While the marginalization of unions and the hegemony of neo-liberalism in many of the advanced societies challenged the raison d’etre of industrial relations (IR), the revival of institutional approaches to political economy has underscored the relevance of a field of study where institutions have always been central. While generated through failures in market regulation, the recent economic crisis has ironically led to both pressures for a further paring back of governmental capabilities for regulation and enforcement, and a renewed interest in the possibilities for meaningful institutional redesign. This paper highlights main currents in contemporary institutionalist thinking and their relevance for the study of IR. It locates the subsequent articles in this collection in the context of broader debates, and the relevance of their differing perspectives for advancing institutional analysis within and beyond IR.