The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations

By Lawrence C. Dodd; Calvin Jillson | Go to book overview

rality in a way that accounts for the patterned disorder that institutions routinely create.

To fix on questions of timing in institutional politics requires using history in ways that historians themselves seldom do. In our view, time is not the medium through which the story of this or that institution will unfold; it is itself the central problem. The discovery of patterns -- provisionally, even of orders -- is an indispensable step. This may entail uncovering several layers of institutional politics that compose a single moment, or reaching across historical periods to identify a repeated sequence or configuration. The idea is not to detach the analysis from time-bound descriptive minutiae, but to explicate the timing of such details, and to explain institutionally the shifts and developments that are constantly changing the political landscape. There are no "time lags" in this perspective, no institutional delays where older arrangements "catch up" with new; pieces held over from earlier patterns are part and parcel of the institutional composition and of the institutional construction of temporality itself.3

Institutions make history by the routine engagement of the tensions and contradictions among their various ordering principles and by their bending and reshaping of each other into patterns of change in time. Layers, not systems; dissonance, not fit; conjunctures, not regularities: These are the points of entry to a genuinely "new" institutionalism.


NOTES

Colleagues who were kind enough to offer comments on this essay were Joyce Appleby, Paul DiMaggio, Morris Fiorina, Jeff Frieden, David Mayhew, David Plotke, Ian Shapiro, and Alex Wendt.

1
We deal with rational choice and historical alternatives in this chapter but give no attention to the new institutionalism in sociology. For a review, see DiMaggio and Powell ( 1991). For a stimulating discussion of work in sociology also see Elchardus ( 1982).
2
Edward Corwin ( 1940) notes, "The implication [of Roosevelt's assumptions of power in World War II] seemed to be that the President owed the transcendent powers he was claiming to some peculiar relationship between himself and the people -- a doctrine with a strong family resemblance to the leadership principle against which the war was supposedly being fought."
3
"Thus, in the Progressive Era, it is not the decline of localistic, partisan forms of governance and the rise of nationalistic bureaucratic forms that calls for our attention; it is rather the stubborn persistence of the localistic forms -- and of the prepartisan Constitutional frame itself -- as these refracted and recast the designs of those who would build the new bureaucratic forms" ( Skowronek, 1982).

-330-

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