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Can Path Dependence Explain Institutional Change? Two Approaches Applied to Welfare State Reform


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  • Ebbinghaus, Bernhard


Path dependence as a concept in institutional theories has become increasingly popular in economics and other social sciences. The key idea is that in a sequence of events, the latter events are not (completely) independent from those that occurred in the past. Yet, common usage of the concept often subsumes two markedly different models and approaches to understand historical sequencing. The two main processes of the past shaping the future – diffusion and developmental pathways – must be distinguished analytically. This paper juxtaposes (1) the unplanned 'trodden path' that takes shape through the subsequent repeated use by other individuals of that spontaneously chosen path, and (2) the ?branching pathways? or juncture at which one of the available alternative pathways must be chosen in order to continue a journey. Furthermore, the typical approaches and their explanatory purchase are discussed in reference to explanations of institutional change. The paper shows that the first path dependence theorem is too deterministic and inflexible, whereas the second approach is sufficiently supple to analyze various forms of institutional change. -- Pfadabhängigkeit wird in den Sozial- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften zunehmend als Konzept institutioneller Theorien angewendet. Der Grundgedanke ist, dass in einer Sequenz von Ereignissen (oder Entscheidungen) spätere nicht (vollkommen) unabhängig von vorangegangenen sind. Jedoch wird in gängigen Anwendungen des Konzepts oft versäumt, nach zwei äußerst unterschiedlichen Verständnissen historischer Sequenzen zu differenzieren. Die zwei Prozesse der Strukturierung der Zukunft durch die Vergangenheit - Diffusionspfade und Entwicklungspfade - sollen analytisch getrennt werden. Dieser Aufsatz unterscheidet (1) den zufälligen 'Trampelpfad', welcher durch die vermehrte Benutzung eines Pfades spontan entsteht, von (2) dem ?Scheideweg?, an dem einer der möglichen Pfade gewählt werden muss, um den Weg fortzusetzen. Im Weiteren wird der Erklärungsbeitrag der beiden Ansätze in Bezug auf die Erklärung institutionellen Wandels erörtert. Es zeigt sich, dass das erste Pfadabhängigkeitstheorem zu deterministisch und inflexibel ist, der zweite Pfadabhängigkeitsansatz hingegen offen genug, unterschiedliche Formen institutionellen Wandels zu analysieren.

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Paper provided by Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in its series MPIfG Discussion Paper with number 05/2.

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Date of creation: 2005
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Handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:052

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  1. Ebbinghaus, Bernhard & Hassel, Anke, 1999. "Striking deals: Concertation in the reform of continental European welfare states," MPIfG Discussion Paper, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies 99/3, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  2. Liebowitz, S J & Margolis, Stephen E, 1990. "The Fable of the Keys," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 1-25, April.
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Cited by:
  1. Ulybina, Olga, 2014. "Russian forests: The path of reform," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 143-150.
  2. Alessia Berni & Mariavittoria Cicellin & Stefano Consiglio & Luigi Moschera, 2012. "The evolution of the Italian Temporary Work Agency field: A path dependence perspective," Discussion Papers, CRISEI, University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy 10_2012, CRISEI, University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy.
  3. Alexandra Lindenthal & Martin Koch, 2013. "The Bretton Woods Institutions and the Environment: Organizational Learning within the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)," Administrative Sciences, MDPI, Open Access Journal, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(4), pages 166-201, October.
  4. Gottschall, Karin & Shire, Karen A., 2007. "Understanding employment systems from a gender perspective: pitfalls and potentials of new comparative analytical frameworks," Working papers of the ZeS, University of Bremen, Centre for Social Policy Research (ZeS) 06/2007, University of Bremen, Centre for Social Policy Research (ZeS).
  5. Zhang, Yongjing, 2011. "The successor's dilemma in China's single party political system," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 674-680.
  6. Boschma, Ron, 2014. "Towards an evolutionary perspective on regional resilience," CIRCLE Electronic Working Papers, Lund University, CIRCLE - Center for Innovation, Research and Competences in the Learning Economy 2014/14, Lund University, CIRCLE - Center for Innovation, Research and Competences in the Learning Economy.
  7. Trif, Aurora, 2005. "Collective bargaining practices in Eastern Europe: Case study evidence from Romania," MPIfG Working Paper, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies 05/9, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  8. Blanck, Jonna M. & Edelstein, Benjamin & Powell, Justin J.W., 2013. "Von der schulischen Segregation zur inklusiven Bildung? Die Wirkung der UN-Konvention über die Rechte von Menschen mit Behinderungen auf Bildungsreformen in Bayern und Schleswig-Holstein," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Skill Formation and Labor Markets, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) SP I 2013-504, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
  9. Powell, Justin J. W. & Solga, Heike, 2008. "Internationalization of vocational and higher education systems: A comparative-institutional approach," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Skill Formation and Labor Markets, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) SP I 2008-501, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).


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