have no relationship to whether a higher grade person can or cannot perform the assigned duties.

Sorry, I cannot provide cites. I threw away all of my research in economics in the late 1970s when a professor convinced me, in a half of an hour or forty-five minutes, that the entire profession was a shuck, con and hustle.

It was a brutal session, especially since I had two high hooks into the Federal Reserve System and two extremely high hooks in the federal government.


P O'Neill 08.18.11 at 10:23 pm

Any chance that the Arab Spring is somehow informative about theories of institutions, even if they get bracketed with an Arab exception?


Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.18.11 at 10:27 pm

I agree: wonderful compilation.

Jon Elster, Clause Offe, and Ulrich K. Preuss (et al). Institutional Design in Post-communist Societies: Rebuilding the Ship at Sea (1998).

Robert E. Goodin, ed., The Theory of Institutional Design (1996).


Kieran 08.18.11 at 11:47 pm

Needs more John Meyer and the Stanford/Irvine institutionalists—I know you have Frank Dobbin there, but classic stuff like Meyer & Rowan (1977) or e.g., see recent work by Evan Schofer or David Frank or Ann Hironaka is good. As I think we talked about once, Evan’s work, in particular, is useful for combatting the idea (prevalent in Political Science) that cultural theories of institutions are always pursued through qualitative research. Dynamic Panel Models galore!


hartal 08.19.11 at 12:09 am

For something quite different from the social structure of accumulation school (see the two volumes edited by Terrence McDonough, Michael Reich and David M. Kotz), Regulation School (Boyer, Lipietz, Aglietta as well as the critique by Brenner and Glick) and Uno stage theory of capitalism (Kozo Uno and Thomas Sekine),–this works fits in with your sections 6, 7 and 8–you could look at the chapter by Luc Boltanski on the power of institutions in his latest book On Critique. It reads to me as a synthesis of Bourdieu’s sociology and his own distinctive pragmatic sociology, but I have to reread this very dense book.


geo 08.19.11 at 12:54 am

Other Social Sciences … often have fun

It’s always other people who have all the fun, isn’t it?


Robert 08.19.11 at 10:49 am

Did you consider Donald Green and Ian Shapiro’s Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory?


Daniel Nexon 08.19.11 at 4:40 pm

Maybe Nils Brunson’s The Organization of Hypocrisy with recommended readings from applications in other fields, e.g., IR? Maybe not.

I’d assign something from Gorski’s Disciplinary Revolution work – maybe the article. Right now there’s not a lot (anything?) that draws of Foucaultian or post-structural approaches, and Gorski gets you that without having to go down the methodological rabbit hole, so to speak. Plus it is quite good.


andrew 08.19.11 at 5:50 pm

Jeebus, you read all that? That syllabus basically makes up my “stuff to read in order for me to become a smart scholar” list – and a lot more stuff I haven’t heard of but now must add to said list; it only seems to grow at an exponential rate as my ability to read quickly is outpaced by the ability or scholars to write


LFC 08.19.11 at 7:55 pm

One early-ish indication that a version of historical institutionalism was working its way into IR was S. Krasner, “Sovereignty: An Institutional Perspective,” Comparative Political Studies 21:1 (April 1988), reprinted in J. Caporaso, ed., The Elusive State (1989). Krasner’s emphasis there on discontinuous change (‘punctuated equilibrium’), later picked up by some other IR authors, might contrast neatly with, e.g., Mahoney and Thelen, “A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change,” listed in your section 8 (haven’t read it, I’m just going by their title), or possibly with Greif & Laitin 2004 (which I’ve read but don’t remember esp. well).


anonymous poster 08.20.11 at 4:17 pm

Week six is in need of some Migdal


Ellis Goldberg 08.21.11 at 5:32 pm

Interesting question about the Arab spring. You would think that the sudden collapse of the police and the inability or unwillingness of the army to employ coercion for months on end except in the area of downtown Cairo might be worth looking at closely.


FS 08.22.11 at 12:37 pm

You might include Mary Douglas’ “How Institutions Think”. It’s short, a semi-classic, and from a cultural anthropologist, so something from the “other disciplines”.


Henry 08.22.11 at 8:15 pm

Thanks all for the recommendations. I’ll be able to squeeze in some but not all. Sadly, it is not a lecture class, so no podcasts …

Comments on this entry are closed.