New Institutionalist Explanations for Institutional Change: A Note of Caution



This article demonstrates the explanatory poverty of new institutionalist hypotheses on institutional change. The new institutionalism fails to provide an adequate explanation of institutional change because, by relying on variables such as critical junctures, path dependency, leadership or the role of ideas, it leaves institutions behind and employs a grab-bag of explanations that proponents of almost any theoretical perspective could use. The conditions under which these variables matter are unspecified and the causal relevance of institutions themselves is unclear. New institutionalists should specify more rigorously the factors that change institutions and explicate the links between these factors and institutional change. Doing so, however, could mean abandoning their emphasis on the primacy of institutions in developing explanations for political phenomena.