Institutional Approach in Comparative Politics: Types and schools of thought of Institution

Institutional Approach in Comparative Politics: Types and schools of thought of Institution

Comparative politics is all about comparison of the political system and a comparison of how various Institutions work.

Institution refers to the formal and informal rules that has been institutionalized.

There are two types of Institution –

  1. Hard institution and
  2. Soft institution.

Hard institutions are the written rules laws, regulations, legal agreements or contracts that has been formally enforced.
Soft institutions are the unwritten norms, rules, and practices that are not formal. These rules and practices are  guided by traditional norms rather than legal norms.

School of thought of Institution:


1) Rational choice institutionalism:

The main point of argument of rational choice institutionalism is individual interest versus collective good. Individuals are at the heart of  rational choice institutionalism. It says that individuals are inherently self-interested. 

Therefore rational choice theorist understands institution as the outcome of the strategic bargaining between self interested actors.
Rational choice theorists argue that peoples are very clear about what is good or bad for them. Individuals make deliberate choices in pursuit of their personal goals. In this process they the act as a maximizer, who seeks greatest benefit and least cost in their decision but the problem is when individual act as a maximizer of benefit over cost the outcome may be affected by the Institutions. 

Therefore  rational choice institutionalism tries to analyze how different institutions affects the pattern of cost and benefit. It argues if Institutions are properly structured, the pursuit of self interest by individual can lead to beneficial social results.

2) Cultural institutionalism:

The central argument Of Cultural institutionalism is that peoples ideas and beliefs play an important role in shaping institutions. Institution matters primary because peoples see Institutions from certain beliefs. 

Cultural theorists argue that existing cleavage structure along with ethnic, linguistic and class line  influence the choice of a set of Institutions. Historical factors become relevant here as the cultural theorists focus on how past Institutions shape present institutions. 

Cultural theorists say that every Institutions represent some dominant ideas which are based on cultural practices.

3) structural institutionalism: 

Structural Institutionalism is differs from rational choice institutionalism and cultural institutionalism. Rational choice focuses on individuals and cultural institutionalism focuses on cultures but structural institutionalism argues that society and societal Institutions are shaped by something which are beyond individual control. 

According to it, whether it is hard or soft Institutions, it is the largest societal structure which determines the functions of Institution.
Structural institutionalism also identifies the economic purpose served by Institutions such as securing fiscal security, reassuring financial market etc. Therefore it focuses on the influence of capitalism and globalization in shaping institutions.

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