A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Political Institutions, Old and New

B. Guy Peters


I Introduction: so what's new?

THE new institutionalism has become one of the growth areas of political science. It is now difficult to pick up a journal or attend a conference without coming across one or more papers written from the perspective of the new institutionalism. The frequent use of the term of "new institutionalism" implies first that there was an old institutionalism, and second that the contemporary version is different from the older version. Both of those assumptions are correct, and the differences between the old and new versions of institutionalism are crucial for understanding the development of contemporary political theory.

The "old institutionalism" characterized political science until at least the early 1950s, and to some extent never really died out among many students of politics. Scholars ( Eckstein 1963; Macridis 1955) advocating the newer, more scientific approaches to politics generally associated with the "behavioral revolution" maligned the old institutionalism and pointed out a number of deficiencies in that body of research. While understandable at the time, those attacks may have undervalued the work of major scholars such as E. A. Freeman, Taylor Cole, Gwendolyn Carter and even Carl Friedrich. Their scholarship made a definite contribution to a literature that enabled the researchers who came after to better understand the dynamics of politics and policy-making. Indeed, the need to engage in more micro-level analysis was so evident in part because of how well the formal institutions had been described.1

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1
Kuhn ( 1970) makes the point that paradigms change in ways to compensate for the strengths as well as weaknesses of the earlier paradigms.

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