The Politics of Path Dependency: Political Conflict in Historical Institutionalism


B. Guy Peters ( is Maurice Falk Professor of political science, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

Jon Pierre ( is professor of political science, University of Gothenburg, Göteborg, Sweden SE 405 30.

Desmond S. King ( is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of American Government, Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 2RL.


The conventional critique of institutional theory, and especially historical institutionalism, is that it is incapable of coping with change. We argue for the importance of political conflict as a means of initiating change in an institutionalist framework. In particular, conflict over ideas and the underlying assumptions of policy is important for motivating change. We demonstrate the viability of this argument with examples of institutional change.