The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Institutional Analysis

By Wood, Geoffrey | Irish Journal of Management, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Institutional Analysis


Wood, Geoffrey, Irish Journal of Management


The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Institutional Analysis Edited by Glenn Morgan, John Campbell, Colin Crouch, Ove Kai Petersen and Richard Whitley Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010

This addition to the burgeoning stable of recent work on institutional effects focuses primarily on national comparisons of institutional features within contexts. In practice, this volume concentrates on a specific strand of this work: the socio-economic approaches most associated with the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE), its journal, the Socio-Economie Review, and, indeed, earlier works published within the Oxford University Press stable. Indeed, some of the papers were presented at an earlier SASE conference. This means that highly influential alternative strands of thinking, for example the private property rights centred or rational hierarchical approaches that are dominant in the economics and finance literature, and the more cognitive and legitimacy orientated approaches of writers such as DiMaggio and Powell, are, a few chapters excepted, largely dealt with through omission. This book is divided into four components. The first looks at types of institutional analysis, social action and complementarity, albeit within this somewhat selective framework. The second focuses on specific social institutions and their relationship with economic organisation and performance. The third looks at the interrelationship between institutions, and firm structures and competencies. The final section looks at new directions in comparative institutional analysis, including to relatively neglected geographical areas. It is difficult in the space of a limited review to do full justice to such a rich collection, and the reviewer has chosen to concentrate on the particular chapters that are of particular interest and contemporary relevance, whilst recognising the value of many of the other chapters.

The opening chapter, by Marie-Laure Djelic, compares and contrasts, and seeks to unpick, the theoretical origins of a number of influential strands of institutional thinking. Interestingly, the varieties of capitalism approach of authors such as Hall and Soskice is relatively neglected, perhaps on account of its theoretically lightweight nature. Somewhat stranger is the relative neglect of regulationist thinking, especially as the author stresses the need to move beyond a simplistic understanding of continuity and rupture. Gregory Jackson explores the relationship between actors and institutions. He argues that there has been a convergence in thinking towards the view that actors and institutions are co-generative. Actors' interests and identities reflect institutional settings, but, by the same manner, the institutional framework is remoulded through the role of actors and their constellations. Recent work has emphasised the diversity of organisational forms in specific national settings, and the nature of institutional change. In exploring complementarity, Colin Crouch draws a distinction between features that are functionally necessary and the use of specific systemic features by actors to gain additional benefits or advantages. Again, complementarities may become contradictions, driving change.

A most interesting chapter by Linda Weiss highlights the differences between market rhetoric and market practice. Most notably, in many areas, the US state is highly interventionist. More specifically, the techno industry relies heavily on state protection and support. For example, a wide range of areas ranging from micro-electronics to aerospace are heavily subsidised through favourable defence contracts. There is also a heavy dependence on research at least in part underwritten by not-for-profit research institutions and universities. Weiss argues that the US state is hence both liberal and statist. It combines features of laissez-faire in terms of the regulation of both financial and labour markets, with statedirected networks in line with national security and associated agendas. …

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