This book set out to show ‘why institutions matter’. It has argued for the centrality of institutions to an understanding of political behaviour and political outcomes, not just for the purpose of post-hoc explanation but to anticipate the shape and dynamics of ongoing political projects. The explosion of new institutional forms (linked, for instance, to globalization and the information revolution) has simply increased the need for sophisticated concepts and imaginative methods to inform research. The book proposes a new periodization of institutionalist thought. It departs from the conventional distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ institutionalism, and takes issue with the splintering of new institutionalism into many different, competing, variants. Instead, we have sought to identify the heart of the institutionalist project — in both theory and practice — and to specify a common core of concepts. We insist that institutionalist explanations should start with institutions themselves, regarding them and not other phenomena as the chief object of analysis and, indeed, the variable that explains most of political life. Too many ‘institutionalists’ have drifted away from this position, using the label as no more than a ‘flag of convenience’ within wider academic debates. We argue for a focus on what is specific to institutionalism, rather than on spawning sub-varieties in which the term may be used as no more than a legitimating suffix.
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