Beyond the Iconography of Order: Notes for a "New Institutionalism"
KAREN ORREN STEPHEN SKOWRONEK
A leading student of interest group politics writes: "In the : 1990s, we are all 'neo-institutionalists'" ( McFarland, 1991:262). Indeed, the claim that "institutions matter" can be heard today in every corner of political science. Unfortunately, as the cutting edge of a critical departure in the study of politics, this claim leaves much to be desired.
In the first place, the assertion that "institutions matter" fails to distinguish clearly current disciplinary interests from more traditional ones. Political science blossomed in the late nineteenth century as a study of the institutions of government, as a "science of the state." The so-called "revolt against formalism," which gathered steam in the 1920s, broadened the scope of inquiry considerably, but scholars never really lost sight of institutions. It is hardly any wonder that some of the leading lights of behavioral political science have found their "rediscovery" amusing and the critical thrust of the "new institutionialism" wide of the mark ( Almond, 1988; Easton, 1981; Binder, 1986). The attention showered on the informal processes of politics and the social bases of power by the behavioralists was not so much an alternative to a study of institutions as it was an exploration of their connections to the larger social and economic system. The renewed emphasis on institutions in political study may elaborate these larger relationships in important ways, but new institutionalists cannot afford to disregard them.
The confusion goes deeper than that, however. The claim that institutions matter not only falls short of being an effective critique of past concerns, it fails to distinguish among currently contending intellectual currents. "New institutionalism" is a label associated with many different scholarly agendas. Although its pursuit appears to be a concerted movement, having gained momentum in the wake of the discipline's recent dis