The Institutionalist Approach in Social Sciences

Institutionalism has become a theoretical approach that has growing relevance in social sciences. As a set of theories of science it has affected four different fields: sociology, political science, economics, and history. In these disciplines the distinction made between old institutionalism and new institutionalism is widely known. As per old institutionalism, institutions are defined as rules and conventions, and its followers primarily study the actual institutions. While new institutionalists make a difference between the concrete and the abstract forms of institutions and are engaged with both (Gronning 2008). There are newer and newer forms of institutionalism emerging in social sciences. Institutionalism may be understood as a separate discipline, as an applied method, that is, defined as one of Merton’s middle-range theories. It is not at all an exclusive or solid theory. The different approaches of it apply different definitions for institution, focusing either on the harmonic or the conflictual elements of institutional operation. Hence these concepts bring about different research questions, findings, and perspectives. The methodology of institutionalist researches is also not solid. But then how can one still think of these seemingly different forms of institutionalism as similar? Is there a common framework that brings all these approaches, taking different shapes in different disciplines, together? What links these various sets of theories together is the fact that all of them pay particular attention to institutions when explicating social mechanisms, and political and individual agency. The following selection both aims at displaying the wide range of institutionalist approaches, their definitions for the notion of institution, and showing that institutionalist approaches in the different fields do not necessarily exclude or compete with each other, but may also be looked at as complementary or inspiring theories for each other.

Released: Replika 74, 27–33.
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