A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change

Published on Jan 1, 2010
· DOI :10.1017/CBO9780511806414.003
James Mahoney41
Estimated H-index: 41
(NU: Northwestern University),
Kathleen Thelen32
Estimated H-index: 32
(MIT: Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Once created, institutions often change in subtle and gradual ways over time. Although less dramatic than abrupt and wholesale transformations, these slow and piecemeal changes can be equally consequential for patterning human behavior and for shaping substantive political outcomes. Consider, for example, the British House of Lords. This is an institution that began to take shape in the thirteenth century out of informal consultations between the Crown and powerful landowners. By the early nineteenth century, membership was hereditary and the chamber was fully institutionalized at the center of British politics. Who would have thought that this deeply undemocratic assembly of aristocrats would survive the transition to democracy? Not the early Labour Party, which was founded in 1900 and understandably committed to the elimination of a chamber from which its constituents were, more or less by definition, excluded.
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