What role do certain institutions, such as parliaments, courts, military, hospitals or schools, play in maintaining inequalities? How can new institutions, such as same-sex marriage, bring about positive change in broader societies? How are inequalities institutionalized in, for example, practices of gendered racial profiling? How do institutions resist change? What do institutions do to people? And how are they connected to other key analytical tools such as power? If it was once possible to understand institutions in a very narrow way, as state institutions such as parliaments or political parties, or the military, the notion of institutions now encompasses norms, practices and even ideas. In today’s political analysis, institutions can be defined broadly as a ‘stable, recurring pattern of behaviour’ and these institutions are a social phenomenon. In addition to formal political structures and organizations, institutions comprise rules, informal structures, norms, beliefs and values, routines and conventions, and ideas about institutions. Unlike formal institutions, informal institutions are not consciously designed nor neatly specified, but are part of habitual action (Goodin 1996; Lowndes 1996: 182; Peters 1999). Vivien Lowndes and Mark Roberts (2013: 21–22) discuss the theoretical and analytical developments in the study of institutions in political science through three phases.
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